David Foster Wallace’s Take on the Internet

I’m enjoying David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, his transcript-as-book about a five-day road trip with David Foster Wallace for the publicity push for Infinite Jest.

While it reads a little oddly – I agree with my friend Josh that Lipsky’s running bracketed commentary between DFW’s quotes is jarring – I’m thankful for such an extended look inside the maestro’s mind. It’s genuinely funny, too.

At page 87 the novelist riffs on the internet and what it means for information overflow, new gatekeepers, and the anarchic/democratic myth underpinning most people’s hopes. In March of 1996, mind you.

Lipsky: Like the Web, the “Interlace” in the book–in fifteen years?

Wallace: Yep. And the big thing, if you’re doin’ movies or packaging any sort of thing, is to get in on the Interlace grid. That Interlace will be this enormous gatekeeper. It will be like sort of the one publishing house from hell. They decide what you get and what you don’t.

Because this idea that the Internet’s gonna become incredibly democratic? I mean, if you’ve spent any time on the Web, you know that it’s not gonna be, because that’s completely overwhelming. There are four trillion bits coming at you, 99 percent of them are shit, and it’s too much work to do triage to decide.

So it’s very clearly, very soon there’s gonna be an economic niche opening up for gatekeepers. You know? Or, what do you call them, Wells, or various nexes. Not just of interest but of quality. And then things get real interesting. And we will beg for those things to be there. Because otherwise we’re gonna spend 95 percent of our time body-surfing through shit that every joker in his basement–who’s not a pro, like you were talking about last night. I tell you, there’s no single more interesting time to be alive on the planet Earth than in the next twenty years. It’s gonna be–you’re gonna get to watch all of human history played out again real quickly.

Lipsky: Why? What meant, exactly?

Wallace: If you go back to Hobbes, and why we ended up begging, why people in a state of nature end up begging for a ruler who has the power of life and death over them? We absolutely have to give our power away. The Internet is going to be exactly the same way. Unless there are walls and sites and gatekeepers that say, “All right, you want fairly good fiction on the Web? Let us pick it for you.” Because it’s gonna take you four days to find something any good, through all the shit that’s gonna come, right?

We’re going to beg for it. We are literally gonna pay for it. But once we do that, then all these democratic hoo-hah dreams of the Internet will of course have gone down the pipes. And we’re back again to three or four Hollywood studios, or four or five publishing houses, being the … right? And all of us who grouse, all the anarchists who grouse about power being localized in these media elites, are gonna realize that the actual system dictates that. The same way–I’m absolutely convinced–that the despot in Hobbes is a logical extension of what the State of Nature is.

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Filed under reading, socialmedia

4 responses to “David Foster Wallace’s Take on the Internet

  1. Pingback: Professor Seagull – On the New Readability

  2. Pingback: A Literary Beer Run | Readability Blog

  3. Cody

    As you mentioned, Ryan, DFW: prescient as always. It’s at once alarming yet totally fitting that, more and more, when chatting about what’s needed (and also feasible) for our society, someone keeps bringing up the notion of a benevolent dictator.

  4. Josh

    Fascinating. It makes me wish the book had been organized into a series of topics and themes, a la Twilight of the Idols. I could use 92% less Lipsky.

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