Haunted by social media
by Keith Taylor
From the November, 2016 issue
Alexander Weinstein's first book Children of the New World, imagines an imperfect future that is partly a logical projection of our current fascinations with new technologies and the social media they have spawned. The stories are both funny and frightening. Though each story stands alone, the book is difficult to set aside, and it presents images that will haunt you, particularly the next time you find yourself on Facebook.
In the first sentence of the first story, Yang--whom we find out later is a kind of sophisticated cyborg babysitter and big brother--suddenly goes a bit berserk: "We're sitting around the table eating Cheerios--my wife sipping tea, Mika playing with her spoon, me suggesting apple picking over the weekend--when Yang slams his head into his cereal bowl." There is something wonderful in that sentence, in its mundane beginning and its slapstick end. You have to know what comes next.
In "Openness" the characters carry their social media implanted in their brains. They choose to open layers to the people they meet, sharing more of themselves as their relationships develop. When they go off for a romantic vacation in the woods of Maine, they are disconnected for a few days and must actually use words to communicate. There they can experience something like love. But when they come back and open up more layers of their minds to each other, the problems begin. The narrator realizes that the fantasy man buried deep in his lover's desires is not him. By the time they each start shutting down their "layers," it is too late. "There was no conscious choice about what happened next, just an instinctive recoiling of our bodies, the goose bumps rising against my skin as our layers closed to each other ... We were strangers again ..." It is the ultimate unfriending. The characters are left entirely alone, cut off from the pervasive social media that has become the only way to sustain a semblance of personal connection.
one short section of Children of the New World, Weinstein constructs a short dictionary of the terms that dominate this future world, which he sets only a decade from now. Given how quickly we have adapted to the new technological language around us now, these words seem entirely plausible. I suspect they appear frightening only because we don't know about them yet; once Apple invents the hardware they will be part of our daily lives. For instance, the verb "to tog" means "the practice of relying upon ITPs (Inner-Ear Therapy Programs) while in public space." In the etymological history of the word, Weinstein provides a quote from a 2028 issue of Modern Business: "Yet, while many users attest to the value of togging, continual wireless therapy does not necessarily equate with balanced lives." Yeah, it's funny, but it's so plausible that it is also terrifying.
Weinstein, an Ann Arborite, has been getting a great deal of attention for this debut collection. He reads from Children of the New World at Nicola's on November 30.
[Originally published in November, 2016.]
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