Author Topic: Favid Foster Wallace question  (Read 921 times)


  • Please don't hi five people in Tamworth
Favid Foster Wallace question
« on: January 30, 2019, 11:10:17 AM »
Can anyone remember which DFW story or novel (although I think it was a short story) it was that had a bit about the development of telephones with video screens that led to people creating completely false versions of themselves and their homes to impress people who called them? It was obviously very prescient and getting more so with every Instagrammed day but I can't remember which book it was in.


  • Top-drawer groinal movement
Re: Favid Foster Wallace question
« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2019, 11:44:39 AM »
Pretty sure that was in Infinite Jest. I think it even mentioned people getting surgery to look good on the video screen, which is an actual thing now.
Good luck trying to find the exact quote!

Re: Favid Foster Wallace question
« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2019, 12:22:32 PM »
Definitely Infinite Jest.

"It turned out that there was something terribly stressful about visual telephone interfaces that hadn't been stressful at all about voice-only interfaces. Videophone consumers seemed suddenly to realize that they'd been subject to an insidious but wholly marvelous delusion about conventional voice-only telephony. They'd never noticed it before, the delusion — it's like it was so emotionally complex that it could be countenanced only in the context of its loss. Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allowed you to presume that the person on the other end was paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her. A traditional aural-only conversation — utilizing a hand-held phone whose earpiece contained only 6 little pinholes but whose mouthpiece (rather significantly, it later seemed) contained (62) or 36 little pinholes — let you enter a kind of highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue: while conversing, you could look around the room, doodle, fine-groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone-pad haiku, stir things on the stove; you could even carry on a whole separate additional sign-language-and-exaggerated-facial-expression type of conversation with people right there in the room with you, all while seeming to be right there attending closely to the voice on the phone. And yet — and this was the retrospectively marvelous part — even as you were dividing your attention between the phone call and all sorts of other idle little fuguelike activities, you were somehow never haunted by the suspicion that the person on the other end's attention might be similarly divided. During a traditional call, e.g., as you let's say performed a close tactile blemish-scan of your chin, you were in no way oppressed by the thought that your phonemate was perhaps also devoting a good percentage of her attention to a close tactile blemish-scan. It was an illusion and the illusion was aural and aurally supported: the phone-line's other end's voice was dense, tightly compressed, and vectored right into your ear, enabling you to imagine that the voice's owner's attention was similarly compressed and focused . . . even though your own attention was not, was the thing. This bilateral illusion of unilateral attention was almost infantilely gratifying from an emotional standpoint: you got to believe you were receiving somebody's complete attention without having to return it. Regarded with the objectivity of hindsight, the illusion appears arational, almost literally fantastic: it would be like being able both to lie and to trust other people at the same time."

"Video telephony rendered the fantasy insupportable. Callers now found they had to compose the same sort of earnest, slightly overintense listener's expression they had to compose for in-person exchanges. Those callers who out of unconscious habit succumbed to fuguelike doodling or pants-crease-adjustment now came off looking rude, absentminded, or childishly self-absorbed. Callers who even more unconsciously blemish-scanned or nostril-explored looked up to find horrified expressions on the video-faces at the other end. All of which resulted in videophonic stress."


  • Please don't hi five people in Tamworth
Re: Favid Foster Wallace question
« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2019, 12:29:44 PM »
Cheers both! I was convinced it was in one of the short stories so I'd have taken ages to find it. Now I think about it of course it was Infinite Jest.

I think it even mentioned people getting surgery to look good on the video screen, which is an actual thing now.

Reading an article about exactly that yesterday, about how people are now going to cosmetic surgeons wanting to actually look like filtered photos of themselves, is what reminded me of it. I think I read IJ about 10 years ago when social media was just taking off and remember thinking he was probably on to something, and it was actually published over a decade before that in 1996.