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© 2012 ISSN 1479-9456
When Lenny Abramov, the narrator of Gary Shteyngart’s futuristic novel Super Sad True Love Story, returns from Rome to a dystopian US, his boss queries his outdated technology: “What is this, an iPhone?”
He is soon kitted out with the very latest “pebbly new äppärät 7.5 with RateMe Plus technology”. He wears the smartphone of the future around his neck like a pendant and, conforming with everyone else, soon learns to worship its constantly streaming screen, “the colourful pulsating mosaic of it, the fact that it knows every last stinking detail about the world”.
The äppärät envelops its user in a stupefying fog of data. Everybody is rendered transparent as, offering immediate CIA-like access to all records, it enables people to Google-stalk in real time: your credit rating, life expectancy and preferred sexual positions are an open book (though no one reads books, or “bound, printed nonstreaming media artifacts,” any more). This is complemented by competitive oversharing, as users thumb out their hopes and fears, and pass judgement on others, determining their constantly shifting “Fuckability” and “Personality ratings”, and trying to up their own. When, suddenly, everyone’s äppäräts stop working they become bored, lost without this virtual pecking order, untethered, suicidal.
It is predicted that this year the number of connected mobile devices will exceed the 7 billion humans on the planet. For this issue we asked novelists, academics, experts and designers to reflect on this communication revolution, on how cell phones have rewired our brains, how they’ve changed the ways we behave, connect to and navigate the world. And to make their own predictions about how mobile technology will look in the future.