Mavericks is not so much the inspiration for a Beach Boys song as it is a symbol of Melvillian existential struggle. At Mavericks there is no endless summer, no beach-blanket bingo. And everyone who surfs Mavericks understands that what is at stake is your life, which could end in any number of miserable ways, ways that might give you a crushingly protracted time to think about what, exactly, went wrong, and why you are there, underwater, listening to a thirty foot mountain of hydrogen-dioxide and salt press down on you; and you look around, into and through but not beyond the ocean’s blue-green screen of impending death.
An entire essay could be written about the name ‘Mavericks’ alone. It’s odd enough that it’s the plural form of a word about a person who refuses to conform. We assign it to politicians who break with the party line, or to jet-fighters from the 1980s with good hair and a reckless disregard for their own lives in pursuit of some thrill which makes their lives seem worthwhile.
This week Margaret Atwood tweeted a photo of her and Alice Munro drinking champagne in a “secret lair.” There’s no denying it — technology has changed the way we tell stories. Atwood and 16 other writers, from Victor LaValle to Lee Child, discussed how technology influences their work in The New York Times. “There’s nothing worse for plots than cellphones. Once your characters have one, there’s no reason for them to get lost or stranded,” Rainbow Rowell said.
As evidenced by the amazing quiz “Jonathan Franzen Gripe or YouTube Comment about Saggy Pants,” a perception exists that the widely acclaimed writer is allergic to new technology. At Slate, Benjamin Nugent argues that Franzen’s new book, The Karl Kraus Project, proves inadvertently that Franzen is less of a Luddite than we think.
Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story is now a reality. He got to try Google Glass and wrote about the experience for The New Yorker. “When the velvet-rope hostess at the of-the-moment Wythe Hotel bar in Williamsburg stops to take a photo of me with her iPhone, I know exactly what the producer meant. This is the most I will ever be loved by strangers.”
The whole thing is a boondoggle, at least it is for us. And by “us” I mean anyone who isn’t already a celebrity, a media star, an established brand, the literary equivalent of a laundry detergent. And even then I have a hard time seeing what being on Twitter gets you, other than the open and never-ending opportunity to waste a shitload of time you could be spending a lot more productively elsewhere.
Technology writer Evgeny Morozov notes that Amazon is sitting on vast amounts of data collected from its Kindle devices about what part of a book people are most likely to give up reading. In the not-too-distant future … Amazon could build a system that uses this aggregated reading data to write novels automatically that are tailored to readers’ tastes. Will there be a point where writers and readers will admit defeat, acknowledging that the computers … know best?
Technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat. The phone didn’t make me avoid the human connection, but it did make ignoring her easier in that moment, and more likely, by comfortably encouraging me to forget my choice to do so. My daily use of technological communication has been shaping me into someone more likely to forget others. The flow of water carves rock, a little bit at a time. And our personhood is carved, too, by the flow of our habits.