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By the time you finish this, the future will be here: Notes from Gary Shteyngart in L.A.

May 16, 2011 |  1:18 pm

Garyshteyngart_glassesNewsflash: The future is boring. Much is made of the sexy version of the future, the version 300 or 500 or 1,000 years from now when we will all be zooming around in sleek titanium discs to our jobs on the moon, but the future, most of the time, is just a few months from now, or a couple of years or even the time when you will be done reading this blog post. Excited yet?

At Thursday's ALOUD event with Gary Shteyngart, author of “Super Sad True Love Story,” a sense of time passing and the quickening tempo of our lives kept coming up. In conversation with Young Literati Director Justin Veach, Shteyngart, a satirist who described himself as a “happy-go-lucky guy who writes about sad scenarios,” sometimes seemed resentful of technology’s grip on our lives.

When he first started “Super Sad True Love Story,” set in an America on the verge of total collapse from a constant pinging of stimuli and a frivolous, temperamental marketplace, he had only a Hotmail email account, which is almost as cool as wearing Z. Cavaricci pants. With the help of an attractive assistant that his lady friends called “the man-tern,” Shteyngart got up to speed on technology, and now totes around a semi-functional iPhone. But he worries that all the texting, tweeting and toggling is taking away from the world of literature, a respite of intimacy and introspection.

“Some of the best moments in reading,” Shteyngart said, “are the moments when you stop,” because the writing was so good you have to take time and absorb it. No matter how climactic a moment is on “The Wire” or “Glee,” how often do you pause the DVR simply to savor it all? How often do we look up from our endless onslaught of emails to say, “Ah, that was a good auto-newsletter sent from my yoga studio”?

“I don’t want to sound like some Luddite,” Shteyngart said, “I just want it to slow down... we’re all living in the future.” In “Super Sad True Love Story,” where all the characters watch either the FoxLiberty Prime or FoxLiberty Ultra channels, it’s a future that feels familiar, just a few months off. Casting it just a little ahead of today, oddly enough, afforded Shteyngart the opportunity to digest the time we don’t often notice, otherwise known as the present.

Novelists didn’t have the same challenges 150 years ago. They had other challenges, but none involving a palm-sized instrument of communication. “When Tolstoy was writing ‘War and Peace,’ ” Shteyngart said, “he didn’t have to worry about the latest killer app.”

-- Margaret Wappler

Photo: Gary Shteyngart. Credit: Brigitte Lacombe

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