In the 2000s, there will be only answers.
January 6, 2015 1:30 PM   Subscribe

"We will have screens everywhere, in the kitchen, in the restrooms, in the office, in the streets." Marguerite Duras was asked in 1985 what she thought the future would be like.

The interview was recently discovered by Antoine Wojdyla who translated Duras's answer from French to English and passed it on to Fusion's Alexis Madrigal, who wrote about the author's unnerving prescience in his Five Intriguing Things newsletter.
posted by Gin and Broadband (43 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
"It’s not far from a nightmare. There will be nobody reading anymore.

They will see television. We will have screens everywhere, in the kitchen, in the restrooms, in the office, in the streets.
"

But what if we read what's on the screen? Switcheroo!
posted by I-baLL at 1:55 PM on January 6, 2015 [23 favorites]


And reading. People will rediscover that. A man, one day, will read. And everything will start again. We’ll encounter a time where everything will be free. Meaning that answers, at that time, will be granted less consideration. It will start like this, with indiscipline, a risk taken by a human against himself. The day where he will be left alone again with his misfortunes, and his happiness, only that those will depend on himself.

In essence, becoming that man is my new year's resolution for anno domini 2015. Kind of her to articulate it so well 30 years early.

I will also note that when I returned to the site to copy that quote, a full page ad popped out and covered over the text, asking me to sign up and/or log on to subscribe to fusion's bite sized instant takes on the day's news, delivered instantly....drowning in answers, indeed, she says and shakes the fist attached to the wrist her Fitbit is on. Of course, it is my non-dominant hand...
posted by Diablevert at 1:58 PM on January 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


We already do have screens everywhere we go, it's just that it's the same screen, attached to our phones.
posted by carter at 2:00 PM on January 6, 2015 [7 favorites]



Conan was way more clairvoyant
posted by any major dude at 2:02 PM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Nice find.

In terms of prediction, her first paragraph (about Answers) is good but I take issue with the rest.

Something I've mentioned before in the past was that Sci Fi writers could imagine computers, and could imagine networking them, but couldn't imagine the paradigm shift (from publisher-consumer to everyone-is-a-publisher) that results.

So Duras says there will be screens everywhere (true) but everyone will watch television - not true - in fact for the first time since the invention of TV, people are watching less, especially young people. Presumably because we've now got more interactive things to do.

Duras says no one will read anymore. Thats not true, people are reading more than ever, especially if you could reading from screens. Young people today also write far more than any generation before them.

And people are travelling more, too.
posted by memebake at 2:03 PM on January 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


There will be nobody reading anymore.

What if we read more than people did in 1985? Heavy internet users probably read a novel's worth of text every day.
posted by naju at 2:03 PM on January 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yeah, but it's not the right sort of reading. Or writing
posted by dng at 2:05 PM on January 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


What if we read more than people did in 1985? Heavy internet users probably read a novel's worth of text every day.

How much of it is really worth reading, though?
posted by entropicamericana at 2:06 PM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Soon there will be screens in our butts
posted by oceanjesse at 2:08 PM on January 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


How many of the grocery-store-rack pulp paperbacks which most people bought in 1985 were really worth reading?
posted by Justinian at 2:09 PM on January 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


How much of it is really worth reading, though?

How many books are worth reading? Books are always held up as a virtue but people think of the classics and ignore all the tree-killing dross that is published. Loads of crap new books are published every year. I'd bet its safe to assume that the majority of books printed in any given year are going to be crappy.
posted by memebake at 2:11 PM on January 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


So what you're saying is that 90% of anything is crap?
posted by Justinian at 2:12 PM on January 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


How much of it is really worth reading, though?

A satisfyingly large amount, if you like creative nonfiction type stuff and follow Longform or Longreads. I live in a reader's paradise I couldn't have imagined when I was a kid paging through old People Magazines in the waiting room at the doctor's office.
posted by sallybrown at 2:14 PM on January 6, 2015 [18 favorites]


At the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the public bathroom faucets have 4" screens built into them displaying advertisements as you wash your hands.
posted by GuyZero at 2:17 PM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


What if we read more than people did in 1985? Heavy internet users probably read a novel's worth of text every day.

It depends on what kind of reading though. Reading comments, text messages, and social media updates is different than reading from a book. My mind feels less cluttered and scattered when I read one piece of writing for half an hour as opposed to reading comments from various webpages for half an hour.
posted by FJT at 2:19 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I took the "travelling" and "reading" as metaphorical, not so much literal, concepts (and yes, I kinda of want to slap myself for even typing that, but you get me).
posted by Gin and Broadband at 2:21 PM on January 6, 2015


Conan was way more clairvoyant

What is best in life?
To enhance your literacy, and do your reading online...
posted by blue_beetle at 2:25 PM on January 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


It depends on what kind of reading though. Reading comments, text messages, and social media updates is different than reading from a book.

Even if you only count books, people still read more now than ever before. Based on Gallup polls from 1949 through to now.
posted by memebake at 2:51 PM on January 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


So reading this again, it seems like romantic fatalism where Duras is sort of secretly wishing for the world to go to shit. She asks "We will no longer travel, it will no longer be necessary to travel. When you can travel around the world in eight days or a fortnight, why would you?" and then proceeds to answer her own question, as if she's the only human who could possibly understand that "In traveling, there is the time of the travel. Traveling is not seeing things in a rapid succession, it’s seeing and living in the same instant." So of course people still travel. I watch English TV shows on ITV online while eating English cheese I buy at my local grocery store here in the US. And somehow this is supposed to make me want to travel to England less? Quite the opposite.

Anyway, somewhat interesting but to me it reads more as "ugh, people suck, maybe someday everyone will see the world as only I can see it, which is the best way to see it."
posted by GuyZero at 2:52 PM on January 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Screens are a crutch. They will go away when we find a way to connect minds (human and otherwise) directly. Progress on that front is coming along.
posted by Poldo at 2:58 PM on January 6, 2015


Hm, I'll still take the eyeball-based input sanitization.
posted by GuyZero at 3:02 PM on January 6, 2015


Yeah, but it's not the right sort of reading. Or writing

Who is to define what is the right sort of reading or writing, save the reader or writer?
posted by hal_c_on at 3:21 PM on January 6, 2015


entropicamericana: How much of it is really worth reading, though?
sallybrown: A satisfyingly large amount, if you like creative nonfiction type stuff and follow Longform or Longreads restrict yourself to a particular, well-defined reading source... like, say, curated online forums on popular events that favor intellgent debate.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:34 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


GuyZero - I don't know a ton about Duras, but she was an Olympic-level alcoholic, which goes hand-in-hand with just that kind of 'world's going to shit, I'm the only one who sees it' thinking.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 3:35 PM on January 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Sorry, sallybrown; I took your comment the opposite of how you meant it.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:36 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


"The seas will remain, nevertheless, and the oceans." Oh, they'll remain all right - dying by degrees.
posted by Zack_Replica at 3:38 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


The future will be nothing but answers about the sheer number of rabid wolves all around us. Screens everywhere will display footage and statistics about the wolves, and we will watch television, because that will be the best way to remain informed about the wolves, god so so many wolves.

Travel will be nearly instantaneous, but who would travel? Travel is in the time traveling, and time traveling means time spent vulnerable to vicious, inevitable wolf mauling.

One day, one man will rediscover reading. He will let his guard down, and serve as a warning to the others.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:45 PM on January 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


Who is to define what is the right sort of reading or writing, save the reader or writer?

Eh, nobody really. But rising to the bait, and bearing in mind that this is all 30 year old gloom-saying translated from the French and it don't get more pretentious than that, I do think there is a different quality to the kind of thinking, the kind of mental engagement we have, with the stuff we encounter on the Internet, that is more akin to the passivity with which one watches television than with the kind of alertness, the kind of wilful immersion, that you get with (good) offline texts. The whole net is on infinite scroll, you know? There's a flow to it, a sense of skimming, dipping and pausing then hitting refresh, see if there's anything new, see if there's anything new, see if there's anything new. She sort of points to it in saying, Where are we when we watch television? You point to most any book on my shelf, I can tell you where I was when I read it, conjure the place and circumstance where I encountered that writer, those ideas. I can't do that, with articles I've read on the web. Where was I when I read them? In a screen somewhere, at my house or my office or the one I carry with me in my pocket all the time. Everywhere and nowhere; the void. The Internet is a realm unto itself, with its own customs ---- shibboleths and such of course, but also a sort of peculiar unreal weightless quality which teaches one that here one should be shocked by nothing and outraged by everything, where an insulted school bus driver or a maker of absurdist potato salads can have a king's ransom dropped on them out of the sky, and a woman who writes a blog post somebody doesn't like finds a howling mob baying for her blood at every door and shutter and baseboard crack she opens...because it doesn't matter, because it's the Internet. Twitter activists leaping at the nearest outrage like a pack of starlings chasing dusk. Skimming. Shallow. What's new what's new what's new.

[Shrug.] There's plenty of deep thought on the web too, of course. Deep feeling too, for that matter. Such a powerful tool may be put to many uses. But I remember reading a study somewhere --- Scientific America website, maybe? --- which observed how the brain reacts when we use tools, how it maps them onto its sense of our body's limits and scope, and a hammer truly does become, in the minds eye, an extension of our arm. Our tool shape us more than we like to think, and nothing we use as much as these screens can leave us without calluses.
posted by Diablevert at 3:51 PM on January 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


I acted in a production of Duras' Eden Cinema back in college, and it was the single worst theatrical experience of my life. I feel this fact is an important contribution to this thread.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:54 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


In fact she doesn't say screens but postes, which is a shortcut for poste de télévision i.e. TV sets. Context: she was writing this at a time when France had a grand total of 4 TV channels, 3 of them state-run. I don't think she was imagining Google or little kids playing with smartphones, just ubiquituous TV sets featuring the likes of Patrick Sabatier. Indeed, she doesn't mention the Minitel, who was just getting popular and was really something from the future, but nobody knew that at the time.
posted by elgilito at 4:00 PM on January 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Now I have read it, and I can confidently state that it was not the Right Kind of Reading
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:00 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Holy crap, Gin and Broadband, that Olivia Laing article is a helluva read! Thanks for linking that.
posted by mosk at 4:14 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ask Metafilter: The demand will be such that there will only be answers. All texts will be answers.
posted by lollusc at 5:43 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Answers, yes.

But to what?
posted by ostranenie at 5:45 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


GuyZero: "Hm, I'll still take the eyeball-based input sanitization."

Yeah, not looking forward to panicatta.cx
posted by RobotHero at 5:45 PM on January 6, 2015


Even if you only count books, people still read more now than ever before. Based on Gallup polls from 1949 through to now.

First, both the article linked and the Gallup Survey it's based on is from 2005, which is a decade ago.

Second, the Atlantic kinda cherry picked one survey question, which asks "Do you happen to be reading any books or novels at present?", which is a vague question, because someone could be in the middle of a book they've been reading for a long time and still say "yes".

Third, the same survey shows that we've actually taken a step back to 1990 for the median amount of books read in a year:

During the past year, about how many books, either hardcover or paperback, did you read either all or part of the way through?

Dec 1990: 6
July 1999: 10
Sep 1999: 7
Dec 2001: 5
Dec 2002: 6
May 2005: 5

So, there are more people reading. But among readers, the median amount of books read has slightly decreased.
posted by FJT at 6:48 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


hardcover or paperback

Two categories that cover precisely zero of the books I've read in the past year.

To reiterate: that survey is almost ten years old. The reading landscape has changed enormously since then.
posted by Hatashran at 7:24 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


memebake: "Even if you only count books, people still read more now than ever before. Based on Gallup polls from 1949 through to now."

The Atlantic had an article on the Armed Services Editions of World War II, where publishers got together and printed extremely cheap editions of their books, sold them to the army, and shipped them to the front, where bored troops devoured them: "The books belonged to the soldiers themselves. They passed them around. They sliced them apart to share in installments. They read them aloud to their buddies. Literature, no longer restricted to those who could afford it, became their common possession." It also made the paperback respectable, which helped make reading of classics far more widespread, and book ownership more common and affordable.

I'm interested in how it interacts with the increase in reading from 1949 through today, and whether Duras was aware of the shift in reading habits after WWII.

"No book generated more passion among its readers than A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a gritty coming-of-age novel. On a Pacific island, a lucky soldier given a new copy "howled with joy," but knew he'd have to sleep on top of it if he hoped to hang onto it long enough to finish it. A 20-year-old Marine "went through hell" in two years of combat, but wrote from his stateside hospital bed that the book had made him feel human again. It might, he conceded, be "unusual for a supposedly battle-hardened marine to do such an effeminate thing as weep over a piece of fiction," but he was now making his way through the book for the third time."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:34 PM on January 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


the median amount of books

*cries*
posted by sylvanshine at 9:12 AM on January 7, 2015


Well median is more resistant than mean if you have outliers like Books Georg who lives in a cave and reads 10,000 books each day.
posted by RobotHero at 9:36 AM on January 7, 2015



When a finger points to the moon, the MeFites look at the finger.
posted by jason's_planet at 2:41 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


During the past year, about how many books, either hardcover or paperback, did you read either all or part of the way through?

My answer would be 0. I have read far more books then I used to since I got an eReader and then tablet.
posted by juiceCake at 8:12 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Justinian: So what you're saying is that 90% of anything is crap?

Well, some rough percentage N% and Books do not get an exemption just for being books.
posted by memebake at 7:06 AM on January 12, 2015


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