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“Shweta your mic is on”- Wallace’s Prediction of Fall of Videophony

We live in an age of viral media, one trend makes way for another, and at the end of the year brands go for a recap of the year in memes, feeding off mass media to promote mass consumption. That the year of pandemic has fueled it further is unsurprising. In his book Infinite Jest, the encyclopedic experimental postmodern work perhaps equaling Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake in the unease it lends to readability, David Foster Wallace creates a world of addiction, devotion, and technology that define his satirized Northern America. That was the 90s, the creation is more global now.

Video calling has been a staple of science fiction, technology so advanced, it takes Bell’s humble innovation and adds visuals to it. Orwell called it Telescreen, albeit in a different context, and Wallace, 20 years before Zoom, Teams and Meets called it videophony. The idea had been devoid of its novelty in fiction, but what Wallace predicted was the subsequent decline of it. Video calls kept the world up and running during pandemic, made humanity stay in touch with the feeling of humanity, carried the burden of workspace so that cogs of economic machinery could move. And move they did, from morning catch up to an evening closing call, documenting the monotony of routine to feel associated with friends and family to then validating it on social media, humanity indulged videocalls, invited them into homes, lives, and workspace, thus creating a spectacle of untainted, perfectly social voyeurism. Till it got almost tiring, and then we started taking digital breathers, stayed away from our phones for small intervals, dreaded the next Zoom call. The elusive Shweta and her mic that remained switched on during a confidential conversation, allowing another hundred participants to become an unwilling part of it, is not merely the subject of viral memes that will be documented at the end of 2021-rest assured they will be, but it is also the stuff that contemporary nightmares are made of- the absolutely relentless barrage of videocalls taking over private life.

David Foster Wallace predicted the onslaught of videocalls, a clear obsession with screens, called television his biggest addiction, but what he foresaw was also the humanity’s tiredness at the advanced videophony. He writes, “…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…” I remember glancing through an article few years discussing what Wallace had gotten wrong about videocalls. A few years down the line, with the stress and delusion of videocall catching up with humanity, it does not seem so unimaginable after all. The tide of time has vindicated Mr. Wallace, placing yet again, the figure of author as the modern Nostradamus.


Aakansha is a writer who likes to engage in varied discussions through words. As an avid reader and writer, she has a way to express the world through her detailed lens. She has an eye for the things that are hiding in plain sight but are never noticed. Hence, bringing a fresh perspective to the most monotonous things.

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