Time's a goon . . . unless you know how to use technology

 

Not too long ago,  I read a  A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.  The Goon Squad, a novel told in shotgun narration, is about the memories of different people affiliated at different times in their lives, all converging around the rock music scene.  The central characters are Bennie and Sasha--Bennie is a music guru of sort and Sasha is his assistant.  The story begins with, and in a way, ends with these two characters.  Everything in between, however, shows off Egan's style of humor, sophisticated prose, and attention to detail.

I was especially intrigued by Egan's handling of technology in her work, as she attempts to give us a glimpse of its impact on our future (practically reality in some cases) without making her story or our society appear wacky or like an episode of Star Trek.  We first glimpse technological advancements near the end of the novel when Alex, who had a one-night fling with Sasha, is seeking employment with Bennie.  During their meeting, where both men have their families present, Bennie and Alex discuss a has-been musician trying to make a comeback; Bennie says, "You've heard of him, Scotty Hausmann?  He's doing well with the pointers."  Alex explains to us that a "pointer" is "any child who could point [in an effort to] download music . . . these babies had not only revived a dead industry but [have] become the arbiters of musical success."  Alex explains to the reader that he and his wife, Rebecca, have made the decision not to expose their daughter to hand-held devices until she's five (Alex sort of breaks this rule later in the novel).

The evolution of terminology is most intriguing in this story.  The reader learns that students working on a marketing degree need to take physics classes to keep up with technological advancements.  Alex tells us that Rebecca has a stellar academic reputation thanks to her research on "word casings," "a term she's invented for words that no longer had meaning outside quotation marks."  Words that fit this description include: friend, real, story, change, identity, search, and cloud.  Such words, Alex tells us, are devoid of meaning, because of their (over)usage on the Internet.  As soon as I read this passage, I googled word casings to see if true research was being done on the subject.  To my surprise, Egan invented the term all on her own.  I can't help but think that some PhD student is missing out on framing her/his dissertation on this subject matter. 

Egan gives her readers many things to consider.  It's no secret that corporations, retailers, franchises, however you would call them, market products directly to children.  In this instance, children are induced with an unexpected power.  Through their desires for certain types of toys, video games, apps, they become buyers and ultimately investors in the make up of our future; Egan's coining them pointers, clearly reveals the ease at which children have come to learn how to manipulate it. 

Every so often we are exposed to stories in all types of media that analyze our understanding of friendship, because sites like Facebook and Myspace have redefined relationships for us.  Similarly, a word like "search" no longer carries the same level of intensity when you compare typing a word into a search engine with roaming around your house looking for misplaced eyeglasses.  There's less work involved, but something very intense is happening in history and semantics.  The irony is in writing about these issues in a blog after reading the novel on my Kindle.  There is an urge to prevent such changes, but doing so sounds like I'm trying to prevent the future, that is the essence of my generation and successive generations. 

For reviews on A Visit From the Good Squad, visit:

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10178/1068302-148.stm

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/books/review/Blythe-t.html

http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2010/06/13/jennifer_egan_interview_ex...

 

 

Image courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Visit_From_the_Goon_Squad.

alans

The "PowerPoint" Chapter

Chapter 12 of the book, written "in PowerPoint" has attracted a lot of comment - most commentators that I've read regarding it as a cute but unsuccessful experiment.  Not many people seem to have seen her version in a "real" slide deck on SlideShare. I think it shows that she's actually managed some modes of expression that couldn't be done in a linear narrative: http://www.slideshare.net/JenniferEgan/rockandroll97-2004cppt

There's also an interesting interview with her at Google where she has lots of interesting things to say about her own use of and attitudes to technology, e.g. how she writes long-hand but then restructures in a more analytical and computer-based way, how much she relies on collaboration in a writing group etc. Here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kl86UbQWmyk

Look at Me is also an interesting book - in the interview I think she says it's her favorite, having "more ideas".

 

tnarey

Links

Hi Alan- Thanks for your response.  I had not come across these links when I first started to read about Egan and The Goon Squad. I especially appreciate the link to the PowerPoint.  As I said, I read the book on my Kindle and the PowerPoint chapter, while I enjoyed it, read fragmented in certain spots.  Seeing it big and in color makes a different impression. Also, I intend to read Look at Me. I have become a big fan of Egan's work.