One interesting wrinkle to reading Infinite Jest on its tenth anniversary is that we’re now more-or-less living in the “near future” in which the novel appears to be set. And we can tell that, for example, the short-lived video-telephony revolution that Wallace forecast never came to pass. At the same time we can also tell that Wallace didn’t foresee the actual communications revolutions of the past ten years—things like the rise of IM and SMS to a position of ubiquity.
But what I found fascinating about the passage on the rise and fall of the video phone was that despite its inaccurate (and outlandish) account of technological progress, I thought the depiction of the psychology of communications technology was dead-on. And when we think about what new ways of dealing with one another have become popular in recent years, I think in part they’ve become popular precisely because of the same underlying issues that Wallace describes as causing so much anxiety around the video phone. What we’ve wanted out of communication isn’t more interaction with our interlocutors, but less. The ability to communicate while substantially obscuring what we’re really doing—to reduce our interaction to a think strand of text—has proven immensely popular.