Excerpts from a Conversation with David Foster Wallace

Excerpts from a conversation with David Foster Wallace during the last leg of his Infinite Jest book tour in 1996. From Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky.

I think one of the reasons that I feel empty after watching a lot of TV, and one of the things that makes TV seductive, is that it gives the illusion of relationships with people. It’s a way to have people in the room talking and being entertaining, but it doesn’t require anything of me. I mean, I can see them, they can’t see me. And that they’re there for me, and I can, I can receive from the TV, I can receive entertainment and stimulation. Without having to give anything back but the most tangential kind of attention. And that is very seductive.

The problem is it’s also very empty. Because one of the differences about having a real person there is that number one, I’ve gotta do some work. Like, he pays attention to me, I gotta pay attention to him. You know: I watch him, he watches me. The stress level goes up. But there’s also, there’s something nourishing about it, because I think like as creatures, we’ve all got to figure out how to be together in the same room.

[…] And that as the Internet grows, and as our ability to be linked up, like—I mean, you and I coulda done this through e-mail, and I never woulda had to meet you, and that woulda been easier for me. Right? Like, at a certain point we’re gonna have to build up some machinery, inside our guts, to help us deal with this. Because the technology is just gonna get better and better and better and better. And it’s gonna get easier and easier, and more and more convenient, and more and more pleasurable, to be alone with images on a screen, given to us by people who do not love us but want our money. Which is all right. In low doses, right? but if that’s the basic main staple of your diet, you’re gonna die. In a meaningful way, you’re going to die.

But you developed some defenses?

No. This is the great thing about it, is that probably each generation has different things that force the generation to grow up. Maybe for our grandparents it was World War Two. You know? For us, it’s gonna be that at, at a certain point, that we’re either gonna have to put away childish things and discipline ourself about how much time do I spend being passively entertained? And how much time do I spend doing stuff that actually isn’t all that much fun minute by minute, but that builds certain muscles in me as a grown-up and a human being? And if we don’t do that, then (a) as individuals, we’re gonna die, and (b) the culture’s gonna grind to a halt.


[What about] the Web, the “Interlace” in [Infinite Jest]—in fifteen years? 

Yep. And the big thing, if you’re doin’ movies and packaging any sort of thing, is to get in on the Interlace grid. That Interlace will be this enormous gatekeeper. It will be like sort of the one publishing house from hell. They decide what you get and what you don’t.

Because this idea that the Internet’s gonna become incredibly democratic? I mean, if you’ve spent any time on the Web, you know that it’s not gonna be, because that’s completely overwhelming. There are four trillion bits coming at you, 99 percent of them are shit, and it’s too much work to do triage to decide.

So, it’s very clearly, very soon there’s gonna be an economic niche opening up for gatekeepers. You know? Or, what do you call them, Wells, or various nexes. Not just of interest but of quality. And then things get real interesting. And we will beg for those things to be there. Because otherwise we’re gonna spend 95 percent of our time body-surfing through shit that every joker in his basement—who’s not a pro, like you were talking about last night. I tell you, there’s no single more interesting time to be alive on the planet Earth than in the next twenty years. It’s gonna be—you’re gonna get to watch all of human history played out again real quickly.