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Interview: Robert Grossbach on “myPhone20”

– What was the inspiration for “myPhone20,” or what prompted you to write it?

Well, first the disclaimer: Whenever writers or other creators are asked this sort of origin question about a subconscious process, I suspect that some kind of plausible narrative is constructed that likely has little to do with the actual genesis.  Having said that …

I’d been having crabby discussions with friends for several years about how smartphones, social networks, search engines, etcetera were leading to a sort of collective consciousness — hardly an original observation.  Then one day, I went into an Apple store in Orlando, and asked a sales person when the iPhone6 would be out and what features it would have.  (I did it just to be annoying, I didn’t really care one whit.)  I didn’t hear his answer, but when I left the store, the thought suddenly popped into my mind: I wonder what the iPhone15 would be like.  Well, the only really advanced feature I could come up with, something not just an incremental improvement over what we have now, was a direct neural connection.  And as I pondered the mechanics of that and the possibilities for things to go wrong, I realized, because of the concretization, I had a story, not just a conversation topic.


– What kind of research did you do for “myPhone20?”

Just the mundane things one does to explain, enrich, and check various story points, e.g., looking up highway numbers, exits, and distances, finding out how the brain’s lymphatic system works to rid it of wastes, checking first-day sales numbers of today’s smartphones – very minor stuff.  It also helped that I’d just read “How to Create a Mind,” by Ray Kurzweil, a wonderful book that points out how the brain’s wiring is much less random than we’d imagined and that made the idea of group electrotelepathy seem not quite so remote.


– Was this story personal for you in any way?

Well, as an engineer I’m not intimidated by smartphone technology, but as someone with a quasi-hermit-like personality, I prefer to communicate with the outside world when I choose to, not when it does.  I also happen to be a grandpa with children and grandchildren who do use smartphones quite frequently.  So in those elements, the story was personal.


 – “myPhone20”: light-hearted bit of fun, or prophecy of doom?

I suppose it’s somewhere in between, or maybe both at once.  Of course, I did have some fun with people theaking instead of talking, and the various new apps: myHealth, myDivorce, thporn, thorgasms, etc.  But I think the real issue might not be technological or biological, but societal – the facilitation and reinforcement of the “herd instinct” or “group-think” and instantaneous fads, including scientific ones.  I happen to believe that most of civilization’s advances have been made by independent thinkers, people outside the mainstream consensus, malcontents, people who deliberately imposed that isolation on themselves as a means of separation from the outside cacophony of agreement.  It’s these people whom I think might have an even harder time of it as technology enables ever-growing, ever more intimate, ever more personal social and professional networks.


– What are you working on now?

I’m writing a novelette about two entrepreneurs, one of them not from this planet.  It combines my two lifelong occupational endeavors (neither so accomplished it can be called a “career”) – engineering and science fiction.

“myPhone20” appears in the Sept./Oct. 2013 issue of F&SF.


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