We’ll get to that sphincter cam in a minute, but first some background. A week or so back in a post on the fallibility of pundits, I invited 317am readers to join in the Pundit Game and make some long-term predictions. Only my intrepid younger brother Bill took up the challenge. This is not surprising because Bill’s been trying to beat me at anything and everything ever since he was six years old and I taught him how to be a tackling dummy.
So here’s the Pundit Game quiz:
- Name a future winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
- In 2015, which social network will have more members worldwide – Twitter, Facebook, or some other social network?
- Name a director who will win the Oscar for Best Picture by 2015.
- Name three writers who will win any of these awards by 2015: a Man Booker Prize, a Pulitzer, or a National Book Award.
- Which will have more users worldwide in 2015 – the iPad, the Kindle, or some other kind of e-book reader?
- Bonus question: predict the next big app for a digital device.
Here are brother Bill’s responses:
- Nestor Amorilla
- Some other social network (possibly associated with Google). Almost every time Google does something, it is well done, applauded, and increases market share. Almost every time Facebook does something, it is ill-conceived, universally hated, and increases market share.
- Danny Boyle. I know, he’s won before, but I think he’ll win again.
- Margaret Atwood, John Patrick Shanley, Lionel Shriver
- Some other kind of e-book reader (smaller than the iPad).
- Avatar – not the silly little pictures we put up on social Web sites, but rather an “intelligent” agent that takes care of digital tasks for you: makes appointments, researches products, answers simple questions that fans have for you.
Here are my predictions:
For the Nobel, my money is on Chinua Achebe of Nigeria. He’s the right age (80), has had a long, well-respected career, written the landmark novel (Things Fall Apart, 1958), and is originally from sub-Sahara Africa, a region that hasn’t won since 1986 with Wole Soyinka. (J.M. Coetzee’s prize in 2003 doesn’t really count in this equation.) The British bookmakers like the Korean poet Ko Un and the Syrian poet who calls himself Adonis. I think Un also has a good shot; he certainly has the obscurity in the West, seemingly in some years a prerequisite for the prize committee. But I can’t imagine anybody named Adonis ever taking the Nobel. I don’t see a prize for the three North Americans most often mentioned as winners. Margaret Atwood is too popular (she’s on Twitter, for cripe’s sake), Cormac McCarthy is too violent, and Philip Roth is just too cranky.
Dominant social network? I’m going to be a little counter-intuitive here and go with Twitter. Facebook has critical mass at the moment (one of every 14 people in the world belongs) and that counts a lot in social media. Once a company gets a big lead it’s hard to displace it simply because new joiners want to be where they’re friends already are, and so far Facebook has also shown formidably adaptive survival skills. But Twitter is coming up fast. It now claims 175 million users worldwide, and in the last year its growth outside the USA was 79 percent. I also believe that Twitter’s 140-character limit makes for a short-bite speed that is in tune with the zeitgeist. Speaking for myself, I get more usefulness/minute of Twitter time than I do for any form of media, including email, NPR, and the New Yorker.
Lisa Cholodenko for Oscar-winning director. Women directors working their way up through indie films have become a significant force in Hollywood and Kathryn Bigelow broke through to win for The Hurt Locker in 2009. I see this as the front edge of a trend wave. Cholodenko’s lesbian-family comedy The Kids Are All Right pleased everybody I know who saw it this past summer, and it’s just the right mix of edgy political correctness and mainstream family values to appeal to Academy voters. Even if this movie doesn’t win this year, it sets Cholodenko up as a contender in future years.
My three prize-winners for the English-language trifecta lit prizes are Gary Shteyngart, Marilynne Robinson, and Cormac McCarthy. Talk about zeitgeist surfers – they don’t get much better than Shteyngart. He’s a Russian emigre who at 38 has published three critically acclaimed novels – The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, Absurdistan, and Super Sad True Love Story (2010) – and a slew of under-40 readers. His mix of back story, absurdist humor, multiculturalism, new media subject matter, real talent, and a memorable name guarantees him at least one win in the next five years.
I don’t know whether Marilynne Robinson is working on another novel (she’s once had a 24-year gap between novels), but if she is, she has the requisite gravitas and skill to merit a prize. Her last two novels, featuring Iowa clergyman and their families – Gilead and Home – are serious literary fiction at its best, family sagas with credible, emotionally moving characters and big, meaning-of-life themes embedded.
And then there’s the grizzled grizzly bear of American fiction, Cormac McCarthy. He‘s taken a Pulitzer and National Book Award before, everything he writes is guaranteed a serious reception, and nobody works the Mark Twain tradition of humor, violence, and deadpan dialogue in the American West better. Perhaps it’s a sign that the Cormac McCarthy Society increased its dues to $40 a year in 2010. I wonder how many living writers have a dues-paying society devoted to their work.
Kindle or iPad? I’m literally in the dark on this one, trying to figure out which to buy as I ride my commuter bus home on long, winter evenings. Based on what I’ve read about the two and what my friends tell me, I’m headed in the direction of the iPad. It’s backlit for reading in the dark, able to serve as more than a reader, and it’s made by Apple, a company that generates fanatical devotees. The clincher for me was Rupert Murdoch’s remark on first having an iPad demoed: “We’ll have young people reading newspapers.”
My choice for app of the future is the sphincter cam, which, at the moment, is more in the category of thought experiment than market-ready product.. I heard about this device from my friend Rob Dorfman, who has a mountain biker friend named Jim Potts. According to Dorfman channeling Potts, mountain bikers like to zoom down sheer slopes as fast as they can, a predilection that makes for quite a few moments of extreme adrenaline production. This is especially exciting at night when, I’m told, the bikers attach miner-style lights to their helmets to see what the drop-offs look like as they plunge into space. So the high-concept version would be to attach a minicam to the light on the helmet and hook it up to the rider’s autonomic nervous system through an impulse-wiring system. We tend to think of the famous sphincter muscle, but there are more than 50 sphincters in the body. Attach that cam to any one of them and you’d be virtually guaranteed to get a photo shot at the moment of maximum truth.
So brother Bill’s predictions and mine are filed away in my database. Anybody else want to take a shot?