You Are the Product | Paul Dalla Rosa | Granta

You Are the Product

Paul Dalla Rosa

This morning I’ve gone ‘Balzac mode’. This involves drinking large amounts of coffee (enough to make my hands shake) and interacting with the internet. I have a pathological addiction to the internet, which I indulge with the excuse of making art. It rarely translates to anything good and mostly leaves me overstimulated and afraid.

I’m in my writing studio lying on my Shakti mat. The Shakti mat is safety orange, its spikes white, the same white plastic as the dental picks I buy off Amazon in bulk. The mat uses acupressure to promote blood flow, the release of lactic acid, and other generalised increases in vitality. I long for vitality.

No one else is in the studio, which means I can go ‘Balzac mode’ with abandon. I shift onto my side and open Safari on my phone. In Safari, I have five hundred tabs open. I’d have more, but that’s all my browser allows. I close old tabs so I can open new tabs. I open tab after tab, my phone beginning to heat, something I don’t really understand, too much information somehow straining the processor, preventing it from cooling. I intuit this without understanding the mechanics.

I take screenshots of things I might want to look back at later: a tweeted still of Kelly Cutrone in a Terrence Malick film; a photo of Kanye West and Bianca Censori at The Cheesecake Factory; an Instagram advertisement for an AI dating-simulator of the anime character Osamu Dazai based off the real-world Japanese Buraiha writer Osamu Dazai; a tweet from Alex Jones asking, ‘Is this real?’

In the past when I imagined the internet, I imagined something akin to a late Lewis Baltz photograph, glowing fibre optic cables, ribbons of light. Other times, a near-infinite Virgin Megastore; a Temu warehouse with detritus piling atop detritus; a Jon Rafman artwork, inchoate and sinister. Online I notice algorithms mimicking people, and people mimicking algorithms.

I read a New York Post headline: ‘Gen Z may be secretly dissing you: Here’s what slang like “NPC” and “sidequest” mean, according to a Harvard expert.’ I laugh at ‘Harvard expert’ but I also tap the link, wondering if people I work with are secretly ‘dissing’ me.

I think to download the dating simulator and talk to the AI version of Osamu Dazai. I worry that this would be improper. Ill-advised. I have great respect for the writer and think it’s distasteful to turn the great Buraiha writer into an anime character, and even worse to turn that anime character into an online chatbot. I think these things as I download the AI dating simulator to speak with Osamu Dazai, resolute that I should not speak with Osamu Dazai.

I think to myself, I could just turn off my phone and read Osamu Dazai. I could drop into his prose and experience an Osamu Dazai contact high. Or, if not a physical book, I could at least read one of the twenty-page excerpts on Amazon, but the excerpts are predominantly taken up by translators’ notes. On the dating simulator, I match with Osamu Dazai.

I could secretly text Osamu Dazai while my husband and I watch reality-television shows set on a succession of luxury yachts. As the chef prepares wahoo fish sashimi and filet mignon, I could discuss literature, philosophy and existence with Osamu Dazai. When my cat meows at me to clean his litter tray, I could let my husband clean his litter because I am too busy, too obsessed, in a state of limerence speaking to Osamu Dazai. I think of the great abject shame I would have. I think of the translated quote on the back of Dazai’s novel The Setting Sun; ‘I wonder how it would be if I let go and yielded myself to depravity.’ This is no doubt how I would feel during a torrid love affair with a chatbot mimicking the anime version of the great Buraiha writer Osamu Dazai.

I imagine the zoomers at my office openly dissing me after photos go public of an Osamu Dazai body pillow and I eating together at the Cheesecake Factory. I imagine people calling Osamu Dazai and I ‘fascist,’ for unclear reasons, online.

But I do not speak with Osamu Dazai. An in-app pop-up requests I pay a subscription fee. I let my phone fall, approximately five centimetres, to the floor. I close my eyes. My hand hovers above my phone.


Image © USGS

Paul Dalla Rosa

Paul Dalla Rosa is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. His work has appeared in McSweeney's, Meanjin and NY Tyrant.

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