March 27th, 2007

Adventures in Existentialism (With Kevin)

by Philip Baruth

It’s been a long time since we had a real manufacturing base here in America.

What we excel in today can only be called technological seduction — we produce some tiny, colorful, unnecessary snippet of software or video, and then we bring all of our cultural resources to bear, in order to make the snippet seem indispensable.

federline, himself

We deal in the ineffable and the ephemeral: we want people in India and Asia to want it but not quite understand it, and we want whatever the product is to become useless by next year.

And usually I’m a critic of this sort of cultural flim-flammery, but occasionally it manages to produce something so unexpectedly central to my life that it all but erases the cynicism I have for the process in general.

Take Google.

In the same way that I love Macintosh computers, I love Google: unreservedly, with every beat of my scarred twenty-first-century heart.

But as much as I love the Google search engine, there is something lonely about it. When you use it, you are almost always in a room by yourself, searching, always searching because the data you retrieve inevitably raises more questions, further searches.

And so Google is an existentially troubling experience, if you think about it.

I am searching, I realize now, not because I need phone numbers or hotel prices in Quebec: I am searching because as a human being, I am ever alone. And so I search more often, but the more I search, by definition, the more I am alone.

And that’s why I was so excited the other day to see that a company called Prodege has solved this existential Catch-22. They’ve partnered with Brittney Spears ex-husband Kevin Federline to create something called “Search With Kevin.”

Search With Kevin is a toolbar that appears on your desktop every time you start up your computer, and instead of going to Google’s homepage, you simply Search With Kevin.

And for me that has made all the difference. Because now, when I sit in my small office, moving virtually through endless sterile drifts of information, I’m no longer alone, no longer existentially bereft because — and I hope I can make you see this, make you feel it the way I do — because I’m with Kevin.

kfed, unchainedBut in addition to the surprisingly deep sense of companionship, there are other big pluses: each time I search I can win prizes, an 8×10 of Kevin, or an invitation to his birthday party, late at night, in the VIP room of some gritty, happening club in Miami Beach.

I can even win a t-shirt, the plain white kind with no sleeves.

The homepage for Search With Kevin shows Federline seated at a poker table, with a cigarette and a glass of scotch. He’s wearing a bathrobe, and a really big watch.

And at first you think: hey, this guy’s got no friends — he’s an ex-back-up dancer turned ex-husband who has nothing much of anything to do.

But then you realize that he’s sitting there waiting for you, to be with you. And he’s in his bathrobe because you’re now that close.

But of course my happiness searching with Kevin can’t last forever; the American economy now demands that I become fickle and dissatisfied. Next year, I’ll be searching with Jennifer Anniston, Brad Pitt’s ex, and the year after, maybe with Dennis Hastert, ex-Speaker of the House.

And you know the prizes at Search With Dennis have gotta be huge.

[This piece aired originally on Vermont Public Radio. You can listen to an here.]

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