Douglas Coupland

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It’s an amazement that in this new millennium people stopped talking on the phone, that we turned away from conversation that travels through the fucking air. That it happened exactly when phones got really good and really portable makes it even more striking. 

I always hated talking on the phone on account of my desire to shut the fuck up as much as possible, but I don’t even set up the voicemail on my personal line. I dream of ridding myself of email and Twitter, but I’ve already taken a stand on talking on the phone. I said “goodbye” and returned the receiver to its cradle. That baby will have to raise itself.

A text is inferior to a talk in almost every way. It’s far less human and less intimate (which is exactly why it’s preferred). I imagine Kazuo Ishiguro is capable of intimate tweets, but he may be the only one. 

Some clips from a recent Douglas Coupland Financial Times column about this modern disconnect:

My mother is convinced I have a secret phone with a secret phone number. I try to tell her that nobody speaks on phones these days, but she won’t believe it. My outgoing message on my cell is that I don’t check messages. I don’t. I haven’t checked voicemail in more than two years. People still sometimes leave messages. It’s their choice. Gosh! I wonder if I have any voicemail! Not.

• • •

I remember rotary dial phones. They were produced after the second world war in New Jersey by a US government-sanctioned monopoly called Bell Labs. The government thought communications were far too important to be left in the hands of raw capitalism and, to their credit, Bell Labs designed phones of stunning durability — just ask anyone from a household full of children back then. BTW, I’ve also noticed that nobody forgets their first phone number and everyone remembers the phone number of their friend early on in life. Perhaps no longer. Current phone numbers often resemble gene sequences in their length and complexity. Who’d want to remember one? Remember something that might come in useful instead, like pi.

• • •

The central idea of this essay is that nobody speaks on the phone any more. A corollary of this is that people once did. While I have fond memories of phoning people (phone call + cigarette = heaven), I’d never want to go back to it. Why dawdle or waste time when a quick text or two can do the trick? This is a trick question because you have to ask yourself, what are you going to do with all the time you saved by texting and not phoning? The answer: send more texts.

• • •

I remember having fun on the phone. Phones were once the only game in town. The experience of using one was far more charged than might now be imagined. But then, sometimes, only the phone will do. It was around midnight Pacific time when I found out David Bowie died; I spent the next three hours calling friends around the planet. Email didn’t cut it, so there you go.•



  • I’d probably have to surrender and watch TV if I noticed those binge-viewing shows becoming brilliant and noble, but I don’t. Do you?
  • People seem as stressed as entertained by the bonanza of TV and near-TV content the decentralized media has thrust upon us. It’s hard to keep up. Annoying, almost. Don’t tell me what happened on the last episode. I haven’t had time to watch it yet. There’s not enough time. Let’s not talk about it.
  • David Letterman used to say that he didn’t want television to be too good, to the point where you couldn’t ignore it. Maybe TV was better when it was worse.
  • Distancing yourself from the whole thing–no TV or Netflix or Amazon Prime–might as well make you from another planet today, and that’s the point. 
  • Unplugging in a larger sense from the Digital Age is really hard and will become pretty much impossible in the near future. We’re part of the way inside the machine and the Internet of Things will move us forever within. You will be counted. You’ll count.

In “Escaping the Superfuture,” Douglas Coupland’s recent Financial Times column, the writer-artist indulges in some 1990s nostalgia–hard to believe, right?–realizing there’s no eluding today, which feels an awful lot like tomorrow. “Human beings weren’t built for progress,” he offers. An excerpt:

Lately I’ve been experiencing a new temporal sensation that’s odd to articulate, but I do think is shared by most people. It’s this: until recently, the future was always something out there up ahead of us, something to anticipate or dread, but it was always away from the present.

But not any more. Somewhere in the past few years the present melted into the future. We’re now living inside the future 24/7 and this (weirdly electric and buzzy) sensation shows no sign of stopping — if anything, it grows ever more intense. Elsewhere I’ve labelled this experience “the extreme present” — or another label for this new realm might be “the superfuture”. In this superfuture I feel like I’m clamped into a temporal roller coaster and, at the crest of the first hill, I can see that my roller coaster actually runs off far into the horizon. Wait! How is this thing supposed to end?

Is it ever going to end? Help! I want a pill called 1995! I want a one-year holiday from change! But that’s not going to happen.

 . . . 

The future is always supposed to be a mess, isn’t it? I think it’s funny the way people have an almost impossible time envisioning a future that isn’t a dystopian waste-scape. Growing up in the 1970s, the year 2016 was to have been a wasteland populated by a rifle-toting Charlton Heston, zombies and the Statue of Liberty poking out of a beach. Both oil and fresh water would be non-existent. No politics; just anarchy. But by many measurable statistical standards, right now is the best time ever in our history . . . and yet mostly we bitch, complain and worry — it’s what we do as humans. I think the biggest surprise for a 1970s Rip Van Winkle awaking in 2016 might probably be oil: cheap and plentiful oil. Wait — how did that happen? And look at the variety and quality of produce in even the most dismal grocery store . . . and cars look smashing and don’t belch blue smoke and gays seem to be part of society at large. And . . . wait, this is 2016? Count me in!

 . . . 

It’s hard to accept that our new superfuture mind state is permanent and that it’s not going away — how could it? Our devices that cause it aren’t going to go away. They’ll just get better and faster and we’re going to embed ourselves in the superfuture ever more deeply.•


Black Lives Matter Protest Disrupts Holiday Shoppers At Mall Of America

Prior to the rise of the Internet and the fall of the Towers, is it possible we were unwittingly living in a golden age? Maybe for a moment.

If the 1990s was a good time, it was only briefly so. In the United States, the decade began with liberal Bill Clinton, Nirvana and brick-and-mortar, which gave way before the bell tolled to conservative Bill Clinton, Marcy Playground and point-and-click. In his latest Financial Times column, Douglas Coupland has warm thoughts about the pre-Internet era, fondly recalling the shopping mall, its fabricated community and food courts and fake trees, before we shrunk it all down to fit inside our phones. The opening:

On August 11 1992 I was in Bloomington, Minnesota, close to Minneapolis. I was on a book tour and it was the grand opening day of Mall of America, the biggest mall in the US. The local radio affiliate had a booth set up in front of the indoor roller coaster that strafed the booth like an air strike every 75 seconds. I was up on the stage with them doing a live interview for half an hour while thousands of people were walking by with “country fair face” — goggle-eyed and feeding on ice cream. I felt like I was inside a Technicolor movie from the 1950s. The show’s host assumed I was going to be an ironic, slacker wise-ass and said: “I guess you must think this whole mall is kind of hokey and trashy,” and I said: “No such thing.”

He was surprised. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that I feel like I’m in another era that we thought had vanished, but it really hasn’t, not yet. I think we might one day look back on photos of today and think to ourselves, ‘You know, those people were living in golden times and they didn’t even know it. Communism was dead, the economy was good and the future with all of its accompanying technologies hadn’t crushed society’s mojo like a bug.’”


And it’s true. Technology hadn’t hollowed out the middle class and turned us into laptop click junkies, and there were no new bogeymen hiding in the closet. We may well look back at the 1990s as the last good decade.•


Mall of America, opening weekend, August 1992.


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Here are 50 ungated pieces of wonderful journalism from 2015, alphabetized by author name, which made me consider something new or reconsider old beliefs or just delighted me. (Some selections are from gated publications that allow a number of free articles per month.) If your excellent work isn’t on the list, that’s more my fault than yours.

  • Who Runs the Streets of New Orleans?” (David Amsden, The New York Times Magazine) As private and public sector missions increasingly overlap, here’s an engaging look at the privatization of some policing in the French Quarter.
  • In the Beginning” (Ross Andersen, Aeon) A bold and epic essay about the elusive search for the origins of the universe.
  • Ask Me Anything (Anonymous, Reddit) A 92-year-old German woman who was born into Nazism (and participated in it) sadly absolves herself of all blame while answering questions about that horrible time.
  • Rethinking Extinction” (Stewart Brand, Aeon) The Whole Earth Catalog founder thinks the chance of climate-change catastrophe overrated, arguing we should utilize biotech to repopulate dwindling species.
  • Anchorman: The Legend of Don Lemon” (Taffy Brodesser-Akner, GQ) A deeply entertaining look into the perplexing facehole of Jeff Zucker’s most gormless word-sayer and, by extension, the larger cable-news zeitgeist.
  • How Social Media Is Ruining Politics(Nicholas Carr, Politico) A lament that our shiny new tools have provided provocative trolls far more credibility than a centralized media ever allowed for.
  • Clans of the Cathode” (Tom Carson, The Baffler) One of our best culture critics looks at the meaning of various American sitcom families through the medium’s history.
  • The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration” (Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic) The author examines the tragedy of the African-American community being turned into a penal colony, explaining the origins of the catastrophic policy failure.
  • Perfect Genetic Knowledge” (Dawn Field, Aeon) The essayist thinks about a future in which we’ve achieved “perfect knowledge” of whole-planet genetics.
  • A Strangely Funny Russian Genius” (Ian Frazier, The New York Review of Books) Daniil Kharms was a very funny writer, if you appreciate slapstick that ends in a body count.
  • Tomorrow’s Advance Man” (Tad Friend, The New Yorker) Profile of Silicon Valley strongman Marc Andreessen and his milieu, an enchanted land in which adults dream of riding unicorns.
  • Build-a-Brain” (Michael Graziano, Aeon) The neuroscientist’s ambitious thought experiment about machine intelligence is a piece I thought about continuously throughout the year.
  • Ask Me Anything (Stephen Hawking, Reddit) Among other things, the physicist warns that the real threat of superintelligent machines isn’t malice but relentless competence.
  • Engineering Humans for War” (Annie Jacobsen, The Atlantic) War is inhuman, it’s been said, and the Pentagon wants to make it more so by employing bleeding-edge biology and technology to create super soldiers.
  • The Wrong Head” (Mike Jay, London Review of Books) A look at insanity in 1840s France, which demonstrates that mental illness is often expressed in terms of the era in which it’s experienced.
  • Death Is Optional” (Daniel Kahneman and Noah Yuval Harari, Edge) Two of my favorite big thinkers discuss the road ahead, a highly automated tomorrow in which medicine, even mortality, may not be an egalitarian affair.
  • Where the Bodies Are Buried,” (Patrick Radden Keefe, The New Yorker) Ceasefires, even treaties, don’t completely conclude wars, as evidenced by this haunting revisitation of the heartbreaking IRA era.
  • Porntopia” (Molly Lambert, Grantland) The annual Adult Video News Awards in Las Vegas, the Oscars of oral, allows the writer to look into a funhouse-mirror reflection of America.
  • The Robots Are Coming” (John Lanchester, London Review of Books) A remarkably lucid explanation of how quickly AI may remake our lives and labor in the coming decades.
  • Last Girl in Larchmont” (Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker) The great TV critic provides a postmortem of Joan Rivers and her singular (and sometimes disquieting) brand of feminism.
  • “President Obama & Marilynne Robinson: A Conversation, Part 1 & Part 2” (Barack Obama and Marilynne Robinson, New York Review of Books) Two monumental Americans discuss the state of the novel and the state of the union.
  • Ask Me Anything (Elizabeth Parrish, Reddit) The CEO of BioViva announces she’s patient zero for the company’s experimental age-reversing gene therapies. Strangest thing I read all year.
  • Why Alien Life Will Be Robotic” (Sir Martin Rees, Nautilus) The astronomer argues that ETs in our inhospitable universe have likely already transitioned into conscious machines.
  • Ask Me Anything (Anders Sandberg, Reddit) Heady conversation about existential risks, Transhumanism, economics, space travel and future technologies conducted by the Oxford researcher. 
  • Alien Rights” (Lizzie Wade, Aeon) Manifest Destiny will, sooner or later, became a space odyssey. What ethics should govern exploration of the final frontier?
  • Peeling Back the Layers of a Born Salesman’s Life” (Michael Wilson, The New York Times) The paper’s gifted crime writer pens a posthumous profile of a protean con man, a Zelig on the make who crossed paths with Abbie Hoffman, Otto Preminger and Annie Leibovitz, among others.
  • The Pop Star and the Prophet” (Sam York, BBC Magazine) Philosopher Jacques Attali, who predicted, back in the ’70s, the downfall of the music business, tells the writer he now foresees similar turbulence for manufacturing.

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I was reading Douglas Coupland’s column about the artifacts of air travel in the aftermath of 9/11, and it reminded me of a 1992 New York Times article by Peter H. Lewis about the early days on online airline reservations, something that wasn’t yet perfected at the time of publication. It was a can’t-miss idea whose time was near but not quite there. The opening:

THESE days, a journey of a thousand miles can begin with a single tap of the computer keyboard.

The best way to get somewhere, some travelers assert, is through the personal computer. Using a computer and a modem, which allows two computers to exchange data over telephone lines, travelers can scan flight schedules and fares, check the weather at the destination, research restaurant reviews, uncover unadvertised bargains and in general tap into the knowledge of most of the world’s travel providers and many veteran travelers.

That’s a lot of traveling without leaving home, and it is a clear trend in the business and leisure travel industry. The rise of personal computers and lightweight portable computers, as well as the growing sophistication of automated telephone services, have allowed tens of thousands of individual travelers to gain access to the same information used by professional travel agents.

According to Steven Sieck, vice president for electronic services for the Link Resources Corporation, a market-research company in New York City, more than six million American households have modem-equipped computers capable of tapping into the various information and electronic mail services. Millions of business computers have modems, too.

“Virtually every electronic mail service and on-line service has access to airline guides, typically O.A.G. or Eaasy Sabre,” said Bill Howard, author of the PC Magazine Guide to Notebook and Laptop Computers (Ziff-Davis Press, Berkeley, Calif.). O.A.G. is the Official Airlines Guides Electronic Edition and Eaasy Sabre is the electronic information service owned by the parent of American Airlines. Another popular electronic airline guide is Worldspan Travelshopper, jointly operated by T.W.A., Northwest and Delta airlines.

O.A.G., Eaasy Sabre and Travelshopper are, in essence, data bases that contain scheduling and fare information on tens of thousands of flights daily. Many business customers subscribe directly to O.A.G. or the other services. Others gain access to the services through such consumer information services as Compuserve, which says it has 903,000 subscribers; the Prodigy Services Company, which reports a million members; Dialog Information Systems Inc.; Delphi; Dow Jones News Retrieval, and M.C.I. Mail.

But while on-line travel services are increasingly accessible, the people who might be expected to use them most — frequent flyers in the computer industry — say it is still faster, easier and cheaper to call a travel agent or the travel provider directly.

“Yes, you can use a computer, and it’s almost as good as the way you’ve done it for the past 20 years, and that’s stupid,” said Jim Seymour, a computer consultant who lives in Austin, Tex. “I use the telephone” and a pocket diary, Mr. Seymour said.

Mr. Howard agreed, and said even skilled computer users find the travel services daunting to navigate.•

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Speaking of the think tank that helped Steven Spielberg create the world of tomorrow for 2002’s Minority Report, Wired reconvened some of the principals of that very productive two-day retreat to mark the tenth anniversary of the film. It sounds like it was a fascinating experience if a harried and discombobulating one. An excerpt:

Alex McDowell (production designer, Minority Report):

It was two full days at the Shutters Hotel in Santa Monica.

Jaron Lanier (computer scientist, virtual reality pioneer):

We pretended to be a conference of dental technicians or something boring.

Douglas Coupland (novelist, author of Generation X and Microserfs):

We sat around a big U-shaped table like that scene in 2001 — in that conference room on the moon.

Joel Garreau (principal of consulting firm The Garreau Group, in 1999 a reporter at the Washington Post):

I don’t think many of us knew what the fuck we were getting ourselves into.

Peter Schwartz (futurist, co-founder of scenario-planning firm Global Business Network):

We would ask questions: What about advertising? What about transportation? What about newspapers? What about food?

Stewart Brand (editor of Whole Earth Catalog):

They had graphic artists there who could immediately draw things that were being described.

Harald Belker (automotive designer):

We were supposed to just watch and listen and see what people had to say.


It was a big deal back then to have that real-time feedback.


What about weapons? Surveillance — how did it work? One that moved very quickly was the gesture control of computers. That really began with Jaron. There was pretty quick agreement about what you saw onscreen.


We were doing these glove technologies that could be combined with displays. That was totally commonplace during that time as a demo thing — not as a consumer product. My recollection is that I brought in a working one. I could just pack one in the trunk.


I put together a whole book for it — a 2080 style book. We were told it was 2080, but then it ended up being 2050.•

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Back when people were impressed by those who possessed lots of fairly useless facts, I was always good at trivia, and it never once made me feel smart or satisfied. Because it was just a parlor trick, really. Read a lot and in an irregular pattern and you too can be crammed with minutiae. Now that everyone can look up every last thing on their phones in just seconds, all of life has become an open-book test. Trivial knowledge is (thankfully) no longer valued.

From Douglas Coupland’s FT column about his participation in a Trivia Night contest:

The larger question for me during the trivia contest evening was, “Wait — we used to have all of this stuff stored in our heads but now, it would appear, we don’t. What happened?” The answer is that all of this crap is still inside our heads — in fact, there’s probably more crap than ever inside our heads — it’s just that we view it differently now. It’s been reclassified. It’s not trivia any more: it’s called the internet and it lives, at least for the foreseeable future, outside of us. The other thing that happened during the trivia contest is the realisation that we once had a thing called a-larger-attention-span-than-the-one-we-now-have. Combine these two factors together and we have a reasonably good reason to explain why a game of trivia in 2015 almost feels like torture. I sat there with four other reasonably bright people, not necessarily knowing the answers to all of the questions, but knowing that the answers, no matter how obtuse, could be had in a few seconds without judgment on my iPhone 6 Plus. But then I decided the evening was also a good reminder of how far things have come since the early 1980s heyday of the board game Trivial Pursuit.

Q: What country is north, east, south and west of Finland?

A: Norway.

Q: Clean, Jerk and Snatch are terms used in which sport?

A: Weightlifting.

Q: Why was trivia such a big thing in the late 20th century?

A: Because society was generating far more information than it was generating systems with which to access that information. People were left with constellations of disconnected, randomly stored facts that could leave one feeling overwhelmed. Trivia games flattered 20th-century trivia players by making them feel that there was both value to having billions of facts in one’s head, and that they were actually easily retrieved. But here in 2015 we know that facts are simply facts. We know where they’re stored and we know how to access them. If anything, we’re a bit ungrateful, given that we know the answer to just about everything.•


A deluge of data that assaults the senses doesn’t worry me so much. What’s more concerning is when those tubes carrying information to and from us are so quiet that you can barely hear a hum, when there are no tubes, when the system becomes seamless. It will happen, and it will seem normal.

From “We Are Data: The Future of Machine Intelligence,” Douglas Coupland’s latest Financial Times column (and one of his best):

What we’re discussing here is the creation of data pools that, until recently, have been extraordinarily difficult and expensive to gather. However, sooner rather than later, we’ll all be drowning in this sort of data. It will be collected voluntarily in large doses (using the Wonkr, Tinder or Grindr model) — or involuntarily or in passing through other kinds of data: your visit to a Seattle pot store; your donation to the SPCA; the turnstile you went through at a football match. Almost anything can be converted into data — or metadata — which can then be processed by machine intelligence. Quite accurately, you could say, data + machine intelligence = Artificial Intuition.

Artificial Intuition happens when a computer and its software look at data and analyse it using computation that mimics human intuition at the deepest levels: language, hierarchical thinking — even spiritual and religious thinking. The machines doing the thinking are deliberately designed to replicate human neural networks, and connected together form even larger artificial neural networks. It sounds scary . . . and maybe it is (or maybe it isn’t). But it’s happening now. In fact, it is accelerating at an astonishing clip, and it’s the true and definite and undeniable human future.•


If Marshall McLuhan and Jerome Angel were still alive, they would likely not collaborate with Quentin Fiore (95 this year) on a physical book, not even on one as great as The Medium Is the Massage, a paperback that fit bewtween its covers something akin to the breakneck genius of Godard’s early-’60s explosion. Would they create a Facebook page that comments on Facebook or a Twitter account of aphorisms or maybe an app? I don’t know, but it likely wouldn’t be a leafy thing you could put on a wooden shelf. 

About 10 days ago, I bought a copy of The Age of Earthquakes, a book created by Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Shumon Basar, which seems a sort of updating of McLuhan’s most-famous work, a Massage for the modern head and neck. It looks at our present and future but also, by the virtue of being a tree-made thing, the past. As soon as I’m done with the title I’m reading now, I’ll spend a day with Earthquakes and post something about it. 

In his latest Financial Times column, Coupland writes about the twin refiners of the modern mood: pharmacology and the Internet, the former which I think has made us somewhat happier and the latter of which we’ve used, I think, to largely to self-medicate, stretching egos to cover unhappiness rather than dealing with it, and as the misery, untreated, expands, so does its cover. We’re smarter because of the connectivity, but I don’t know that it’s put us in a better mood. 

Coupland is much more sanguine than I am about it all. He’s in a better mood. An excerpt:

If someone time travelled from 1990 (let alone from 1900) to 2015 and was asked to describe the difference between then and now, they might report back: “Well, people don’t use light bulbs any more; they use these things called LED lights, which I guess save energy, but the light they cast is cold. What else? Teenagers seem to no longer have acne or cavities, cars are much quieter, but the weirdest thing is that everyone everywhere is looking at little pieces of glass they’re holding in their hands, and people everywhere have tiny earphones in their ears. And if you do find someone without a piece of glass or earphones, their faces have this pained expression as if to say, “Where is my little piece of glass? What could possibly be in or on that little piece of glass that could so completely dominate a species in one generation?”

 . . . 

To pull back a step or two; as a species we ought to congratulate ourselves. In just a quarter of a century we have completely rewritten the menu of possible human moods, and quite possibly for the better. Psychopharmacology, combined with the neural reconfiguration generated by extended internet usage, has turned human behaviour into something inexplicable to someone from the not too distant past. We forget this so easily. Until Prozac came out in 1987, the only mood-altering options were mid-century: booze, pot and whatever MGM fed Judy Garland to keep her vibrating for three decades. The Prozac ripple was enormous . . .•

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I have a natural aversion to institutions that have run their course and entered into obsolescence. I felt it in churches and libraries I was dragged to as a child (though I loved reading), and I feel that way about post offices and polling places as an adult. It doesn’t work anymore, and I’m not a good enough sport to play along with the ruse. 

In his latest Financial Times column, Douglas Coupland wonders how the hanging chad still hangs around. An excerpt:

The most interesting lie I see in millennial bashing is that millennials aren’t political and that they don’t vote. I hear this, and inside my head I hear a loud screeching brake noise in my head and say, WTF?

Millennials are the most politically informed cohort ever. They know their rights. They know about power imbalances. They know about environmental degradation, they know about GMOs, Yellow 6, fuel rods, transgender politics and the near complete lobbyocracy of US politics. You can’t pull the wool over the eyes of most millennials. I think it’s because millennial political expression began with the stillborn Occupy events that they get branded as apathetic but the issue with millennials isn’t a perceived apathy on their part. I think it’s in large part the fact that they look at the mechanics of voting and compare it to the universe they inhabit and they collectively say, You have to be kidding: every four years I go into a plywood booth and use a graphite-based stylus to “fill in a box” corresponding to my decision for who’s best for the job? What century are we in? How is this still even happening?

And they have a point. The way voting works now is like taking everyone’s computers and devices away and telling them they have to instead use envelopes and stamps to communicate with each other. In the era of Airbnb, Netflix and Skype we have a political selection ritual straight out of the 19th century.•


Free is expensive, but cheap may be even costlier.

The Freeconomy (Facebook, Google, etc.) will give you stuff you need–or your ego wants–but in return will extract your information. Money isn’t necessary among “friends.” How unseemly. You don’t put a quarter in the slot; the slot just takes what it pleases. These nouveau companies want inside your head, first virtually and eventually literally.

The Cheapoconomy is dicier still. Not only do services like Uber and others track you, but they reduce workers to glorified serfs, promising flexibility for minimal payment, destabilizing more secure industries. As they gain greater power, the laborers will be squeezed more–until they’re completely obliterated. It’s great for us, except if we’re one of them. And more of us in the coming decades will likely become them. We won’t just be the consumers. We’ll be consumed. 

The thing is, the Peer Economy (a funny name since the workers are not your equals) is an improvement over the old way when it comes to transportation and delivery services. The disruption was successful because it was, in many ways but not all, good. And that’s where we are, at a strange crossroads of capitalism, libertarianism and socialism. Who can give us a lift out of that neighborhood?

From Douglas Coupland at the Financial Times:

I think right now the Uber situation is like the Teamsters and garburators in the mid-20th century. There’s no real argument to not have Uber drivers. They are superior to taxis in all possible ways. The only thing stopping them are all these cab drivers who had to pay extortionate amounts of money for a medallion, and suddenly entering their arena are these new people with superior service in every way, who also didn’t get hosed buying a medallion (honestly, medallions? How is that even still a thing?). So of course taxi owners are angry, and of course they’re going to lash out and try to generate urban legends to frighten people who, the moment they use an Uber, will never use a taxi again if they don’t have to. Uber’s not alone in this sort of engineered fear environment. Remember the Craigslist killer?

Gosh — someone didn’t buy an ad in a newspaper, and for their stupidity they paid with their life.

And in Canada two weeks ago, the press revelled in the fate of an Edmonton couple who rented out their house on Airbnb, and came back only to find it trashed to the tune of C$100,000. Airbnb now has the largest hotel footprint in the world. Uber has image problems but they’re on the correct historical track. Craigslist, Lyft et al . . . the shareconomy? The freeconomy? It’s going to happen. And the moment these firms start paying more in taxes is the moment they officially suffocate to death the old economy.•


I’m never bored. I was sometimes when I was a child, before I knew what to do with the time, but never as an adult. I just want more time to think and read, but I will never get enough. No one does.

In his latest Financial Times column, Douglas Coupland writes about the modern boredom, which is interesting. An excerpt:

I think boredom has to be some sort of natural selection process. If it weren’t for boredom, our ancestors would have spent all their days in their caves, with no hunting or gathering, and then no wheels or fire or mathematics or HBO. …

Part of our new boredom is that your brain doesn’t have any downtime. Even the smallest amount of time not being engaged creates a spooky sensation that maybe you’re on the wrong track. Reboot your computer and sit there waiting for it to do its thing and within 17 seconds you experience a small existential implosion when you remember that 15 years ago life was nothing but that kind of moment. Gosh, maybe I’ll read a book. Or go for a walk.


Probably not going to happen. Hey, is that the new trailer for “Ex Machina”?•



People seem so pleased with their cleverness now, and I think that’s a mistake. We shouldn’t be proud. We should be deeply ashamed. All of us. Stop building statues. Stop carving faces into mountains. Leave the fucking mountains alone. 

I’m sure we’re smarter now than ever before, though at the same time it seems a more shallow intelligence. We are far too entertained, all binge and no purge, and there are an awful lot of bright people focused on very silly things. Want more clicks on Twitter? Now that’s a kale-turkey chopped salad! Chrissy Teigen is a social media genius! If that’s the cost of everything being so decentralized, it’s likely a worthwhile one. But, still…

From Douglas Coupland in the Financial Times:

Today I wondered, “If the internet had an IQ, what would it be?” And so I made a guess: 4,270 — a four-digit IQ. Yes, I know the internet is just a tool and not a sentient being. But one can dream. …

I think people are smarter now than they were in, say, 1995. I’ve touched on this before: we all feel stupider yet I think if we were to compare IQs from then and from 2015, we’d find that our new standard IQ is more like 103. People time-travelling from 1995 to 2015 would probably speak with us for a few minutes and then quietly excuse themselves and go meet in the kitchen and wonder what drug we’re on. “They have no attention span, and the moment you tell them even the slightest fib, they reach into their pockets, pull out a piece of glass, dapple their fingers over it and then look up at you and tell you that your fib was a fib. What kind of way is that to live life?”•


For Douglas Coupland, the future (that scary thing) and the present have merged. Everyone is a pioneer now, without any movement westward or in any other direction. Everything is within sight, even if most of it is just out of reach. What is the effect on the human mind of permanent tantalization? The opening of his latest Financial Times column:

I’ve spent much of my life waiting for the future to happen, yet it never really felt like we were there. And then, in this past year, it’s become almost instantly and impossible to deny that we are now all, magically and collectively, living in that far-off place we once called the future — and we all know we’re inside it, too. It’s here, and it feels odd. It feels like that magical moment when someone has pulled a practical joke on you but you haven’t quite realised it yet. We keep on waiting for the reveal but the reveal is never going to happen. The reveal is always going to be imminent but it will never quite happen. That’s the future.

What was it that pulled us out of the present and dumped us in this future? Too much change too quickly? One too many friends showing us a cool new app that costs 99 cents and eliminates thousands of jobs in what remains of the industrial heartlands? Maybe it was too much freakish weather that put us in the future. Or maybe it was texting almost entirely replacing speaking on the phone. Or maybe it was Angelina Jolie’s pre-emptive mastectomy. Or maybe it was an adolescent comedy about North Korea almost triggering nuclear war — as well as incidentally revealing Sony’s thinking on Angelina Jolie. Or maybe it was Charlie. How odd that much of what defines the future is the forced realisation that there are many people who don’t want a future and who don’t want the future. They want eternity.

I feel like I’m in the future when I see something cool and the lag time between seeing something cool and reaching for my iPhone camera is down to about two seconds as opposed to 30 seconds a few years back. I feel like I’m in the future whenever I look for images of things online and half the images I see are watermarked and for sale. I feel like I’m in the future when I daydream of bingeing on season three of House of Cards on my new laptop that weighs nothing, never overheats and its battery goes on for ages.

How long is this sensation of futurity going to last? Is it temporary? Maybe society will go through a spontaneous technological lull allowing the insides of our brains to take a time holiday and feel like they’re in 1995, not 2015. But to be practical, that’s probably not going to happen. Ever. Ever.•


I always wonder how so many Americans got hooked on Oxycodone, the polite way to be a heroin addict. In his latest Financial Times column, our Canadian friend Douglas Coupland explains part of the problem: He developed bronchitis while touring the Southern United States and walked right into a medico on the make, readying a hook for him. An excerpt:

By Day Nine the bronchitis was morphing into pneumonia, and pretty much 50 per cent of my cognitive output was based around analysing my bodily sensations and trying to figure out if they were real or psychosomatic but, either way, the only way to unclasp The Hand at the back of my skull was to take another pill, except by then it wasn’t fun any more. Every moment of the day felt like I was about to step into a too-hot bathtub and, concomitantly, much of my cognitive function was by then being deployed to monitor my outward behaviour so as to not look like I was hiding The Hand on the back of my skull.

So I stopped. And I returned to Canada, where my doctor looked at my prescriptions, puzzled. First, my antibiotic: “Your Florida doctor prescribed you this? [Name drug; get lawsuit.] We used to give this to two-year-olds and, even then, for your body weight, this ought to have been at least three times a day at quadruple strength.”

“OK, but what about oxycodone? You have to admit, it did stop me from coughing.”

“Yes, but you also almost became addicted to a $900-a-pop drug.”


“And just to be clear, you were deliberately underprescribed antibiotics to keep you from getting well so as to ensure that you’d keep going back for more visits and repeat oxy prescriptions. And your doctor was obviously in on some kind of racket with the pharmacist — all that coupon nonsense.”

“All true.”


In Douglas Coupland’s latest Financial Times column, he ruminates on the meaning of Silicon Valley, a part of California state as well as a state of mind, including his surprisingly positive feelings for the Segway, which has thus far been only nominally more popular than G.R. Gooch’s 1842 walking machine, the Aeripidis. The opening:

“I’ve found that if you ask most anyone to locate Silicon Valley on a globe, they pause for about 15 seconds, say umm, and then hesitantly put their finger down somewhere a little bit north of Los Angeles. They then apologise for being clueless and ask where it really is – and are often surprised it’s up near San Francisco. I think it’s because for most people Silicon Valley is largely a state of mind more than it is a real place… a strip-malled Klondike of billionaires with proprioception issues, clad in khakis, in groups of three, awkwardly lumbering across a six-lane traffic artery with a grass median berm, all to get in on the two-for-one Mexi-burrito special at Chili’s before the promotion ends next Tuesday.

I’ve many happy memories of the Valley. One afternoon, in a long-ago world called Before-Nine-Eleven, I’d park my car just in Menlo Park, on the other side of Interstate 280, just west of the Sand Hill Road exit, the Valley’s venture capital capital. Walking through what seemed to be a Christmas tree farm, I’d arrive at a chain-link fence with a Department of Energy warning sign, walk through its many breaches, and sit beside the Stanford Linear Accelerator, two miles long and operational since 1966. I don’t know what I was expecting to see but it was nice to lie in the grass like Tom Sawyer and imagine positrons committing suicide while a Cooper’s hawk soared high above, scoping out the freeway for roadkill.

I remember the month the Segway came out and an annoyingly rich Palo Alto friend (who lived in a massive apartment furnished only with a folding lawn chair, a card table and a $500,000 flight simulator) bought a fleet of 10. That night a group of us rode up Page Mill Road to the parking lot of the now-closed Wall Street Journal printing plant and then we started going overground, over the endless roadside berms that define the Valley’s aesthetic. Talk about a dorkfest, but it was fun and I still think the Segway is the transportation of the future. How did they blow it? These things are great.”


Selfies, the derided yet immensely popular modern portraiture, draw ire because of narcissism and exhibitionism, of course, but also because anyone can take them and do so ad nauseum. It’s too easy and available, with no expertise or gatekeeper necessary. The act is magalomania, sure, but it’s also democracy, that scary, wonderful rabble. From, ultimately, a defense of the self-directed shot by Douglas Coupland in the Financial Times:

“Selfies are the second cousin of the air guitar.

Selfies are the proud parents of the dick pic.

Selfies are, in some complex way, responsible for the word ‘frenemy.’

I sometimes wonder what selfies would look like in North Korea.

Selfies are theoretically about control – or, if you’re theoretically minded, they’re about the illusion of self-control. With a selfie some people believe you’re buying into a collective unspoken notion that everybody needs to look fresh and flirty and young for ever. You’re turning yourself into a product. You’re abdicating power of your sexuality. Or maybe you’re overthinking it – maybe you’re just in love with yourself.

I believe that it’s the unanticipated side effects of technology that directly or indirectly define the textures and flavours of our eras. Look at what Google has already done to the 21st century. So when smartphones entered the world in 2002, I think that if you gathered a group of smart media-savvy people in a room with coffee and good sandwiches, before the end of the day, the selfie could easily have been forecast as an inevitable smartphone side effect. There’s actually nothing about selfies that feels like a surprise in any way. The only thing that is surprising is the number of years it took us to isolate and name the phenomenon. I do note, however, that once the selfie phenomenon was named and shamed, selfies exploded even further, possibly occupying all of those optical-fibre lanes of the internet that were once occupied by Nigerian princes and ads for penis enlargement procedures.”



From Douglas Coupland’s latest Financial Times column, a bit about the way we live now, with brains not yet literally plugged into hardware though they might as well be:

“It is incontestable that we are collectively rebuilding our neural structures. For example, notice how, when telling people about an idea to be researched later, the goal is to rattle off search words as a means of establishing future locatability. ‘When you get home just google MOTHER TERESA, TOPLESS and LAWSUIT. You’ll find what I’m talking about right away.’

The way we’re collectively redefining searchability is a reflection of the way we now collectively file away information in our brains – or the way we don’t. One of the great joys of life in 2014 is that we’re all getting much better at knowing what it is we no longer need to know. Freedom from memorisation! Having said this, there’s a part of me that misses being able to bullshit people at dinner parties without having an iPad coming out before dessert to sink an urban legend or debunk a stretched truth.

I wonder if nostalgia for the 20th-century brain is a waste of time. WhiIe I may sometimes miss my pre-internet brain, I certainly don’t want it back.

Everyone’s quick to dump on new technologies but how quickly we forget a two-hour trek in the 1990s to the local library to find something as mundane as a pet supply store phone number in the Yellow Pages in a city 20 miles away.”


Douglas Coupland starts off his latest Financial Times column with a stunning fact about Icelandic novels and then addresses how individuality has been swallowed by the shiny, disquieting machine we’ve built for ourselves, which is capable of quantifying and measuring everyone, constantly reminding us that we don’t measure up. The opening:

“Last summer in Reykjavik I learnt that one in 10 Icelanders will write a novel in their lifetime. This is impressive but I suppose the downside is that each novel only gets nine readers. In a weird way, our world is turning into a world of Icelandic novelists, except substitute ‘blog,’ ‘vlog’ or ‘website’ for ‘novel’ – and … there we are. A defining sentiment of our new era is that never before has being an individual been so easily broadcast, yet never before has individuality felt so ever-increasingly far away. Before the 21st century, we lived with the notion of one’s self as a noble citizen of the world, a lone soul whose life was a story written across a span of seven decades. Instead, we now live with the ever-gnawing sensation that one’s self is really just one more meat unit among seven billion other meat units.

This 21st-century crisis of individuality expresses itself in many ways. In Japan there is the phenomenon of the hikikomori. Your child grows up, leaves home and then, after a few years, returns home and never leaves his or her bedroom ever again. Ever. The rare hikikomori will venture out in the middle of the night to visit a local minimart but that’s it. In 2010, the Japanese government estimated there were 700,000 hikikomori in Japan. Yes, you read that correctly: almost three-quarters-of-a-million modern-day elective hermits back with mom and dad, and they are psychologically incapable of ever leaving. Ever.

I suspect what these young people are experiencing is what I term ‘atomophobia’ – the fear of feeling like an individual.”



The opening of Douglas Coupland’s latest Financial Times column, in which he acknowledges not being able to capitalize on being well-positioned to foresee the explosion of fax machines, Starbucks and zombie films:

“In 1985 I was working in a Tokyo magazine office where, from across the room, I often heard a faint whirring sound. After a few days I went to look, and I saw hand-drawn maps emerging from what appeared to be a photocopier . . . yet nothing was being photocopied. I asked and was told, ‘It’s a fax.’

‘A fax?’

‘Yes, a fax.’

I did some research and quickly learnt that fax machines were developed in Japan specifically because their postal system’s wayfinding is contextual rather than based on streets and street numbers. You can’t just say 123 East Ginza Way; you need maps, often with railway underpasses, subway nodes and visual landmarks. Just before lunchtime, when the office fax seemed to kick into overdrive, it was usually the office manager and local restaurants swapping menus and food orders.

I remember thinking, ‘Hmmm . . . you know, you could send people a lot more than just maps and menus with this thing . . . you could send, well . . . letters and documents.'”



People who glorify McJobs as dignified, honest work are almost always those who don’t have to do them. In a Financial Times essay, Douglas Coupland, who sees our technology-driven tomorrow as tragicomedy, revisits the neologism for dead-end, soul-killing, low-wage work that he popularized in his 1991 novel Generation X, back when most people thought such stalled careers were a phase the young people were going through and not our future, all of us. An excerpt:

“Back in the early 1990s I began to see the start of a process that’s currently in full swing: the defunding and/or elimination of the mechanisms by which we once created and maintained a healthy middle class. What was once a stage of life is now turning into, well, all of life.

In the early 1990s I wanted to set a book in a fast-food restaurant and in order to make field notes, I tried hard to get a job in various Vancouver-area McDonald’s restaurants but, as a reasonably well-nourished male in his mid-thirties with no references on his application, I raised too many alarm bells and I never got a job, and good on fast food for having HR mechanisms that can filter out infiltrators like me. A decade later I ended up setting a blackly comic novel in a Staples (The Gum Thief), which is basically fast food but with reams of A4 instead of pink goo-burgers. The point was to foreground the fact that a minimum wage job is not a way to live life fully, and to be earning one past a certain age casts a spell of doom upon its earners, sort of like those middle-class Argentines who lost their jobs in the crash 15 years ago and never went back to being middle class again.

McDonald’s campaigned for years and ultimately failed to have the definition of the word McJob revised in the Oxford English Dictionary, in 2006 even renting a big screen in Piccadilly Circus to put forth its viewpoint. The saga of this process is a fun read on Wikipedia but, given the accelerating shrinkage of the middle class, it all seems like a frivolous corporate bonbon from a nearly vanished era. Discussions of a minimum wage in 2014 seem to have a nasty bite. As I’ve said before, we’re all going to be working at McDonald’s into our eighties (not all, of course, on the minimum wage) but the relentless parade of numbers that are making this clear to us is starting to frighten people to the core. It’s really happening.”


Douglas Coupland’s new Financial Times article concerns his relationship to television, a glowing box which has changed markedly during his life–and not just architecturally. Of particular interest is how the obsolescence of TV in the Internet Age has led to the medium’s creative apex. The opening:

“On April 19 1995, I bought my first genuine adult TV set – a 27in Sony Trinitron. I know it was this date because two delivery men brought it to the house at about 11 in the morning. We installed the TV into a nook in the bookshelves, turned it on, and on screen came images of the Oklahoma City bombing. For the three of us it was an ‘I remember where I was’ moment. We stopped for an hour and watched the news. I made coffee, we talked a bit and then the day progressed.

I used to watch TV back then. By that I mean I’d go into the living room and turn on the TV set, saying, ‘Gosh. I wonder what’s on TV right now? I think I’ll run through the channels.’ It’s hard to imagine anyone in 2014 doing this, even my parents. Over two decades, our collective TV viewing habits have changed so much that it’s actually quite hard to remember old-style TV viewing.

I remember 1997 and Princess Diana’s death and being glued to CNN for hours. The same for 9/11. But when Michael Jackson died in 2009, I was in my dining room writing when a friend texted to tell me. Instead of turning on CNN, I went right to the internet and it was only hours later that I thought, ‘Hmmm . . . I wonder how TV is covering this.’ A shift had occurred.”



I’m not an economist so I don’t know if a currency scheme cooked up by Douglas Coupland (also not an economist) would work or have unintended consequences, but here’s the gist of it from his Financial Times column:

“What if the government were to have, say, a ‘currency flush’? Basically, word could be broadcast that as of January 1 2016, the government will no longer honour any hundred-dollar bill printed before December 31 2013. People around the world with socks, suitcases and safety deposit boxes full of hundreds would have two years to redeem or spend their cash, and quick. What would happen?

Well, such a currency flush wouldn’t necessarily affect everyday people too much. People who work in bakeries, teach high school or drive taxis tend not to have suitcases full of hundreds in their universe – nor have much sympathy for those who do. But for those who do have stashes, there would be a two-year window to convert this cash into services and goods. The problem is that it looks very suspicious to walk into a Mercedes-Benz dealership and buy an S-Class with $87,000 in cash. Or to buy a Montauk summer house for millions. Or a boat. Or jewels. Or anything, really. Divesting oneself of soon-to-be valueless hundreds would require great skill in not drawing attention to oneself. At the very least, suitcase owners would be eating at expensive restaurants, buying expensive plane tickets and living it up for two brief years. What a boon to the economy for zero effort! And near the end of the flush, there might be a huge bump in the number of thousand-dollar lap dances and bar tips – but then that revenue would have to be recorded and taxed. More money in the coffers!

The Great Currency Flush would give the US economy a defibrillation of unparalleled voltage but, of course, there would have to be a few rules. For example, you couldn’t just take a hundred-dollar bill to the bank and say, ‘Give me five twenties.’ Once set in motion, the Flush would demand that hundreds could only be used in one go. You could buy a pack of gum with a hundred but you wouldn’t get back any change – so why not instead buy a hundred bucks of gum? The people selling the gum, in the meantime, would have to document where the hundreds all came from – not that hard to do. It’s also not hard to imagine many, many books in many, many places being very, very cooked.”


In the Financial Times, Douglas Coupland, about to turn 50, thinks back on Generation X, his sensation of a novel published just 22 years ago, but perhaps the longest 22 years ever:

1991 was more than 20 years ago, before not just the internet but also email. I remember worrying about my phone bill each month. And I remember the Kuwait war, and I remember no more USSR, and I remember the snow on the ground during that particularly mild winter in Montreal where I was living at the time of Gen X’s publication. I also remember waiting for the first copy of the book to arrive. Ask any writer: the true moment of birth is when the FedEx envelope is ripped open and a book is fully midwifed into the world.

Here are a few Generation X facts: it was originally going to be called 52 Daffodils after a story contained within the book. I wonder what life would be like now if I’d done that. My Canadian publisher also declined to publish the book, which forever gave American publishers right of first refusal on new books, which began the myth within the Canadian writing world that I was trying to be American not Canadian. But it took years for me to figure out that that was what was actually happening – there was no internet to crystallize trends on a dime – trends took place across the span of years, not days. Trends had backlashes and then counter-backlashes that also went on for years. These days a meme is good for a few days or a few weeks, max.”


Dubai, 1971.

From Tom Wodicka’s recent article about Douglas Coupland’s first visit to Dubai:

“I felt Dubai was a city ripe for his fiction. Had he ever thought about placing a novel here?

‘Until this trip I would never have been so presumptuous. One reason I’m glad I came is that all the things about Emirati culture that were really alien to me … clothing … architecture … art … suddenly made sense, so when I see things Arabic back home now, instead of being confused, I think, I know what that means.

‘I think everyone should come to Dubai. It would bring a lot of peace to the world. I’m always attracted to situations where new electronic patterns collide with the old. I can now very easily imagine writing a story set in that huge Dubai Mall wherein everyone talks only by texting and screen snaps.’

He then spoke about one of the strongest impressions Dubai left on him: ‘I think the key thing about the Emirati world right now is that it’s beginning to define itself as itself, as opposed to importing creativity from elsewhere. So it’s a pivotal moment for the region’s young artists: can they translate their experience and emotion into a form that makes others elsewhere understand their world more? It seems like there’s this whole massive mode of being that’s itching to be understood. And you’re getting a new museum [a modern art facility in Emaar’s Downtown Dubai development]. Young artists are going to have to fill it.'”

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