Douglas Coupland is known as a controversial figure in some spheres and an artist in others, but I know him as a novelist with quirky titles such as The Gum Thief and All Families are Psychotic.
Hitting the halfway mark in my third Coupland tome, jPod, I did a little digging and found he recently collaborated with Shumon Basar of WordPress fame and fellow philosopher Hans Ulrich Obrist to create what might be known as the Tumblr bible aka The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present.
A bit of forewarning, 2015 release is not a novel, but it is a book. I might find it a permanent home on my coffee table if I had one, but it deserves high esteem nonetheless.
In a BBC interview last month, Coupland said this about the book:
“We wanted to make a book that wouldn’t make sense to anyone 20 years ago. How can you write a book that would baffle someone from 2001, 2002? And on that level alone, I think it does work…”
He goes on to talk about the average attention span of humans today (2 minutes and 35 seconds), so he and his cohorts catered to the masses and gave them just that–two minutes’ worth of material to take in until you turn the page.
When I heard Coupland was coming out with a new book, I was elated. His work is so frank and witty, possibly explained as the unexplored territory that Chuck Palahniuk left to the lemmings. In jPod, all sorts of crazy antics ensue; Ethan’s mom is a pot dealer and his dad is still living his dream of someday becoming a ballroom dancer/small-time actor all the while Ethan’s being roped into fetching the IT department’s boss from an obscure village in China for reasons you probably don’t want to know about.
But! Coupland does allude to the madness of this future work, in that every eleventh page or so, he throws some random acronyms and C++ equations at you. It’s kind of like an inside joke, or (if you want to get all existential about it) he’s breaking the fourth wall, giving you an aside, and showing you what the main character is worrying about in addition to the regular flow of the omnipotent narration.
Anyway, The Age of Earthquakes has a minimal amount of text throughout. It’s the quintessential equation worshiped by marketing folk for their 1 image to 2 sentences ratio in weekly eblasts expressed in easy-to-digest ADD format shown in those we’re-all-doomed type GIFs found on social media sites, but the images don’t move… because it’s a book. It’s brilliant!
Why not give us what we want? Why wouldn’t a novelist turn the tide on his career to give his readers what they want?
Coupland, Shumon, and Obrist have definitely done their homework for this one. They understand that there aren’t a lot of genuine readers lurking around the corners of cafes anymore, and teenagers rule the world, so give them something fun to look at while they pretend to study in the last standing Barnes & Noble.
I think at this point I would like to sit down with Douglas Coupland to ponder about the future of society over a glass of cabernet, but then he’d just say, “With all this information, people are freaking out. The thing is, just don’t freak out.” And he’s probably too evolved to imbibe…
Like a duck, he just takes it all in and lets the irrelevant nonsense roll off his feathers. Then he makes giant sculptures of an orca that might actually look like its namesake from afar, but get close enough and you’ll actually see pixels. Now, there’s a statement.
I wish I could do that. Maybe if I follow him long enough, I’ll see the way.