Canadian superstar, author and artist Douglas Coupland spoke at the Conversations in Design symposium held last week in Toronto as part of the Interior Design Show. Here’s what he had to say about modern life.
He’s the author of JPod, Girlfriend in a Coma, and over a dozen other books that capture the zeitgeist. He’s designed for Roots and he’s created sculptures for a new Toronto park. But he also has time for Twitter. He says he tweets two to three times a day, which is not exactly compulsive. Interestingly though, when Coupland’s on stage – as he was last week in discussion with New York journalist Helen Walters – he showed off his conversation skills, offering many soundbites that sound and read like tweets. Here are just some of Coupland’s 140-words-or-less thoughts on art, the Internet, pessimism and why he’s not on Facebook.
I’ve noticed that the more things become available the less generic they become. I’m finding that things now have more character than they used to, and that’s a good thing.
I call it “the daily me”: that thing we all do in the morning, which is…coffee, first bookmark, etc. And then I go to the newyorktimes.com. I’m one of the three people who pay for the enhanced online version.
The custom-designed universe that we were all promised when we were young is actually here, and it’s actually better than we ever thought it would be.
About 10 years ago we were all discussing e-books and whether they were really going to happen. Book publishers were like, “Oh, it will never happen.” And then iPad came out and that just shattered any denial. We’re now in a situation where the new normal is going to be 60 per cent “e” and 40 per cent paper.
My agent is reading Keith Richards’ biography, Life, and I asked him how far along he was. He said 11 per cent. That was a very futuristic moment.
I don’t use Facebook. It’s not a snobby thing. I have nothing against Facebook, it’s just that I’m not quite sure what it is, and I’ve reached a certain saturation with my Blackberry and iBook Pro.
We are gorging on information, and there’s no going back. I’m 49 and I can’t go back. Imagine if you grew up with this since day one. Has anyone actually done studies in technology withdrawal?
People are always asking me, “What’s the spirit of the age?” For me, it’s you’re driving somewhere and you’re more than half way there and you realize, crap, I left my cell phone at home. And suddenly there’s that weird feeling of, like, that dog you see outside of Safeway waiting for their masters. It’s only going to get worse.
The internet collapses everything. We’re in the middle of unparalleled change. We’re at the mercy of some young twit in Palo Alto to launch some life-transforming technology. It’s like that line in Men in Black: “Oh god, now I have to buy the White Album, again.”
What’s great about online books, like music, is the money goes directly to the artist, which is nice. There’s no fiddling. Now, it’s like, X number of downloads? Okay, here’s your cut. That’s a wonderful transparency.
People still really like books but they don’t necessarily read them. There’s lots more guilt buying.
The ugly truth is that, rather than read that really worthy novel that won the Pulitzer or whatever, I’ll watch 45 minutes of kittens playing with yarn on Youtube.
Only 20 per cent of humanity is neurologically wired to understand irony, which horrifies me because it means that 80 per cent of the world is taking life at face value.
My goal for the year is to be less of a pessimist. It’s really hard. Which is very pessimistic. I’m trying to be optimistically pessimistic.
Young people won’t believe this but there used to be this job category called a travel agent. Then one day they just vanished. They weren’t warned. There are these jobs that get instantaneously hyper-democratized out of existence, and very quickly.
What I’m looking for from China is some sort of manifestation of an avant-garde, or someone who perceives themselves as an outsider and doesn’t get run over by tanks. That hasn’t happened yet.
Douglas Coupland’s onstage interview with Helen Walters was held in Toronto on January 27, 2011, as part of the Toronto International Design Festival and the Interior Design Show.