Tom Hodgkinson talks to the writer and artist about his collaborative work The Extreme Self, ‘a new kind of graphic novel that shows how you’ve been morphing into something else’
Tom Hodgkinson: You may recall being interviewed by the Idler back in 1993.
Douglas Coupland: I do. We did an interview, and then we discussed the interview afterwards, which became the interview — and it was really funny.
TH: You then predicted that nerds would take over.
DC: Probably. Sometimes I foresee certain kinds of things.
TH: You also said that the problem with the Internet was that there were a load of wannabe Oscar Wildes out there waiting to spew their bons mots into the ether. Both have turned out to be exactly true.
TH: Have you seen Adam Curtis’s new series?
DC: No. I do like Adam Curtis documentaries — he can make a trip to H&M feel like a conspiracy.
TH: For him the promise of something called “self expression” is the key issue.
DC: The term “self expression” could go so many ways. I think the Internet flatters all of us into thinking our opinions are way more important than they really are — to the point where, if someone else wins an election, you say, “Fuck it. If I can’t rule the world then no one will rule the world.” We’re learning that democracy comes with a built-in suicide pill. Didn’t see that coming 200 years ago.
TH: Are you saying in The Extreme Self that the geeks have actually changed how we think of ourselves?
DC: That’s one-and-a-half leaps too far. It’s not geeks who changed things; it’s the things they made. And the things they made are, in hindsight, inevitable. No matter what else happened in the world, search was going to happen, and tablets were going to happen. It was a technological inevitability. This has me wondering what the next big inevitable thing is that’s coming at us like a dinosaur-killing comet. You know it. I know it. We all know it.
TH: You say, accurately: “Our bodies and our selves are being extracted for free.” How did we let this happen?
DC: Self-flattery. “Hey, you people think you know what a dick pic is? No. Not until you see my dick pic will you know what a dick pic is!” TikTok and all of these things are just vanity. In the end I prefer Instagram because it never puts you in a shitty I-hate-my-life mood the way Facebook does. I have a Facebook page, but I haven’t gone there in years.
TH: There’s been no shortage of people to point out how the scam works, from Jaron Lanier to Shoshana Zuboff to Jarett Kobek to the Social Network film and so on. Why are we still blind?
DC: That’s like asking, “Why are we always horny?” It’s who we are.
TH: How do you define “your extreme self”?
DC: I now think of myself as an app. I’m not trying to be cute. I really do. It makes my life so much easier.
TH: Are you saying that ad sales companies like Facebook and Twitter have encouraged us to brag, defame, libel, stalk and attack?
DC: Where on earth did that come from? No. They’re just out to make money. They’re essentially amoral and when they say cheesy things like, “We’re protecting free speech,” you just groan. Nobody’s fooled.
TH: How do we resist this Thing?
DC: Well, if nothing else, we need to shed this corny early-nineties tech mantra that information wants to be free, and that the Internet will save humanity from itself. Information wants to be expensive and human beings are a horrible useless species.
TH: How do you see things developing over the next 30 years?
DC: Why 30 years? Is that when you expect to be dead? A friend of mine had a daughter and I wrote on the card that I sent along with her gift, “When you’re my age, I’ll be 118.” Who knows? I think we’re still decompressing from the Trump years where every morning the news was more outrageous than the day before. I’m glad Biden is in. If nothing else, it feels like the fire alarm has finally been turned off after the world’s longest fire drill. But the news was definitely more fun back then.
The Extreme Self: Age Of You by Douglas Coupland, Shumon Basar and Hans Ulrich Obrist is out now.
For more information on Douglas Coupland visit his website here.