In praise of Douglas Coupland

Have you ever wondered about the cultural insights to be gained from a cereal box? Or the psychological effects of working in an office supplies megastore? Or the place of shampoo in contributing to modern identity?

Figuring out your daily hair is like figuring out whether you use legal- or letter-size paper in the copy machine. Your hair is you — it’s your tribe — it’s your badge of clean. Hair is your document. What’s on top of your head says what’s inside your head.

(From Shampoo Planet, 1992)

In spite of, or perhaps because of, all the ridiculous observations he makes about contemporary life, Douglas Coupland is one of the best mirrors that’s been held up to my life (Scriptures excepted). He’s weird, but in a good way. His NY Times blog is unfortunately inactive, but the last post is simultaneously profound and bizarre.

Concerned with the physicality of books — the materiality and produced-ness of paper — he reflects on the way wasps create paper from wood pulp and, flowing out of those reflections, re-creates his own books as arresting, masticated installations. You can see them here. Go and look at the images (I wouldn’t want to breach copyright by reproducing them here) — and then hopefully you can appreciate our cheesy alternative title suggestions for this post:

  • The Word Made Nest
  • Fiction To Chew On
minifigs (in case you don't know)

minifigs (in case you don't know)

If you know what a minifig is, and can face up to the fact that you are probably a geek, then chances are you’ll really enjoy reading his 1995 novel Microserfs. In case the title hasn’t given it away already, it’s about computer programmers working at Microsoft (but who worship Apple), and jump ship to a risky start-up. It feels dated already (email is in its infancy in the novel), but it’s surprising how little that matters. There aren’t many people I know of writing good, entertaining books that make critical comment about what it’s like to work in an office with computers — in fact, put like that it sounds impossible. But Coupland does it. Here’s how it starts:

This morning, just after 11:00, Michael locked himself in his office and he won’t come out.

Bill (Bill!) sent Michael this totally wicked flame-mail from hell on the email sytem — and he just whaled on a chunk of code Michael had written. Using the Bloom County-cartoons-taped-on-the-door index, Michael is certainly the most sensitive coder in Building Seven — not the type to take criticism easily…

…Finally, at about 2.30AM Todd and I got concerned about Michael’s not eating, so we drove to the 24-hour Safeway in Redmond. We went shopping for ‘flat’ foods to slip underneath Michael’s door.

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