Douglas Coupland, unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve probably heard of him. He’s the dude that coined the term Generation X. Turns out he went on to do a whole bunch of other profound stuff too… like write 14 novels and is an artist etc. Who knew. I was lucky enough to get a ticket to one of his talks at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Writing that Defines Modern Culture. He was interviewed by Michael Williams, who is the same age as me and is director of the Wheeler Centre, what have I been doing with my life?
I found Douglas Coupland to be an amazing speaker, not only is his voice the opiate of the masses (his voice is so calm and lilting it nearly drugs you into blind acceptance), but also he is just so deeply profound. Either that or he’s an expert in delivering sound bites. I’ll give you a few of his amazing quotes at the end of this entry but first I’d like to really focus on one comment that he made that really got me thinking. Douglas Coupland said, “When one medium is eclipsed by another it allows the old medium to become an art-form.” Now he was talking about the Internet superseding television. We used to get our news, our water cooler talk, our quick entertainment from the television, these days we get it from the Internet. Sure the television is still there, just as are books, radio, and movies, but the Internet has really invaded our lives. And through this ability for the Internet to cater for our immediate gratification it has allowed television to really step up. We have so many gorgeous shows these days, written by novelists, starred in by film and theatre actors, composed by award winning musicians. Give Tom Perrotta a Google for a sterling example of a greater writer in any format. We’re having a bit of a golden age of television. And it’s fabulous. Sure we have plenty of crap on television but there is also some beautiful stuff that really makes you think.
Now part of the reason why this got me so interested, aside from my love of golden age cinema and television, was that this same argument could be had around paper books and epublishing. Many traditionally published authors have spoken critically (a few darn right cruelly) about epublishing. They have claimed it is the ruin of reading, and that through the end of traditional publishing. That people self publishing ebooks for 99c will bring about the apocalypse of books, totally devaluing reading and leading to a wasteland of illiterate morons who don’t know what good literature is. Good literature being what big publishing houses allow, and there is no room in this argument for it to be otherwise… Or is there? Does this rise of new epublishing quickies for 99cents give immediate gratification for those who want it? Does it allow the consumer to have what they want and the ewriter to produce what they want. Is it like a quick and wonderful friendship between consumer and producer where they are both giving and getting what they want? And is this bad for traditional publishing or good? Perhaps this rapid fire exchange has actually allowed the paper book to step up and become an art-form? It is time to put some of that old fashioned love and dedication back into traditional publishing. That same love that resulted in embossed covers, gilded pages, artworks of breath taking beauty. Now I’m not suggesting that this needs to be done again, just putting that same level of thought and dedication into the system will provide far greater accomplishment than any amount of finger pointing at new systems. As Douglas Coupland has said himself, “Blame is just a lazy person’s way of making sense of chaos.” Stop blaming, stop shaming, start loving and giving.
When the radio came out people cried that there would be an end to reading, when VHS came out people cried that there would be an end to the movies, when epublishing came out people have cried it will be an end to books and world order… How about we all just calm down. How about seeing new technology as an opportunity for you to use. Don’t quit, step up your game. And if you can’t, maybe your game wasn’t that good to begin with.
Now as promised, the awesome sound bites:
- “Words are art supplies.”
- “There is nothing that we make that isn’t an expression of our humanity.”
- “We are in the middle of an attribution crisis.”
- “Publicity has turned into extortion.”
- “Looking people up used to be considered stalky, now it’s rude not too.”
- “Younger people are different than they have ever been before, but so are older people.”
- “Oh English Language, you are a minx.”
- “People are predictably surprising.”
- Researching Google is like, “crowd surfing this bath of humanity.”
- Researching what people search on Google makes, “you want to give humanity a great big hug.”
- “Things get better after you’re 40.”
And finally, when I asked Douglas Coupland to sign my book he complimented my bag, which has an image of my family as Lego minifigures emblazoned on it. So Doug, this little pic is for you, because who doesn’t love disco?