Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present Review (Douglas Coupland, Shumon Basar)


Want to read something enormously pretentious? Try The Age of Earthquakes by Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland, and Hans Ulrich Obrist! 

I picked this one up because I’m a Douglas Coupland fan and thought a nonfiction book about the current state of the world sounded interesting. Be warned though: this is a not a real book in the sense that you think. It’s a PowerPoint presentation masquerading as a book, and a really crappy one at that! 

Almost every single page is either an image with a superimposed nonsensical phrase or an imageless page with a nonsensical phrase. “A one-way trip to Mars would actually be okay if it had smoking hot wifi”, “There’s no shopping in Star Wars”, “Photographing your salad turns it into a ghost” and “The world is too interesting and too boring at the same time” are just some of the bon mots we’re treated to by these geniuses. 

Coupland and co. go on to state the bleeding obvious: climate change is real, internet addiction is on the rise, and time seems to pass more quickly on the internet as we get distracted with one thing after another whenever we’re online. Real insightful, guys, we definitely needed you three to tell us these things! 

Like he did in Generation X, Coupland (I’m assuming it’s him anyway) offers up new words and definitions for our times. For example, “Smupid” means that we’ve never been more smart or more stupid because of all of the information available to us online. Except having access to more information doesn’t make us smarter, it just means we have easier access to that information, it doesn’t mean we necessarily understand that information, so that definition doesn’t work. 

Of all the useless new words created though, one stood out as pretty good: “Detroitus” which is a conflation of Detroit and detritus to describe the fear of becoming like Michigan. That said I don’t agree with the assessment that everywhere will be like Michigan in the future and the argument for that is, like everything else in this book, shallow and rushed. 

I understand why the book is presented in this way given that the authors have convinced themselves that general readers nowadays have lost patience with long-form writing and can only consume information in Tweet-sized pieces with lots of images. Maybe for some but are those people going to pick up a book for information or go looking for it on their phones? 

And I still think there’s something to be said about words on a page - and more than one sentence per page too! The best part of this book was the Todd short story at the end which was two pages of regular-sized text but was quite clever and more memorable than the 250 or so pages of preceding pap (there’s a total of six pages of full text in the entire book!). 

If you’re a Coupland fan, or are interested in futurist texts, I don’t recommend buying this book but if you find a copy flick to the back and read the Todd short story - that’s the only part of The Age of Earthquakes that’s worth reading. If you’re not a fan of these writers or genre, you were never going to bother with this anyway and you’d be right to do so! 

This PowerPoint presentation is condescending, smug, pointlessly pessimistic, and way the hell up its own bumhole - garbage pseudo-intellectual posturing!

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