Douglas Coupland on the voices in his head

genA.jpg First aired on Q  (07/20/10)

Douglas Coupland will never forget the moment he first heard the voice in his head.

It was 1989. He had just left the Golden Griddle restaurant in Toronto's Riverdale neighbourhood.

"'Doug, stop,'" Coupland told Q host Jian Ghomeshi the voice said to him. "And I stopped. 'If you're going to write, you have to write fiction. And you have to give up a lot of things in your life. You're going to have to eat more oatmeal and hot dogs for a while.' And then it left."

That, of course, would be the beginning of an extremely successful writing career that would see Coupland define a generation and be published around the world.

Hearing voices, or the ability to build an inner monologue, is one of the issues at the centre of Coupland's most recent work, Generation A. That book takes place in a not-too-distant dystopian future in which bees are extinct and celebrity and technology dominate daily life.

The book follows the lives of five individuals from all corners of the globe who share one thing in common -- they have all somehow been stung by bees. Whisked off into isolation and subjected to a battery of tests, the five find themselves inexplicably drawn to each other even after their release.

As the characters repeatedly tell their stories to the reader and to each other, Coupland draws attention to the death of the inner voice, or personal narrative. Generation A, then, continues Coupland's exploration of technology's potentially destructive impact on our ability to build stories out of our own lives.

Coupland even gives inhabitants of his dystopian future a drug to help them escape the buzz and hum of their digital lives -- Solon. Users experience an unusual quiet in the brain and an ability to focus on a single task.

"You don't mind being by yourself," Coupland said.

For those of you who think that sounds pretty nice and wouldn't mind having a bit of an aid to slow done the hectic present-day, take heart. Coupland gave Ghomeshi his pick for today's best Solon alternative -- reading.

Douglas Coupland will give the 2010 Massey Lectures. Visit the Ideas website for more information and how to buy tickets.

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