British Columbia·Q&A

Douglas Coupland says democracy needs 'morning after pill' in social media age

Vancouver author tries to capture the new way we think in his newest book, Bit Rot.

Coupland's newest book, Bit Rot, aims to capture how we think in the age of social media

Douglas Coupland says he doesn't want his pre-internet brain back because he no longer remembers it. (Brian Howell/Canadian Press handout)

Douglas Coupland's newest book of poems and short stories, Bit Rot, might seem to be a scattered, random affair, but the author insists that's not the case.

He says the work tries to capture the way we think in the social media age: not in the linear way a novel is written, but in the all-over-the-place way a Twitter feed or Tumblr blog is.

Coupland explained the thought process behind his newest work in an interview with On The Coast guest host Michelle Eliot.

Why did you choose the title Bit Rot?

Around 2005, 2006, I noticed the culture was changing. So I made a conscious effort to change what I was writing and how I wrote it. The pieces in Bit Rot aren't as random as they seem. For example, the short stories: how does a short story get inculcated with the same sense you get when you go someplace [online] random, random, random, and suddenly you're down this massive internet hole. How do you create that sensation in fiction?

Can you quantify or qualify how much technology has changed life for you?

We've been online for "X" number of decades now and it can't help but change the way you think and the way you deal with time and free time. I miss doing nothing and I miss my pre-internet brain. Then, I realized a few months ago, I don't remember my pre-internet brain so I don't even want it back. These devices are fun, transformative and transmutatory. And they change us.

Part of my job, I suppose, is to make sure people down the road remember what happened before them. I was at a dinner, and then after dinner, the kids, they ran into a room, there's about seven or eight of them. "What are you guys watching?" "Watching memes." "What?"

They sat there for two hours just watching random memes. Skateboard accidents, cute kittens, there's no setup, there's no context, just endless memes. Young people, like it or not, need to become good at contextualizing what they're reading or seeing and put it in perspective with other forms of information.

You look at technology with a critical eye, but you're highly engaged with it. Do you have a different brain when you're writing a book than when you're posting on Twitter?

I actually don't go on Twitter that much anymore. It turned my life into homework. Everything's changing. I'm trying to find patterns so large maybe we don't even see them until we back up a bit.

But do you think we're losing the ability to do that?

I think we're a very ungrateful species. Go back 20 years: you'll be able to have the answer to almost any question, free, within one millionth of a second. What would you say? What is this magical world you're talking about?! And yet, now, we have it, and we're just so blasé. We want something new.

How do you think the rapid way we can access information and absorb it as well is changing the bigger decisions — like, say, a presidential election?

I'm feeling lately democracy is going through an adolescence. What politics needs now is a morning after pill. So after Brexit or whatever you can take the pill and undo the election. It's almost, like, "Wake up, people." It's called a vote because it happens once and I think we've forgotten that. We're used to having freedom and options and the seriousness of voting needs to be reassessed.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: Douglas Coupland says democracy needs 'morning after pill' in social media age