The Next Chapter

Douglas Coupland examines the life cycle of a computer byte

Bit Rot is not only the term for data decay. It's also the title of Douglas Coupland's latest book, which examines our technological lives.
Douglas Coupland's 26th book, Bit Rot, examines the places where humanity brushes with technology. (Left: Keith Beaty)
Listen18:01

Over the past 25 years, Doug Coupland has interpreted the wizardry and speed of the tech world. His books and art have found the humanity in things that, on the surface, have seemed dehumanizing and alienating.

His new book, Bit Rot, is a collection of stories and essays exploring what it means to live in the internet age. It's a time when we often feel infallible in our knowledge, but there are nuances to our way of life that may be our undoing.

Nothing lasts forever

The thing about electronic documents is that they decompose — for example, those 56 KB floppy disks used back in the 1990s. I found a box a while ago and thought, "Let's look at what's on them." I got a reader and found that only half of them work and, even then, not very well. So all of that data is gone.

In the archiving universe, no one knows how to prevent that decay. The term they use is "bit rot," when the little bits of information just rot away. 

I think what's going to happen probably in the next decade or two is that we're going to look back to the 1990s and realize that there's nothing permanent left from that decade. People stopped making things or putting things on paper back then. 

Real art

My response to the digitality of the world and the evanescence of data that goes everywhere and rots is making physical objects. I like physical objects. 

I was in Russia for a few weeks doing a project and one of the critics said, "You write about the future so much but your art doesn't look futuristic." It got me thinking that my art is my response to this digital future. I make physical objects that you can't download.

Showing love for Stanley Park's cherished Hollow Tree, Douglas Coupland has found a way to make it permanent, and golden. 4:12