Douglas Coupland


From The Dallas Morning News (September 3, 1995)

by Dennis Romero

It must suck being called "the Generation X guy." Especially since the term is passť - the focus of a youth backlash against everything corporate. Especially since you're a novelist, not a demographer. Especially since you've moved on.

So if you're the Generation X guy, and you want a future, you have little choice but to distance yourself from everything X.

There are some young ones out there who would rather see Douglas Coupland ("Mr. X," as one newspaper called him) stand up and take his book title back from all the media mavens and corporate marketers who co-opted it in the name of circulation and compact cars - to give X the moral force a generation deserves.

And yet the generation, if there ever really was one, is falling apart before our very eyes. The X guy won't talk about X anymore.

Lead or Leave, the generation's most potent political force in Washington, recently disbanded. And Mr. Coupland is delivering X's eulogy. "I'm here to say that X is over," he wrote in Details magazine.

"Kurt Cobain's in heaven, Slacker's at Blockbuster, and the media refers to anybody aged 13 to 39 as Xers," he writes. "Which is only further proof that marketers and journalists never understood that X is a term that defines not a chronological age but a way of looking at the world."

But like the endings to his books, there is hope at the end of this X tale.

Its name is Microserfs (Regan Books, 1995), Mr. Coupland's fourth book since 1991's Generation X. The 33-year-old from Vancouver, Canada, brings us a story of computer dorks (the term "nerds" appears three times in the first two pages) who devote their lives to corporate America only to find the meaning of life is closer to home.

He even tones down the "life-sucks-if-you're-young" vibe of books past. For Mr. Coupland, life goes on. And, as he writes in Microserfs, "generations become irrelevant."

In the spirit of his new book, Mr. Coupland spoke with Los Angeles Times writer Dennis Romero via E-mail. The following are excerpts:

We're still new to this E-mail stuff. They've got all us reporters poking around cyberspace, posting messages on alt.bloweverythingup saying, "Uh, any terrorists out there? If so, call me at 1-800-LA-TIMES." Really? FUN FACT: America Online and all the other services have algorithms that seek out "swear words" as well as possibly other "sensitive" words, so if you don't want the Dream Police invading your brain, you have to use circumventive tactics: Sa-rin gas; Ryder rental van; Una.b@mber; nitr8 fertilizr.
What do you think of E-mail interviews ? Kinda' gives you the advantage, no? No, no, no. It's an antique media notion that the interviewee has some secret agenda they're trying to hide and that the interviewer must prod and prod and find the real truth, leaving the interviewee removing the rubber mask over their head like the villains at the end of Scooby Doo cartoons. . . . As you'll see, E-mail interviews take about five times more time to do than real-time interviews, and they involve about 20 times more thought and reflection.
Did you use the Internet to do research for Microserfs? Only minimal Net research. The Net's still pretty dreary, despite the hype. If you have a specific question about a UNIX bug, or need to know the plot line of Melrose Place last Monday, it's a useful thing. Otherwise, not my cup o' tea.
You were kind of hard on corporate America in your latest book. I don't think I was hard on corporate America. But the fact is that post-industrialization and information technologies are wildly mutating what it is we consider "having a life." And corporations - and the work constraints they impose - can seem slightly dehuman and brutal when discussed. Most software technology corporations, to their credit, have done some good things to make work a better place.
Did Microsoft cooperate? They set me up with six pre-selected employees who were helpful inasmuch as six pre-selected employees can be.
Did they allow you to check the place out? With an escort. In the end, I simply posted a memo on the Net saying, "Anybody at Microsoft interested in helping out with some research?" and I was swamped with replies. . . . I lived down there for six weeks with Microsoft nerds . . . feeding with them . . sleeping among them . . .
Microsoft's reaction? The consensus among employees is that it's frequently used modifier: `chillingly' accurate. I think Microsoft comes out of it just fine, but they're so used to being slammed in the press just because they're No. 1, that they think any press must be bad press. Not true. They're smart. . . . Microsoft-bashing could well be just another inflection of the current Gump-style sentimentalization of stupidity. I am anti-stupidity and am pro-Microsoft if for no other reason than to battle the forces of dumbness.
In the book, you say the Internet is overrated. Yes. Because those killer chat rooms and astounding nodes of information you're always hearing about simply aren't as groovy as the hype would have you believe. There are a few exceptions. But basically, there's only a bit of quality spread thinly.
You say some heavy things about technology and society. Is this latest communications revolution boon or bane? It's inevitable, so it's off the moral spectrum. You can stand on the beach and watch Hurricane Andrew approach and yell at it to turn around, but good luck to you. The metaphor of a storm makes it sound like a negative thing, but storms are a necessary, thrilling and vital part of any ecosystem.