Wednesday, April 09, 2014

as zeitgeisty as it gets

how had I never read this before? #microserfs

i wrote this review of the 1996 "classic" microserfs by douglas coupland on goodreads (hence the uncharacteristic capital letters). i'm too tired to change them all, so you'll just have to live with them. i loved the book. it spoke to my 90s soul. i can't believe i didn't read it at the time. if you didn't read it at the time, read it now. if you did, read it again, there's still something to it. and it's still about as zeitgeisty as it gets.

I read Generation X years ago and then didn't read anything else by Douglas Coupland. I'm not sure why. But in some sense, I can't believe I didn't read this back in 1996 when it came out. That said, I'm not sure I would have appreciated it then like I did reading it today. I accidentally worked for Microsoft myself during the early 2000s (accidentally because they bought the company I was working for, so I didn't exactly choose it). Not much had changed since the mid 90s, apparently, as the Microsoft he described was much as I remember it, tho' there were perhaps many more soulless cubicles on campus by the time I got there. I think the layers of fat in middle management he hints at were stronger by the early noughties and the Cult of Bill had definitely not subsided.

This book is dated in many ways - it's amusing now to harken back to Apple's Troubled Years Without Steve and the programming languages they talk about are a bit passé. But how prescient was Coupland with Oop! - it's Minecraft in a nutshell and those Minecraft guys are raking in the cash, albeit in Sweden, not in Silicon Valley.

And of course, the LEGO references throughout are nothing short of awesome in my eyes.

I wholly embraced postmodernist writing in the 90s and I think this is a prime example of it - I love the lists, the pages of code, the diary-style. It just speaks to me. But then, I guess I am of Generation X, so that's not much of a surprise. However, I also find it a bit lazy. Like Coupland included whole sections of his own diaries, filled with profound, but disjointed thoughts, rather than actually weaving them into a real story. However, this somehow accurately reflects how we are these days and that seems powerful.

It just speaks to my 90s soul and makes me want to dig out my Calvin Kleins and a worn flannel shirt and just sort of slouch around the place, lamenting the suicide of Kurt Cobain.

AND now to the quotes...
On LEGO (from Abe's Theory of LEGO):
"Now I think it is safe to say that LEGO is a potent three-dimensional modeling tool and a language in itself. And prolonged exposure to any language, either visual or verbal, undoubtedly alters the way a child perceives its universe. "

"First, LEGO is ontologically not unlike computers. This is to say that a computer by itself is, well ... nothing. Computers only become something when given a specific application. Ditto LEGO. ... A PC or a LEGO brick by itself is inert and pointless: a doorstop; litter."

"Second, LEGO is 'binary--a yes/no structure; that is to say, the little nubblies atop any given LEGO block are either connected to another unit of LEGO or they are not. Analog relationships do not exist."

"Third, LEGO anticipates a future of pixelated ideas. It is digital. The charm and fun of LEGO derives from reducing the organic to the modular."

"What do I think of LEGO? LEGO is, like, Satan's playtoy. These seemingly 'educational' little blocks of connectable fun and happiness have irrevocably brainwashed entire generations of youth from the infomration-dense industrialized nations into developing mind-sets that view the world as unitized, sterile, inorganic, and interchangeably modular - populated by bland limbless creatures with cultishly sweet smiles."

"LEGO is directly or indirectly responsible for everything from postmodern architecture (a crime) to middle class anal behavior over the perfect lawn. You worked at Microsoft, Dan, you know them - their know what I mean."

"LEGO promotes an overly mechanical worldview which once engendered is rilly, rilly (sic) impossible to surrender."

"LEGO is, like, the perfect device to enculturate a citizenry intolerant of small, intestinal by-products, nonadherence to unified standards, decay, blurred edges, germination and death. Try imagining a forest made of LEGO. Good luck. Do you ever see LEGO made from ice? dung? wood? iron? and sphagnum moss? No--grotacious, or what?"

"We agree about the LEGO. It is too pretty to sell. Somewhere a few weeks ago, like a piece of DNA with just the right number of proteins added, it became alive. We can't kill it."


"We can no longer create the feeling of an era ... of time being particular to one spot in time."

"Palo Alto is so invisible from the outside, but invisibility is invariably where one locates the ACTION."

"I got to feeling meditative. I felt as though my inner self was much closer to the surface than it usually gets. It's a nice feeling. It takes quiet to get there."

"Flight Simulation games are actually out-of-body experience emulators. There must be all of these people everywhere on earth right now, waiting for a miracle, waiting to be pulled out of themselves, eager for just the smallest sign that there is something finer or larger or miraculous about our existence than we had supposed."

"In the end, multimedia interactive won't resemble literature so much as sports."

"I began noticing long ago that years are beginning to shrink - that a year no longer felt like a year, and that one life was not one life anymore--that *life multiplication* was going to be necessary."

"I also say the world 'like' too much, and Karla said there was no useful explanation for people saying this word. Her best guess was that saying 'like' is the unused 97 percent of your brain trying to make its presence known. Not too flattering."

"It seems everybody's trying to find a word that expresses more bigness than the mere word 'supermodel' - hyper model - gigamodel - megamodel. Michael suggested that our inability to come up with a word bigger than supermodel reflects our inability to deal with the crushing weight of history we've created for ourselves as a species."

"How do we ever know what beauty lies inside of people, and the strange ways this world works to lure that beauty outward."

"I'm coming to the conclusion about the human subconscious...that, no matter how you look at it, machines really are our subconscious. I mean, people from outer space didn't come down to earth and make machines for us...we made them ourselves. So machines can only be products of our being, and as such, windows into our monitoring the machines we build, and the sorts of things we put into them, we have this amazingly direct litmus as to how we are evolving."

"And the continuing democratizing of memory can only accelerate the obsolescence of history as we once understood it. History has been revealed as a fluid intellectual construct, susceptible to revisionism, in which a set of individuals with access to a large database dominates another set with less access. The age-old notion of 'knowledge is power' is overturned when all memory is copy-and-paste-able - knowledge becomes wisdom, and creativity and intelligence, previously thwarted by lack of access to new ideas, can flourish."

Lucky Charms are symptomatic of a culture in decline.

"There's one thing computing teaches you, and that's that there's no point to remembering everything. Being able to find things is what's important. ... I think memories are always there. They just get...unfindable."

"Games have only recently been revealed as the passageway for the future of the human race."

"People without lives like to hang out with other people who don't have lives. Thus they form lives."

"Randomness is a useful shorthand for describing a pattern that's bigger than anything we can hold in our minds. Letting go of randomness is one of the hardest decisions a person can make."

"Las Vegas: it's like the subconsciousness of the culture exploded and made municipal."

"I guess the number of things we build defines the limits of ourselves as a species."

"Las Vegas is perhaps about the constant attempt of humans to decomplexify complex systems."

"I guess it's sort of futile trying to keep a backup file of my personal memories.

Not at all, because we use so many machines, it's not surprising we should store memories there, as well as in our bodies. The one externalization of subjective memory-first through notches in trees, then databases of almost otherworldly storage and retrieval power.

As our memory multiplies itself seemingly logarithmically, history's pace feels faster, it is 'accelerating' at an oddly distorted rate, and will only continue to do so faster and faster."

"What then--when the entire memory of the species is as cheap and easily available as pebbles at the beach?"
This is not a frightening question. IT is a question full of awe and wonder and respect. And people being people, they will probably use these new memory pebbles to build new paths."


"She's Mac, I'm Windows.
Entirely appropriate, because Windows is more male, and Mac is more female.
"Windows is nonintuitive...counterintuitive, sometimes. But it's so MALE to just go buy a Windows PC system and waste a bunch of time learning bogus commands and reading a thousand dialog boxes every time you want to change a point size or whatever...MEN are just used to sitting there, taking orders, executing needless commands, and feeling like they got such a good deal because they saved $200. WOMEN crave efficiency, elegance...the Mac lets them move within their digital universe exactly as they'd like, without cluttering up their human memory banks. I think the reason why so many women used to feel like they didn't "understand computers" was because PCs are so brain-dead....the Macintosh is responsible for upping not only the earning potential of women but also the feeling of mastering technology, which they get told is impossible for them."

ON THE GAP (the clothing store):

"You can go into a Gap anywhere, buy anything they sell, and never have to worry about coming out and looking like a dweeb wearing whatever it was you bought there."

"I figured that Gap clothing is what you wear if you want to appear like you're from nowhere; it's clothing that allows you to erase geographical differences and be just like everybody else from anywhere else."

"We also figured that Gap clothing isn't about a place, nor is about a time, either. Not only does Gap clothing allow you to look like you're from nowhere in particular, it also allows you to look as though you're not particularly from the present either. ... Gap permits Gap wearers to disassociate from the now and enter a nebulous then, whenever one wants then to be in one's head...this big places that stretches from Picasso's 20s to the hippie 60s."

"There are more Gaps than just the Gap. J. Crew is a thinly veiled Gap. So is Eddie Bauer. Banana Republic is owned by the same people as the Gap. Armani A/X is a EuroGap. Books Brothers ia Gap for people with more disposable income whose bodies need hiding, upscaling and standardization. Victoria's Secret is a Gap of calculated naughtiness for ladies..."

"The unifying theme amid all of this Gappiness is, of course, the computer spreadsheet and barcoded inventory.

"Deep in your heart, you go to the Gap because you hope that they'll have something that other Gap stores won't have...even the most meager deviation from their highly standardized inventoried norm becomes a valued treasure."

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