Douglas Coupland, JPod

Martin Dittus · 2006-07-02 · konsum, pop culture, reviews · write a comment

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Douglas Coupland - JPod. Page 190 of 449, as seen through the lense of my alien surveillance equipment. (view all)

OK the last two entries were kind of a downer, so before the rest of my remaining readers jump the sinking ship I thought I should resume with something a little more consumer-friendly.

I just finished Douglas Coupland's "JPod". As almost every other reviewer will tell you it's like an updated version of his early 90ies "Microserfs", which means it won't win huge literature prizes, but instead is light entertainment with a lot of insider jokes, jargon, an pop culture references. The novel often works best in its side notes, say when Coupland manages to illustrate or extrapolate complex social phenomena within a couple of half-finished sentences, often in a brilliantly funny manner.

Induced by summer-related laziness I thought I should simply reproduce my handwritten notes (hand... what?!) and call it a review. Let others write coherent sentences. At these temperatures nobody will actually read long texts anyway, so I could just as well bake some dense word pie and call it a day.

Super, iPhoto just crashed. Don't send a report, restart.

ISBN: 1-59691-233-2

The novel's plot is intermixed with fragments of spam, which you don't read even in print form (e.g. page 27).

Characters seem to believe that you can change the nature of certain things by giving them a different shape. One protagonist chooses "John Doe" as his new legal name, likes M&M's because they're popular in consumer statistics (p31).

Instead of lists, people are now writing 'profiles': semi-structured texts that attempt to capture the nature of themselves or another person, thing or concept. Ethan/"me": "Even thinking of [Karaoke] in this neutral detached listing format causes me to worry that I might somehow even unintentionally lure karaoke into my life." (p34) Then: "Mark, all I did was collect the data and present it." Mark: "No. I want to improve my profile now. I demand to be more than just a cartoon character." (p35) (Note that "improving the profile" just means finding better stories. The shape and meaning of these new 'lists' are highly influenced by the concept of Internet user profiles, even if they never become part of an actual social software system. People are the social software.)

Compare: "Neither of you are emotionally blanks", you're "special and unique" and "I'm going to draw up a standardized list" to prove it (p28) vs. "Mark, I think you're obsessing on this whole individuality thing. Revel in your averageness the way John Doe does." (p35), both from the same speaker. Protagonists seem overly concerned with choosing adequate means of self-expression (and with how these could be interpreted by others), to a degree where shapes become interchangeable. It's good as long as it captures attention. In that way people become gimmicks, as much as their things already are. Edible office equipment, heroin as a means of emotional self-improvement, wearing Chinese refugee clothing (because it's there) and then switching back to The Gap before stepping on a plane to China (because otherwise the Chinese might stare), etc.

Douglas Coupland, JPod (page 420 of 449)

And Consumption

Common modus operandi: watch it a bit, then poke it to see what else it can do. And: skip around to get a quick overview of the situation. Cf. Ethan, while listening to Mark: "Can we speed this up?" (p36).

Ethan: "The problem is, after a week of intense googling, we've started to burn out on knowing the answer to everything. God must feel that way all the time. I think people in the year 2020 are going to be nostalgic for the sensation of feeling clueless." (p248)

John Doe, after Mark ate his snack: "I don't want to eat your stapler, and I don't want another Handi-Snacks. That's not my point. You took it without asking, and then you act like private property is meaningless." (p250)

And the climactic dialogue between Ethan and Chinese mini-drug czar and refugee smuggler Kam:

Kam had an Ikea desk set up in the corner, and he paused a game of AmmuNation. "Ammunation!", I said. "All right! What do you think of it?"

"It's the best. It allows me to park my evil in one place so I can be a better person in the real world."

"That's thoughtful of you."

As may have become apparent, this time I didn't have the feeling Coupland describes a species from another planet; to the contrary he simply extrapolated our digital lives and added some accidental homicides. It's still a fun book though.

Now direct your attention elsewhere, I hear there's a hilarious new video on YouTube of a tech service guy accidentally dropping a TV set on a kitten. Oooh, look, a disabled pony. Click.

About the Book

Title:     JPod, by Douglas Coupland
Publisher: Bloomsbury, NY (US) 2006
Vita: Acquired in 2006 via Amazon, EUR 15,47.
Finished the 449 pages over the course of about a week, mostly in cafés and on the subway.

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