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Don’t be smupid: a glossary for the extreme present

Are you suffering from denarration or monophobia? A new book, The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present, helps to define our relationship with the online world

The future seems to be arriving much faster than we ever thought it would. In our book The Age of Earthquakes, Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulrich Obrist and I call this historical moment “the extreme present”. The internet is changing the structure of our brains and the structure of the planet in unpredictable ways, a reality that’s one step ahead of the language we’ve inherited from the past. So we propose a set of new words and terms to describe how people are truly thinking and feeling now. Here are just a few of them.

Blank-collar workers (n) The new post-class class. They are a future global monoclass of citizenry adrift in a classless sea. Neither middle-class nor working-class – and certainly not rich – blank-collar workers are aware of their status as one unit among seven billion. Blank-collar workers rely on a grab bag of skills to pay the rent. By the time they’ve died from neglect in a badly run care home, they have had 17 careers, none of which came with a pension.

Denarration (n) The process whereby one’s life stops feeling like a story.

Deselfing (n) Willingly diluting one’s sense of self and ego by plastering the internet with as much information as possible.

Monophobia (n) Fear of feeling like an individual.

Occession (n)

The process whereby the west cedes its claim to having the sole means of attaining enlightenment in all realms. Implicit in occession is the assumption that the traditional western mode of creating ideas based in secularist theory has possibly run its course, or is hitting an unclimbable wall. This wall may, in the end, be surmountable.

Smupid (adj) Smart and stupid. Smupidity defines the mental state wherein we acknowledge that we’ve never been smarter as individuals and yet somehow we’ve never felt stupider. One possible explanation is that people are generally far more aware than they ever were of all the information they don’t know.

Stuart (adj) Stupid and smart. We’ve all been in stuart situations yet have not had the word to describe it. To be stuart is to tell a person: “I’m actually a very intelligent human being – unfortunately I’m without an internet connection, and thus am unable to display said intelligence.” The essence of stuartivity is that one gets comfortable knowing which things one no longer needs to know – your car’s licence plate number, sports statistics and recipes, for example – and hence doesn’t waste brain cells remembering.

Zwischendingen (adj) Conflation of the German words for “between” and “things”. To be zwischendingen means we are between two events that demarcate turning points. We are all currently zwischendingen. The 9/11 attack was the first big thing, but we don’t know what the second one is yet.

This is an edited extract from The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present by Douglas Coupland, Shumon Basar and Hans Ulrich Obrist. It is published by Penguin.


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