Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Kitten Clone

Douglas Coupland's latest book, Kitten Clone: Inside Alcatel-Lucent, is up to his usual high standard, and replete with memorable phrases, striking imagery and interesting takes on everyday life.
It is partly an investigation of one of the most important multinational companies you've probably never heard of. Alcatel-Lucent produces and maintains most of the cables, switches, routers, etc, on which the Internet relies, and it also owns and runs the influential ideas factory Bell Laboratories. But the book is also partly a meditation on the Internet itself (and technology and communications in general), how it has led us to where we are today, and where it may be taking us in the future.
Among the many pithy observations in the book (some of which may benefit from the context of the surrounding text) are the following:
"I miss my pre-Internet brain" (a slogan now also available on t-shirts)
"I thought that the Internet was a metaphor for life; now I think life is a metaphor for the Internet"
"Invention happens where and when it happens; you can't force invention into existence"
"You can have information or you can have a life, but you can't have both"
"The zeitgeist of the twenty-first century is that we have a lot of zeit but not much geist"
"Everything is now overdocumented and yet underexperienced at the same time" 
"Haven't we all wanted to take a year or two off to digest the technologies we already have"
Interspersed with Coupland's own capricious wit and distinctive way with words are typographical pranks such as: the occasional long paragraph of technical gobbledygook rendered in smaller and smaller typeface until it literally falls off the bottom of the page; the word "cloud" randomly scattered and floating cloud-like over part of a page; section breaks marked by <br> (the HTML code for a new line); etc. Olivia Arthur's equally quirky photos also effectively break up the text.
This is a book of journalism, and it is full of thought-provoking research and interesting facts. But, being Douglas Copland (who is, after all, better known as a novelist and artist than as a writer of non-fiction), it is idiosyncratic journalism, whimsical and unconventional and often oblique in its focus.

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