Douglas Coupland

Canadian novelist, short story writer, playwright, and graphic designer

Douglas Coupland (born December 30, 1961) is a Canadian fiction writer and cultural commentator. He is perhaps best known for the 1991 novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, which popularized the terms "Generation X" and "McJob". Most of Coupland's work explores the harsher realities of life for this generation, including intense media saturation, a lack of religious values and economic instability.

Douglas Coupland in 2005



Generation X (1991)

  • "I wonder that all things seem to be from hell these days: dates, jobs, parties, weather .... Could the situation be that we no long believe in that particular place? Or maybe we were all promised heaven in our lifetimes, and what we ended up with can't help but suffer in comparison."
  • "You see, when you're middle class, you have to live with the fact that history will ignore you. You have to live with the fact that history can never champion your causes and that history will never feel sorry for you. It is the price that is paid for day-to-day comfort and silence. And because of this price, all happinesses are sterile; all sadnesses go unpitied."
  • Starved for affection, terrified of abandonment, I began to wonder if sex was really just an excuse to look deeply into another human being's eyes.
  • All events became omens; I lost the ability to take anything literally.
  • … after you're dead and buried and floating around whatever place we go to, what's going to be your best memory of Earth? … What moment for you defines what it's like to be alive on this planet?
  • Fake yuppie experiences that you had to spend money on, like white water rafting or elephant rides in Thailand don't count. I want to hear some small moment from your life that proves you're really alive.
  • I don't want dainty little moments of insight …
  • We live small lives on the periphery; we are marginalized and there's a great deal in which we choose not to participate. We wanted silence and we have that silence now. We arrived here speckled in sores and zits, our colons so tied in knots that we never thought we'd have a bowel movement again. Our systems had stopped working, jammed with the odor of copy machines, Wite-Out, the smell of bond paper, and the endless stress of pointless jobs done grudgingly to little applause. We had compulsions that made us confuse shopping with creativity, to take downers and assume that merely renting a video on a Saturday night was enough. But now that we live here in the desert, things are much, much better.


  • McJob: A low-pay, low-prestige, low-dignity, low-benefit, no-future job in the service sector. Frequently considered a satisfying career choice by people who have never held one.
  • Poverty Jet Set: A group of people given to chronic travelling at the expense of long-term job stability or a permenant residence. Tend to have doomed and extremely expensive phone call relationships with people named Serge or Ilyana. Tend to discuss frequent flyer programs at parties.
  • Historical Underdosing: To living a period of time when nothing seems to happen. Major symptoms include addiction to newspapers, magazines, and TV news broadcasts.
  • Historical Overdosing: to live in a period of time when too much seems to happen. Major symptoms include addiction to newspapers, magazines, and TV news broadcasts.
  • Historical Slumming: The act of visiting locations such as diners, smokestack industrial sites, rural village—locations where time appears to have been frozen many years back—so as to experience relief when one returns back to “the present.”
  • Brazilification: The widening gulf between the rich and the poor and the accompanying disappearance of the middle classes.
  • Vaccinated Time Travel: To fantasize about traveling backward in time, but only with proper vaccinations.
  • Decade Blending: In clothing: the indiscriminate combination of two or more items from various decades to create a personal mood: Sheila = Mary Quant earrings (1960s) + cork wedgie platform shoes (1970s) + black leather jacket (1950s and 1980s).
  • Veal-Fattening Pen: Small, cramped office workstations built of fabric-covered disassemblable wall partitions and inhabited by junior staff members. Named after the small preslaughter cubicles used by the cattle industry.
  • Emotional Ketchup Burst: The bottling up of opinions and emotions inside onself so that they explosively burst forth all at once, shocking and confusing employers and friends—most of whom thought things were fine.
  • Bleeding Ponytail: An elderly sold out baby boomer who pines for hippie or pre-sellout days.
  • Boomer Envy: Envy of material wealth and long-range material security accrued by older members of the baby boom generation by virtue of fortunate births.
  • Clique Maintenance: The need of one generation to see the generation following it as deficient so as to bolster its own collective ego: Kids today do nothing. They’re so apathetic. We used to go out and protest. All they do is shop and complain.
  • Consensus Terrorism: The process that decides in-office attitudes and behavior.

Shampoo Planet (1992)

  • "Grandpa, like most of the fun-loving gang who built the Plants, just wanted to die or have his brain turn to oatmeal before it becomes too apparent exactly what a nightmare he and his buddies have saddled their descendants with."
  • Meeting Anna-Louise was like finding a stranger's shopping list on the mall floor and realising there are other, more interesting diets than your own. It was the first time I ever felt incomplete.
  • "'Is the hotel Marge? It has to be Marge. I want atmosphere.' Marge is Anna-Louise's word describing sad, 1950s-ish diner-type places where the waitresses are named Marge."
  • Preemptive boringness. Being one-dimensional is the most satisfying method of coping with out-of-control people - with any situation that's out of control … Don't let people know the ideas you love, the games you've played, the places you've visited in your mind. Keep your treasure to yourself.
  • I think about how I think I know a person then 'poof!' I discover I only knew a cartoon version. Suddenly there's this fleshy, demanding, noisy creature in front of me, unknowable and just as lost as I am, and equally unable to remember that every soul in the world is hurting, not just themselves.
  • "We call Jasmine's room 'The Harem,' a sexy place, about which Dan never complained, even though his own possessions, his laptop PC and briefcase, for example, looked crazy in the environment, invasive and overcomplex, like Stealth bombers in SmurfWorld."
  • When you grow older a dreadful, horrible sensation will come over you. It's called loneliness, and you think you know what it is now, but you don't. Here is a list of the symptoms, and don't worry - loneliness is the most universal sensation on the planet. Just remember one fact - loneliness will pass. You will survive and you will be a better human for it.
  • I have this feeling watching Jasmine - that as you grow older, it becomes harder to feel 100 percent happy; you learn all the things that can go wrong; you become superstitious about tempting fate, about bringing disaster upon your life by accidentally feeling too good one day.
  • I'm beginning to feel like a microwaved egg that will explode if anybody so much as breathes onto the surface.
  • I tell you what: I give you all of my strength - I seal it inside a little green envelope and mail it to you with hope and peace and much much love. Take all you need and take it quickly.
  • Your inability to achieve solitude makes you settle for substandard relationships.
  • You don't believe magic is possible in lives lived within traditional boundaries.
  • You are paralyzed by the fact that cruelty is often amusing.
  • You pretend to be more eccentric than you actually are because you worry you are an interchangeable cog.
  • You still don't know what you do well.
  • You wilfully ignore the small, gentle observations in life which you know are the most important.
  • Your refusal to acknowledge the dark side of humanity makes you prey to that dark side.
  • You worry that if you lower your guard, even for one second, your whole world will disintegrate into chaos.
  • You wait for fate to bring about the changes in life which you should be bringing about yourself.

Life After God (1994)

  • I mean five thousand years ago people emerge out of nowhere -- sproing!—with brains and everything and begin wrecking the planet. You'd think we'd give the issue a little more thought than we do.
  • Your own nature will triumph. We are all born with our natures... And I think back over my life and I realize that my own nature -the core me- essentially hasn't changed over all these years. When I wake up in the morning, for those first few moments before I remember where I am or when I am, I still feel the same way I did when I woke up at the age of five.
  • Time ticks by; we grow older. Before we know it, too much time has passed and we've missed the chance to have had people hurt us. To a younger me this sounded like luck; to an older me this sounded like a quiet tragedy.
  • Technology does not always equal progress.
  • I thought that intimacy with another soul was the closest I could ever come to leaving my body.
  • When you're young you always feel that life hasn't yet begun...But then suddenly you're old and the scheduled life didn't arrive.
  • I realized a capacity for not feeling lonely carried a very real price, which was the threat of feeling nothing at all.
  • Is feeling nothing the inevitable result of believing in nothing? ...I thought it would be such a sick joke to have to remain alive for decades and not believe in or feel anything.
  • ...I realized that once people are broken in certain ways they can't ever be fixed, and this is something nobody ever tells you when you are young and it never fails to surprise you as you grow older as you see the people in your life break one by one.
  • Compromise is said to be the way of the world and yet I find myself feeling sick trying to accept what it has done to me.

Microserfs (1995)

  • I'm trying to feel more well adjusted than I really am, which is, I guess, the human condition.
  • What is the one thing more than any other thing that makes one person different from any other person?
  • ...when you're in love, all of your doors are open, and all of their doors are open. And you roller-skate down your halls together.
  • The two of you start talking about your feelings and your feelings float outside of you like vapors, and they mix together like a fog. Before you realize it, the two of you have become the same mist and you realize you can never return to being just a lone cloud again, because the isolation would be intolerable.
  • I told Ethan that I speak in an unrestricted manner to animals—things like, aren't you just the cutest little kitty... that kind of thing, which I wouldn't dream of doing to humans. Then I realized I wish I could.
  • I used to always think I had to have a reason to record my observations of the day, or even my emotions, but now I think simply being alive is more than enough reason.
  • Language is such a technology.
  • We are at the vanguard of adolescent protraction.

Girlfriend in a Coma (1998)

  • Destiny is what we work toward. The future doesn't exist yet. Fate is for losers.
  • At what point in our lives do we stop blurring? When do we become crisp individuals? What must we do in order to end these fuzzy identities - to clarify just who it is we really are?
  • We had all awakened X number of years past our youth feeling sleazy and harsh. Choices still existed, but they were no longer infinite. Fun had become a scrim, concealing the hysteria that lay behind it.
  • At twenty you know you're not going to be a rock star... by twenty-five you know you're not going to be a dentist or a professional... by thirty, a darkness starts moving in - you wonder if you're ever going to be fulfilled, let alone wealthy or successful... by thirty-five, you know, basically, what you're going to be doing the rest of your life; you become resigned to your fate.
  • Nobody believes the identities we've made for ourselves. I feel like everybody in the world is fake now - as though people had true cores once, but hucked them away and replaced them with something more attractive but also hollow.
  • There's nothing at the center of what we do.
  • Her friends have become who they've become by default. Their dreams are forgotten, or were never formulated to begin with.
  • There's a hardness I'm seeing in modern people. Those little moments of goofiness that used to make the day pass seem to have gone. Life's so serious now.
  • What's the point of being efficient if you're only leading an efficiently blank life?
  • We barely have enough time to figure out who we are and then we become bitter and isolated as we age.
  • Scrape. Feel. Dig. Believe. Ask.
  • Ask whatever challenges dead and thoughtless beliefs.
  • If you're not spending every waking moment of your life radically rethinking the nature of the world - if you're not plotting every moment boiling the carcass of the old order - then you're wasting your day.
  • A thousand years ago this wouldn’t have been the case. If human beings had suddenly vanished a thousand years ago, the planet would have healed overnight with no damage. Maybe a few lumps where the pyramids stand. One hundred years ago—or even fifty years ago—the world would have healed itself just fine in the absence of people. But not now. We crossed the line. The only thing that can keep the planet turning smoothly now is human free will forged into effort. Nothing else. That’s why the world has seemed so large in the past few years, and time so screwy. It’s because Earth is now totally ours.
    • Part 3, Ch. 34 Stop Breathing

Hey Nostradamus! (2003)

  • If you want to get close to somebody, you have to tell him or her something intimate about yourself. They'll tell you something intimate in return, and if you keep this going, maybe you'll end up in love.
  • People like that woman make it clear just how asinine it is to believe that human beings have some kind of in-built universal sense of goodness. These days I think that everybody's just one spit away from being a mall bomber.
  • Lists only spell out the things that can be taken away from us by moths and rust and thieves. If something is valuable, don't put it in a list. Don't even say the words.
  • I was Cheryl Anway- that has to count for something.
  • What surprises me about humanity is that in the end such a narrow range of plights defines our moral lives.
  • I hear that God has a really bad haircut.
  • The heart of a man is like deep water.

JPod (2006)

  • People who advocate simplicity have money in the bank; the money came first, not the simplicity. (from inside the cover)
  • The only way to the top is killing and greed. Okay, I’m kidding. But killing helps.
  • Don’t you get an empty feeling in your soul when you have a blank to-do list?
  • TV and the Internet are good because they keep stupid people from spending too much time out in public.
  • Nobody has ever been happy in a job they obtained by first handing in a resumé.
  • If you’re an incredibly famous rich person who does more in one day than I do in a month, does your perception of time’s passing go slower or faster than it does for me?
  • “I have this theory about smart people. If you’re smart, you’re either the only person in your family who’s smart, or everybody in the family is smart. No in-between.”
    I considered this. “I think I come from the everybody’s smart category. But they don’t apply their smarts to… larger picture pursuits. That includes me.”
  • “To be merely good enough is to never succeed.”
  • "Ethan, there has to be more to my life than this."
    "Why can't you just be happy as a shallow cartoon glyph of a human like everybody else here?"
  • "I have an idea. … If Ethan and Mark are so similar, we might as well arbitrarily assign them distinct personality traits. I know—Mark, from here on, you're to be called 'Evil Mark.'"
  • "Just go and feed yourselves on a wide array of products containing high-fructose corn sugar. Zheesh."
    "That wasn't funny, Evil Mark. It sounded fake and hollow. You're terrible at being ironic, and you've been rehearsing that line, haven't you?"
  • “You feel chilled because you have no character. You’re a depressing assemblage of pop culture influences and cancelled emotions, driven by the sputtering engine of only the most banal form of capitalism. You spend your life feeling as if you’re perpetually on the brink of being obsolete — whether it’s labour market obsolescence or cultural unhipness. And it’s all catching up with you. You live and die by the development cycle. You’re glamorized drosophila flies, with the company regulating your life cycles at whim. If it isn’t a budget-driven eighteen-month game production schedule, it’s a five-year hardware obsolescence schedule. Every five years you have to throw away everything you know and learn a whole new set of hardware and software specs, relegating what was once critical to our lives to the cosmic slag heap.”
  • As he ages and sees more of the world, he’s realizing that bad news is a part of life, and that when you have to give it, just say it and get it over with.
  • Comics day came and went. Another shoes day came and went. And another comics day followed that — the typical production and consumption cycles that help us survice our dismal, meaningless little lives.
  • Ethan is annoyed with all of these dumb campaigns that indoctrinate millions of people into thinking they’re tough-guy free spirits when, in fact, there’s probably much to be said for following and, in any event, the food chain isn’t structured to encompass millions of non-followers.
  • If you can control your emotions, chances are you don’t have too many.
  • Only damaged people want good things to happen to them through visualization. They want something for nothing.
  • Is there anything in the world more annoyingly creepy than an unspoken dress code?
  • Chances are you feel superior to almost everyone you work with — however, they probably feel the same way about you.
  • It can be really fun to go down with the ship.
  • Here’s my theory about meetings and life: the three things you can’t fake are erections, competence and creativity. That’s why meetings become toxic — they put uncreative people in a situation in which they have to be something they can never be. And the more effort they put into concealing their inabilities, the more toxic the meeting becomes.
  • “You have to admit, half the people who work here are mildly autistic; poor social skills, the ability to obsess on anything numerical or repetitive, the odd outfits, the paranoia and the sense of continually being judged and measured.”
  • “Why are we drinking Zima? It’s beyond irony. It’s not funny or anything. It’s just gross. Why not just serve us jugs of Hitler’s piss instead?”
    “Drinking Zima is something Douglas Coupland would make a character do.”
    “To what end?”
    “It’d be a device that would allow him to locate the characters in time and a specific sort of culture.”
  • Older staffers don’t even bother coming in on weekends. Where is the sleep-crazed, Pepsi-fuelled one-point-oh tech environment that can only be created by having no green vegetables, no sex and no life?
    Cowboy said, “I miss the greed of the 1990s bubble.”
    John Doe said, “I miss the possibility of unearned wealth.”
    Bree said, “I miss the possibility of doing something Apple, something one-point-oh.”
    Evil Mark said, “I miss people having Hot Wheels tracks set up in their cubicles.”
    Gord-O walked into the pod. “You can’t miss the nineties, because you weren’t there. They were great. Too bad you screwed-up twits missed out on the party.”
  • “A girl can’t control who will and who won’t fall in love with her, Ethan. And sometimes, when a nuisance person falls in love with you, it can be awfully… awkward.”
  • “I wish my parents took good care of their grow-op.”
  • “I was in a testy mood. I’d been inside my head all day — some days that just happens. You get lost doing just one task, and suddenly you look up and it’s dark out, but you still don’t want to leave your headspace, and the she comes up behind you with a 150 KHz marine emergency blow horn and lets off one big parp that has you shitting out your eyes, ears, and nostrils, and when you turn around, you discover that your evil co-workers were videoing the entire prank, and you get furious and you scream for everybody to fuck off and die. “Aw shucks, it was only a joke,” but the fact remains that because of that one loud parp you’ll never be able to parse C++ code again because you fried those dendrites that dictate logic patterns, and in a flash you see yourself as a future object of pity, forced to work at a TacoTime outlet, feeding disrespectful larvae of the middle classes while taking soiled orange PVC trash bags out to the back alley, where you see a grease storage drum, and wistfully remember that earlier, more charmed portion of your life when you once knew the chemicals and procedures necessary to convert restaurant grease into clean-burning planet-friendly ethanol, and that was just one of the many feats your brain was capable of, back before the parping, back before people whispered when they saw you walking their way, hoping they wouldn’t have to make small talk with you, back before they dumbed themselves down to the verbal level of Pebbles Flintstone to make you understand them.
  • 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.
  • You know what? When you read a book, you’re totally lost in your own private world, and society says that’s a good and wonderful thing. But if you play a game by yourself, it’s this weird, fucked-up, socially damaging activity.
    In my neighbourhood, all the teenage boys are dying because they’re driving their cars using videogame physics instead of real-world physics. They turn too quickly and change lanes too quickly. They don’t understand traction or centripetal force. And they’re dropping like flies.
    Please stop putting quotes from Nietzsche at the end of your emails. Five years ago you were laughing your guts out over American Pie 2. What — suddenly you’ve magically turned into Noam Chomsky?
    Don’t discuss Sony like it’s a great big benevolent cartoon character who lives next door to Astro Boy. Like any company, Sony is comprised of individuals who are fearful for their jobs on a daily basis, and who make lame decisions based pretty much on fear and conforming to social norms — but then, that’s every corporation on earth, so don’t single out one specific corporation as lovable and cute. They’re all evil and greedy. They’re all sort of in the moral middle ground, where good and bad cancel each other out, so there’s nothing really there — which, in it’s own way, far darker than any paranoid or patriarchal theory of Sony.
    Here’s a much simpler example of geeks and neural processing malfunctions: Has anybody experienced a geek environment in which said geeks wear perfume or deodorant? Chances are no. While advanced microautistics are more commonly men than women, both share a marked dislike of scent.
  • It turns out that only twenty percent of human beings have a sense of irony — which means that eighty percent of the world takes everything at face value. I can’t imagine anything worse than that. Okay, maybe I can, but imagine reading the morning newspaper and believing it all to be true on some level.
  • "You're never too old to dance, Dad...and you're never too old to dream."
    "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard you say. Were you saying that with irony or for real?"
  • “What do lesbians have against capitalized letters?”
    “Capitalization implies a hierarchy, that some letters are more special than others.”
  • Hip flasks are the juice machines of the alcohol world — everyone has one and it never gets used.
  • "Let's go out and buy a statistically average meal from a large multinational restaurant chain. That usually fixes about seventy-five percent of life's problems."
  • I was wondering what electrons are actually doing when they sit in your hard drive in an old laptop at the back of your closet. I mean, how does an electron sit still — is it like a cartoon M&M learning back in a folding beach chair? Is it like an angry little steel ball bearing hovering there, just waiting to go nuts on protons? What’s the mechanism that starts and stops the electron? Who’s its dungeon master?
  • Life is dull, but it could be worse and it could be better. We accept that a corporation determines our life’s routines. It’s the trade-off so that we don’t have to be chronically unemployed creative types, and we know it. When we were younger, we’d at least make a show of not being fooled and leave copies of Adbusters on our desktops. After a few years it just doesn’t matter. You trawl for jokes or amusingly diversionary .wav files. You download music. A new project comes along, then endures a slow-motion smothering at the hands of meetings. All ideas feel stillborn. The air smells like five hundred sheets of paper.
    And then it’s another day.
  • "Hang on a second—you already have my old laptop. Why do you want my new drives so badly?"
    "Because my contract says I have to write a book, and it's much easier just to steal your life than to make something up."
  • Yesirree, life sure is good.
    Yesirree, nothing could possibly go wrong with everything being so good.
    But of course, in books, good is boring.
    Good is a snoozer.
    Good makes people close the covers and never reopen them.
    But you know—you'd think that just once when life finally started going my way, that cosmic writer out there would allow me and all of my co-characters to simply enjoy things for just a little while. I mean, what kind of a prick would end a book just when everything's going so well?

Generation A (2009)

  • Now you young twerps want a new name for your generation? Probably not, you just want jobs, right? Well, the media might do us all such tremendous favours when they call you Generation X, right? Two clicks from the very end of the alphabet. I hereby declare you Generation A, as much as the beginning of a series of astonishing triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago. -- Kurt Vonnegut, Syracuse University commencement address, May 8, 1994 [Source of the book's title]
  • Fame without the money to insulate you from it is one of the most wretched human conditions possible. (p. 80)
  • SOLON CR is indicated for the short-term treatment of psychological unease grounded in obsession with thinking about the near and distant future. By severing the link between the present moment and a patient’s perceived future state, researchers have found a pronounced and significant drop in all forms of anxiety. As well, researchers have found that disengagement with “the future” has allowed many patients complaining of persistent loneliness to live active and productive single lives with no fear or anxiety. (p. 95)
  • The hardest things in the world are being unique and having your life be a story. In the old days, it was much easier, but our modern fame-driven culture, with its real-time 24-7 marinade of electronic information, demands a lot from modern citizens, and poses great obstacles to narrative.
  • Truly modern citizens are both charismatic and can only respond to other people with charisma. To survive, people need to become self-branding charisma robots. Yet, ironically, society mocks and punishes people who aspire to that state.
  • There was a fifteen-second patch of silence, then Craig said, 'Isn't it weird that Hotmail accounts still exist?' 'It really is,' said Bev. (p. 222)
  • Finally, my life was a story. My days would no longer feel like a video game that resets to zero every time I wake up, and then begs for coins. (p. 143)
  • Being alive is just a brief technicality. (p. 167)
  • Why do most of us make such boring choices for the stories of our lives? How hard can it be to change gears and say, "You know what? Instead of inventing and telling stories, I’m going to make my life a more interesting story." (p. 177)

Player One (2010)

Full title: Player One: What is to Become of Us: a Novel in Five Hours. The 2010 CBC Massey Lectures
  • Doug's Law: "You can have information or you can have a life, but you can't have both."
  • We have to count. I want to be part of history. I want a Wikipedia page. I want Google hits. I don’t want to be just a living organism that comes and goes and leaves no trace on this planet.
  • Unlike Rachel, Player One has a complete overview both of the world and of time. Player One’s life is more like a painting than it is a story. Player One can see everything with a glance and can change tenses at will. Player One has ultimate freedom, the ultimate software on the ultimate hardware. That realm is also the one place where Player One feels, for lack of a better word, normal.
  • Our curse as humans is that we are trapped in time; our curse is that we are forced to interpret life as a series of events — a story — and when we can’t figure out what our particular story is, we feel lost somehow.
  • Life need not be a story, but it does need to be an adventure.

Quotes about Coupland

  • Most know Coupland as the coiner of “Generation X,” a place-holder of a generational handle that we GenX’ers were too apathetic/jaded to swap out, thus proving the moniker’s point. But the Canadian Coupland is much more than that – he’s an artist, a prolific novelist, and has been a keen observer of what is happening to us for a good three decades.
  • In his (now deeply underrated) novel Generation X, Douglas Coupland sets the action against the background of a vast desert, mile after mile of emptiness, a hard stop, the ends of the earth. So hard, to feel trapped between having everything ahead of you and nowhere to go.
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