New words for the contemporary condition: Post-modern portmanteaus from clickspittles to stealthies

Douglas Coupland's new book, 'The Age of Earthquakes', invents a series of words and phrases to fit the present age. Boyd Tonkin creates his own post-modern portmanteaus

Boyd Tonkin
Tuesday 03 March 2015 21:00

Do you suffer from crisisis (1) and monophobia (2), or else indulge in a little cyphoria (3)? Do you fear the effects of deselfing (4) and proceleration (5), and end up feeling just a little stuart (6)? Never fear: Douglas Coupland, the Canadian techno-ethnographer who in fiction and essays identified Generations X, Y and A, as well as a videogame-park full of other ultra-modern species, can help.

Along with co-authors Hans Ulrich Obrist and Shumon Basar, this week he launches The Age of Earthquakes, a guide to the "extreme present" modelled in its typography and design on The Medium is the Massage, that hip guide to culture in the age of new machines published in 1967 by fellow-Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan. Well, as the French poet Stéphane Mallarmé put it long ago: everything changes, except the avant-garde.

In their "Extreme Present Glossarium", Coupland and his co-conspirators devise new words to help us navigate "who, where and how we find ourselves today and tomorrow". Some of them appear above: (1) is a state of boredom with global crises; (2) the fear of feeling like an individual; (3) the belief that the internet is the real world; (4) the dilution of individual identity by plastering personal information all over the net; (5) the acceleration of acceleration, and (6, a gem, IMHO) the sense that tech devices make us stupid and smart simultaneously. As in: I'm feeling a bit stuart today, as I left my phone in the pub and now I don't even know my own number, let alone – as I otherwise would – everyone else's.

We might extend such a lexicon of the contemporary condition almost indefinitely. Below, I add a few suggestions of my own. No doubt you can invent more and better terms. But always remember to back them up, or you'll end up looking like a proper... stuart.

Appiness: the delusional state of bliss found among stuarts that, because of the number and variety of gizmos on your phone, you know everything that you will ever need to know.

Balsamic State: hard-line liberal areas of suburban London where local dogma dictates that all green stuff must be slathered in over-priced treacly goo.

Brandstanding: a celebrity's attempt to revive or redirect his or her career by high-profile political gestures. "I used to like JK Rowling/Maureen Lipman/Germaine Greer, but now she just brandstands all the time."

Clickspittle: an unquestioningly loyal follower who obediently shares every trivial thought of their idol on social media.

Chromance: a relationship commenced and then continued with the mutual monitoring of both parties' history and activities on a high-speed browser. "I worry sometimes that our chromance isn't equal – you get 10,000 more results than I do."

Downskiving: a rural state of leisure after early retirement achieved by the sale of an inner-urban property following hyper-inflation of house prices. "It's just a Victorian terrace after all, but we were thinking of getting out now and downskiving to Devon."

Exstreamism: the iconoclastic creed that permanent and physical forms of audio-visual culture should no longer exist. "He's thrown out his CD and DVD collections and turned into a complete exstreamist."

Ex-uber-ance: irrational elation, a variety of cyphoria, arising from the belief that a late-night cab will turn up straight away because your phone tells you that it will.

Flopaganda: a campaign of political persuasion that sabotages itself as soon as it begins. "I was thinking of voting Green before Natalie Bennett's masterpiece of flopaganda."

Frankruptcy: the loss of all reserves of candour and trust experienced by a bank or other wealthy institution after the media exposure of its wrongdoing.

Freaquel: a bizarre and improbable appendage to formerly admired television franchises. "I used to watch 24 and Homeland, but then they started doing these ridiculous freaquels."

Glassitude: a feeling of weary resignation in response to the latest speculative and over-hyped gadget – such as face-worn computers – marketed by hi-tech corporations.

Hashgag: a tweeted witticism that entirely fails to amuse when repeated in other media, as in the entire later work of Stephen Fry.

Indigination: the peculiar form of boundless rage provoked by reading or viewing provocative and inflammatory material online.

iPology: a falsely modest excuse uttered when displaying a recently bought and expensive technological device in a meeting, dinner, café, etc.

Lostalgia: regretful yearning for a vanished golden age of at least partly comprehensible long-form television series.

Mantelpiece: a domestic fitting for the display of high-status cultural artefacts. Make sure you put the Breaking Bad box sets on the mantelpiece, next to the hardback of Bring Up the Bodies."

Plundermentalism: the political doctrine that the pursuit of extreme wealth should overrule all other values, and that any attempt to challenge this belief is "the politics of envy".

Previval: the rescue of a reputation that begins when the subject is still at the peak of commercial success but has lost cachet. "Everyone has it in for Ed Sheeran now, so I think he must be due for a previval."

Savilisation: the gradual purging of all visual evidence of the former employment of barbaric abusers from the archives of the BBC and other broadcasters.

Schype: boastful conversation over an online video connection. "She says she's having a fab time in Vancouver, with a cool job and a hot boyfriend, but maybe it's just a load of schype."

Shopaganda: advertising promotions by supermarkets, banks and other corporations which trumpet their social responsibility, ethical commitment and devotion to kittens, hugs, motherhood and apple pie. Often takes the form of greenwash.

Slumberpatch: the soporific section in scientific biopics when the hero tries to elucidate his abstruse ideas. "The performances were good, but when they were banging on about the Enigma machines, I hit a complete slumberpatch."

Stealthie: a picture taken without the subject's knowledge or consent. "OK, so I was off my face last night, but I didn't realise that he was taking stealthies in the club."

Threadbear: a gloomy and downbeat serial contributor to an online discussion strand; less aggressive but more depressing than a troll.

Tinderbox: a secondary smartphone maintained solely for the purpose of procuring secret or adulterous assignations. "I really thought I could trust him, but then I found those floozies on his tinderbox."

Zenophobia: an aversion to smug sermons from friends, media etc about the health and spiritual benefits derived from yoga, meditation or a smattering of Asian religious thought.

'The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present' (Penguin, £6.99) is published on Thursday

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