A Book That Explores This Century’s Most Valuable Resource: You

Does the inside of your head feel a little strange today? That’s because tech is remaking individuality itself say Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Shumon Basar. Here they share part of The Extreme Self

This article is taken from the Summer/Autumn 2020 issue of Another Man:

The weird world we all seem to be living in started on 10 January 2016, when David Bowie died. By the end of that year, we had entered the WTF-era of Brexit and Trump, two black swan events that derailed the 21st century.

Since then, old binaries have collapsed, and the new binaries tore up your family. It’s no longer enough to be a moderate. The centre? Just for losers! Extreme makes you more popular, more profitable, more politically powerful. Extreme makes you feel good. Also, feelings now legitimise lies. Because the world’s most talented engineers design algorithms that engineer your emotions.

This backdrop is the basis for our next book, The Extreme Self, a new kind of graphic novel about what happened to you from 2016 to right now. It’s a sequel to The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present (2015). There, we speculatively updated a famous paperback from 1967, called The Medium Is the Message, by theorist Marshall McLuhan, graphic designer Quentin Fiore and ideas svengali Jerome Agel. McLuhan died in 1980, so he never got to see the digital world we now viscerally inhabit – but in many ways, he sensed it coming.

In The Age of Earthquakes, our focus was tech’s rewiring of time and space. We claimed that the unintended consequences of technology were dictating the future. For The Extreme Self, we are pivoting to tech’s remaking of individuality itself. We want you to know that the unintended consequences of technology dictate who you are.

What if individuality is morphing into something else? Something that’s multiplying, over-empowered, righteous, triggered, disposable and immortal? Why would this be happening?

Because the 21st-century’s most valuable resource is YOU, with all your online behaviours, enriched data sets and millions of meta-data points. And if “data is the new oil”, then 2016 was the equivalent of a global oil spill that can’t be reversed.

Netflix’s documentary The Great Hack showed how and why data is at the centre of our daily news cycles. Cue Cambridge Analytica. Whoever controls data has the power to swing elections, polarise politics and redefine reality. Untruths have never been so seductive. Let it be known that over-eager AI assistants and deep-fake porn are just the beginning.

The line dividing you and data is long gone. In this process, a large part of you is extracted from you. An ever-larger part of you now exists everywhere and nowhere, independently of your five senses. The extreme self is invisible, imaginary and has already been weaponised. Has there been anything like this before?

What follows over the next few pages is a sample of spreads from The Extreme Self. It’s designed by the London studio Daly & Lyon, who we think of as our fourth author. While the words you see are ours, the images come from a process we call ‘mindsourcing’. We invited 70 of the world’s foremost artists, designers, filmmakers, photographers and electronic musicians to send us portraits, self-portraits and crowd portraits. The face is central to the Extreme Self. It’s the basic unit in what Shoshana Zuboff calls ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism’.

The resulting montages between image and text invoke the digital vernacular of memes, where comedy and calamity collide into a split-second format. You could even call it ‘memetic thinking’ that moves at the agitated speed of the scroll. Strewn throughout are comments culled from YouTube, Instagram and Reddit. Because the comments section is the real world.

So here’s a glimpse into the book’s 13 chapters, which chart how individuality is changing, from the emotional to the social and the spiritual. Consider these pages a kind of mirror. But instead of showing you what you look like, they’re showing you why you might think and feel the way you might think and feel.

Welcome to the Age of You.

The Summer/Autumn 2020 ‘High Art Pop Culture’ issue of Another Man is now on sale internationally. Head here to buy a copy.