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The Extreme Self

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This remarkable DLD Circular session brings together three of the most astute observers of cultural and societal change in the digital age: author Douglas Coupland, writer and curator Shumon Basar and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director of London’s Serpentine Galleries.

Together, they discuss insights from their first book, The Age of Earthquakes, speak about their most recent collaboration, The Extreme Self, and announce the title of their next book, How Are You?

Before the coronavirus pandemic, this phrase “felt like one of the most simple questions that you could ask anybody”, Basar explains. But now, “to answer that properly would be to delve into a 12 hour therapy session that would reveal all the different ways in which your life, the life of your family or friends – and again, the whole space time continuum around you – has seemed to transform into something alien, and unfamiliar.”

Looking back at The Age of Earthquakes, published in 2015, Obrist notes that “the future has kind of become the present tense”, as many ideas that once seemed part of a distant tomorrow are now daily life.

Technology has also had a profound impact on sustainability. “20 years ago, the Internet used zero percent of human energy consumption”, Shumon Basar points out. “Today, the digital economy uses 10 percent of the world’s total electricity. It’s the same amount that was used to light the entire planet in 1985.”

“The carbon that fuels our electronic life is melting the ice caps”, he continues. “We haven’t just changed the structure of our brains these past few years, we’ve changed the structure of our planet.”

In The Extreme Self, the authors examine how social media has changed our self-perception and given birth to a new economic model.

“We expect and crave and need – and possibly are addicted to – a time sense that is based on having a dopamine hit very, very quickly: boom, boom, boom”, Douglas Coupland observes.

This has given rise to “emotional capitalism”, as Shumon Basar explains, “because the most important and valuable resource today is how each and every one of you feels at every single millisecond of every single day. And the way in which those those feelings are being mined, they’re being extracted, they’re being commodified – and then ultimately sold back for you to consume yourself.”

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