"I haven't been employed since 1988. I'm still trying to recover from the trauma. Sometimes I wake up and think: 'Oh my God, I don't have a job'," he says. "My life is a vocation; I can't imagine doing anything else. I have the freedom to explore whatever idea I want, take really random gigs and projects which change my life in some way."
Coupland is talking backstage at Konica Minolta's Spotlight Live event on the future of work in Berlin this week where he was a star speaker. He says the collapse of the idea of a job for life means his generation, Generation X, and later ones think very differently about work than those born earlier. "They don't perceive [a job] as being a guarantee of long-term security – that's the profound difference, he says. "There was a point when the idea of the job for life disintegrated. Now no one has any expectation of lifetime employment."
Douglas Coupland at Konica Minolta's Spotlight Live event in Berlin, Germany. Photograph: Joern Pollex/Getty Images for Konica Minolta
In the same way the industrial revolution led to the creation of the weekend as a break from work, the cloud is altering our work schedule, Coupland says. He points to developments in Silicon Valley, where companies such as Facebook encourage staff to work from home on Wednesdays. Coupland explains that avoiding the San Francisco Bay area commute was part of the reason for this, but getting away from meetings and office politics is the most popular aspect of it with staff. "In the future, every day of the week is going to be a Wednesday. There will be no more weekends, it'll be one smooth flow. I wish I could say that in the future there will be no meetings, but there will always be meetings."
I wish I could say that in the future there will be no meetings, but there will always be meetings
There is much discussion about how employers should deal with millennials, this new breed of worker who grew up with the internet and has never know life without it. But Coupland theorises that constant connectivity via smartphones has altered the way we all think – millennials are not so different to the rest of us.
"We no longer need to remember long strings of phone numbers or directions from the airport. Why bother to remember anything? Our brains are liberated from these things. I think it's one of the most profound neurological changes in human history," he says. "We've all turned into millennials."
A common theme in Coupland's thinking is the idea of an internet brain – we think differently now to how we did just a few decades ago. Smartphones were the tipping point, he believes, as they altered problem solving, but also mean we are bombarded with so much information. This constant influx of news and data means we've come to perceive time differently. The future used to be a far-off thing, but now we experience it at the same time as the present, he contends.
"We have the present and the future all at the same time," he says. "I think it's one of the most profound neurological changes in human history."
"My suspicion is that long distance wifi in an information rich environment means that people will be quite willing to stay in jobs that don't seem like full-time jobs to us here in 2017. We are coming towards a labour reality where there are more people who have fewer things to do. Maybe that's a good thing," he adds.
The winners in this labour force will be the people who have an actual skill
Coupland says that the people behind the world's technology are unconcerned by the disruption they have created.
"Most people who work in tech – 99% – don't want to look at the implications of what they are doing. They just want to hit their milestones and that's it."
But there's no turning back. The internet is here to stay and will continue to profoundly change societies and the workplace. "If the internet stopped one day, can you imagine the chaos? What would we call that scenario? It's called 1995 – that's how far we've come."
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