This past spring, I was interviewing assembly-line workers in a suburban Shanghai internet router factory. When I asked workers what class they belonged to, they asked me what I meant and I said that I’m from North America, where most people will describe themselves as middle class. Even with high-calibre translators, none of the workers was able to tell me what class they thought they were a part of. They didn’t see themselves as working class or middle class or any other form of currently existing class.
This led me to believe that we are at a very interesting moment globally, one in which old class definitions are becoming increasingly obsolete, while emerging definitions still seem vague or non-existent. This lack of definition also got me to thinking of how our notions of the future are knotted together with our notions of middle-class status, and where this relationship is headed. Herewith, some new words for a new era.
Greeciation is the almost overnight gutting of large chunks of the middle class.
Aclassification is the process wherein one is stripped of class without being assigned a new class. If you lose your job at an auto assembly plant and start supporting yourself by giving massages and upgrading websites part time, what are you – middle class? Not really. Lower class? That sounds archaic and obsolete. In the future, current class structures will dissolve and humanity will settle into two groups: those people who have actual skills (surgeons, hairdressers, helicopter pilots) and everyone else who’s kind of faking it through life. Implicit in aclassification is the idea that a fully linked world no longer needs a middle class.
Blank-collar workers are the new post-class class. They are a future global monoclass of citizenry adrift in a classless sea. Neither middle class nor working class – and certainly not rich – blank-collar workers are aware of their status as simply one unit among seven billion other units. Blank-collar workers rely on a grab bag of skills to pay the rent and see themselves as having 17 different careers before they suffer death from neglect in a government-run senior care facility in 2042.
Detroitus is the fear of Michigan. It is the queasy realisation that it’s probably much too late to fix whatever little bit of the economy is left after having shipped most of it away to China. Detroitus is also the fear of roughly 10 million primates needing 2,500 calories a day sitting on top of a cold rock in the middle of the North American continent, with nothing to do all day except go online and shop from jail. Detroitus is an existential fear, as it forces one to ponder the meaning of being alive at all: we wake up, we do something – anything – we go to sleep, we repeat this about 22,000 more times, and then we die.
Chinosis is the dawning realisation that China probably really is the future. This realisation is coupled with the dawning reality that North America is to become what China is now ceasing to be, a place where one might as well work for 30 cents an hour making toothbrushes and party balloons because there’s nothing else to do. The United States is ruled by politicians. China is ruled by economists. People undergoing Chinosis know that it is only a matter of time before China begins opening factories in the US.
Ebulliophobia is the fear of bubbles.
To have ebulliolaria is to be sick of bubbles.
Ebullioholism is addiction to bubbles.
Fortility is the increasingly archaic notion that anything less than a 40-hour work week with 3 per cent unemployment is a social failure. In the future, a culturally mandated 40-hour work week may well seem as odd and cruel as does seven-year-old children working in Victorian cotton mills.
Centrosis (aka centrosclerosis) is the inability to view society as successful unless it has a large middle class. Centrosis dictates that the future and the middle class are inextricably linked; if one aspect dies, so will the other.
Suburbulation is the overuse of aspirational middle-class imagery to convey to what remains of the middle class that it isn’t doomed.
In the future, every day of the week will be a Thursday. We’re all working to the grave, and life will be one perpetual fast food job of the soul. The weekend? Gone. And we all pretty much know it in our bones.
Poverty without an internet connection will be truly dreadful …but fortunately we do have the internet – so bring it on, world! Every day is like Thursday and I’m in.
Douglas Coupland’s most recent novel is ‘Worst. Person. Ever.’, published by William Heinemann. Twitter: @dougcoupland
Get alerts on Shanghai when a new story is published