It occurs to me that our new era requires new words to describe new conditions, so herewith follows a quick useful lexicon for 2013.
The first modern condition that springs to mind is one described by the word: smupidity (n.) smart + stupidity
Smupidity defines the mental state wherein we acknowledge that we’ve never been smarter as individuals and yet somehow we’ve never felt stupider. We now collectively inhabit a state of smupidity. Example: “Yes, I know I was able to obtain a list of all Oscar winners from 1952 in three tenths of a second, yet it makes me feel smupid that I didn’t waste two hours visiting the local library to obtain that list.” In our newly smupid world, the average IQ is now 103 but it feels like it’s 97.
One possible explanation for smupidity is that people are generally far more aware than they ever were of all the information they don’t know. The weight of this fact overshadows huge advances made in knowledge-accumulation and pattern-recognition skills honed by online searching.
The next modern condition that springs to mind is one described by the word: stuart (adj.) stupid + smart
We’ve all been in stuart situations yet have not had the word to describe it. Example: “Last month someone showed me a page of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and I looked at the words on the paper and I kept waiting for the article to translate itself. I felt smupid.” To be stuart is to tell a person, “I’m actually a very intelligent human being – unfortunately I’m without an internet connection, and thus am unable to display said intelligence. So yes, I’m feeling a bit stuart.” The essence of stuartivity is that one gets comfortable knowing which things one no longer needs to know, and hence doesn’t waste brain cells remembering: your car’s licence plate number, sport statistics, recipes or the name of the cameraman in the 1985 cult film, Tampopo (Masaki Tamura). Stuart people know that their IQ is 103, but for the moment it’s stuck at 97.
Another popular new condition in our daily world is: No-tech tourism (n.)
No-tech tourism is a form of temporal eco-tourism in which one reads books or watches film and TV precisely because of the absence of 21st-century technologies. “A year ago I was totally burnt out and read a massive biography of George Washington because I knew that it wouldn’t contain email. It was a 1,200-page no-tech tour.” The thrill of no-tech tourism is twofold.
One, your brain gets a temporary reprieve from the internet and, two, you get to feel vaguely superior for being lucky enough not to be stuck in the grimly information-free past. “I watched Looking for Mr. Goodbar a few weeks ago. It was Richard Gere and Diane Keaton in 1970s New York and I was horrified by how low-tech it was back then.
It’s like people lived in badly furnished caves connected by landlines. It was a real eye-opener and great no-tech tourism.”
In the same time travel vein, one might also describe a mythical pill some people now yearn to take called: Ninetenicillin (n) September 10 + Penicillin
Ninetenicillin is the theoretical pill one could take to make oneself feel as though 9/11 never happened and one was still living in the 20th century, not the 21st. If you were to take a handful of Ninetenicillin, you would look at The New York Times for September 12 2001 and the headline would read, “Shark Attacks Continue off Florida Coast.” Potential ninetenicillin junkies yearn for a world without search engines, intrusive airport security screenings and email boxes that are magically empty every night before bed. As a form of escapism, yearning for the 20th century is understandable but in practice it would be horrible – sort of like going on a holiday promising yourself you could go without the internet, only to crumble and walk in a daze to the local internet café to gorge on connectivity. It’s fun to sentimentalise the 20th-century lifestyle and the 20th-century brain, but it helps nobody, it makes you look ancient, there’s no going back and you’d be miserable if you did. Onward.
Douglas Coupland is the author of ‘Generation X’. His new novel, ‘Worst. Person. Ever.’ is published by Heinemann this autumn.
He will be writing regular observations on modern life for FT Weekend Magazine