THE internet has fundamentally altered gay culture and the way gay people meet one another, author Douglas Coupland has told the Star Observer, but only because “real world” alternatives are so tedious and time consuming.
The Canadian novelist and artist is currently in Australia for the annual Sydney Writers’ Festival, which will officially open tonight.
Yet for a man who single-handedly popularised the term “Gen X”, and as such the seemingly never-ending litany of terms to describe ongoing generations related to it, a recurring theme in Coupland’s work is how people face the end of times and mankind’s extinction.
It’s a theme that also crops up in Australian culture but combined with a remoteness that delays the inevitable Armageddon — from the 2013 movie These Final Hours to the classic 1959 film On The Beach, where Ava Gardner faces an apocalypse leisurely lumbering its way towards Melbourne.
“I was in Melbourne in 2005 and I went to visit a display they had at the public library there about the making of On The Beach — photos mostly,” Coupland told the Star Observer.
“It was on the third floor in a little nook and was really sad.
“I think I was the only person who saw it.”
Coupland is hoping for more stimulation on his current trip to Australia which, together with New Zealand, he likens to “little Canadas floating in the Pacific but with better weather”.
A festival highlight will be a discussion between Coupland, fellow novelist Richard Flanagan and cognitive scientist Sally Andrews on the effect the internet has had on our brains and the way we think, act and relate to one another.
Recent Australian research has found 80 per cent of gay men now find their boyfriends online through apps and dating websites.
Does Coupland, who is openly gay, feel this readily available and constant interconnectivity has affected LGBTI people and culture?
“I wouldn’t limit it to gay culture,” he remarked, adding that the internet has been a massive neural reconfiguration process for the planet.
“Pretty much everyone meets online now…. I know two couples in their 70s who met online.
“It only seems weird if you compare it to the relatively inefficient mate selection process we used to have called the real world,” he said.
As for his hopes for his trip down under, Coupland said: “If I put on two pounds it means it was a success.”
The author is one of a clutch of LGBTI personalities appearing at this year’s festival, which runs until Sunday, May 24.
Hollywood star Alan Cumming will be in conversation with British author Damian Barr; Australian author Benjamin Law will discuss the golden age of TV; historian Dennis Altman will be “quer[y]ing” Agatha Christie; the Australian’s military’s highest-ranking trans* member Catherine McGregor will be talking World War II; while short story writer Ellen van Neerven will be revealing “the awkward truth”.
The Sydney Writers’ Festival runs between May 18-24. For details and tickets, click here.
RELATED: Bringing (gay) stories to life – Find out more about the LGBTI voices at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival with our interview with the festival’s artistic direct Jemma Birrell