Is Google God?

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Author Douglas Coupland.

Author and artist Douglas Coupland's new novel, JPod, follows the lives of six workers at a Vancouver video game company. Like his 1995 book Microserfs, about a group of Microsoft employees, JPod is full of visual humor (the listed ingredients in Dorito chips) and pages of numbers (the first 100,000 digits of Pi). He spoke to TIME's Rebecca Myers about Google, his bridge between art and words, and why Douglas Coupland is such a jerk.

TIME: Both Microserfs and JPod take place in tech offices. What's changed about those environments?

DC: Oh, there's a lot of difference. Microserfs was written in '93-'94, and there was the sense that you were genuinely changing the world with technology. There was also the money, which was part of the madness as well. Now in 2006, the world is changing but you don't necessarily feel involved in the change. It's changing apart from you. I get the impression that the world right now is obviously quite different, but there's a certain amorality that's pervasive right now. I wanted to capture that in the book.

TIME: In JPod you compare Google to God. Why?

DC: Not so much Google itself, but the way you feel after using it really intensely for a long time. Suddenly you know the answer to everything. I used to be one of those people who was going through the reference section of the local library. I used to phone up Merriam-Webster in Springfield, Massachusetts — by the way, they loved it — and ask a question about a neologism or something. Now you just burn out on knowing the answer to everything. This is what God must be like knowing everything. How many times have I been in a restaurant and wanted to clap my hands and have Google come down from ceiling and solve an argument?

TIME: What research did you conduct on gaming companies before writing the novel?

DC: Companies are really good. They let me come in and do my Gorillas in the Mist routine. Most people like talking about their work. I think that's human nature. I can't play games worth crap, I really can't. It's far more interesting to find someone who's really amazing at a game. Sit there and play it with them and just ask what's going on inside their head. You realize that people are far more emotionally and conversationally engaged with games than studies would lead you to believe.

TIME: You don't play any games yourself?

DC: I got Klondike solitaire installed on my second laptop back in 1995-6. I've been with it ever since.

TIME: Why include a hug machine for autistics in the JPod office?

DC: One way of looking at the characters is that they don't have personalities. They're just a collection of various pathologies. Maybe having personalities is a sentimental way of looking at people. With the people I know in tech — and God knows I know enough of them — there is this micro-autistic thing that happens in that world. Obviously I hyperbolize it, but I think there's something to it. I'm not saying it's all of human personality, but I think it's certainly part of human personality.

TIME: You use consumer references like "McJob" or in the case of JPod, the video game turtle known as Survivor's Jeff Probst. Have those ever gotten you into trouble?

DC: Not that I know of. I think it's because I come from the art world, where all aspects of culture are valid as source material. When [Generation] X came out, for example, everyone thought 'oh, it's just going to become dated.' And I think what happens is that it just becomes a period piece or a time capsule. I look at the books that I really enjoyed the most — like Kurt Vonnegut for example, or Joan Didion — you can tell, almost in some cases to the hour, the minute, when they were writing. I never put stuff in gratuitously. I think that's a misconception. Like how many can I squeeze in. Things like the page with the contents of Doritos or the pages of the numbers, to me that's pop art — it's trying to bridge the gap between visual art and words.

TIME: There's a character in the novel named Douglas Coupland. Why is he such a jerk?

DC: Oh, the anti-Doug. He's evil. Getting back to Google, in this world you stand in the sun and you have your shadow that follows you everywhere. Now you stand and Google casts a "shadow you" on you. You've got this thing that follows you no matter where you go. It's going to survive your real shadow long after you're dead. It's composed of truth, half-truth, lies, vengeance, wishful thinking, accuracy, inaccuracy. It grows and grows and gets bigger. It's you but it's not you. Mine's pretty large at the moment but I think in a few years, everyone's is going to be huge. It won't be just people in the public light any more. The anti-Doug is my creative response to all of that.

TIME: What's the most incorrect thing that you've read about yourself online?

DC: That I'm short.

TIME: How tall/short are you?

DC: I'm 6'2. Where on earth does someone get short from? Or I live in Scotland. Where does that come from? It's going back to that shadow you that follows you, me and everyone and will from here until the end of civilization.

TIME: That sounds like a very dark scenario.

DC: It really is. Right now it's fun and kooky but it's only going to get darker.

TIME: Do you write a blog?

DC: No. I used to keep blogs, formerly known as diaries. Back in the '90s, I did it for a while. What I found is that when you go through your day, you begin reclassifying your life into "that will make a good blog entry" or "that won't make a good blog entry." Suddenly your life isn't your life anymore.

TIME: Do you read any blogs?

DC: No.

TIME: There are a few about you. In fact, many mention your new beard. Interest in it is almost at Al Gore proportions.

DC: Well, it takes about 10 minutes for me to grow a beard. It's not like a big effort. It's something to do. I don't get too cosmic about it. I like the fact that it's going grey. It's interesting to watch.

TIME: Back in 1995, you wrote about the end of Generation X. Do you still feel that way about it?

DC: I don't even talk about it anymore. It just goes nowhere.

TIME: Do you regret having popularized that phrase?

DC: God, no. It's like my Campbell's soup can. I've got a name like Douglas Coupland. I've never met a hotel clerk who's spelled it right the first time. Whereas "Gen X" is simple. So, no, we should all be so lucky to have something so simple like that as an identifier.