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A new word for a new era of known unknowns and unknown knowns.

Etymology: Simply smart + stupid = smupid. Meaning: In their doomsayer of a book, The Age of Earthquakes, authors Douglas Coupland, Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Shumon Basar define smupid thusly: “The mental state where we acknowledge that we’ve never been smarter as individuals, and yet somehow we’ve never felt stupider.”

For Coupland and pals, it’s all the internet’s fault. Those pesky computers are so clever that we can lodge our entire brains in their cloudlike embrace, and never have to remember a single thing. Apart from our password. Or our mother’s maiden name if we forget that.

Except that the ability to upload our memories, then re-download them as necessary, has created a wireless impotence. And confusion and technophobia in equal measure.

The feeling of utter stupidly in an age of unlimited possibility is a novel concept. We have access to 30 million songs on Spotify, but can’t wire the plug to the Sonos without looking on YouTube. Because that is information we don’t have to store on our own “hard drive”—clever but dumb at the same time. The trauma of digital vertigo is another challenge in the epoch of smupid. The World Wide Web gives you a greater knowledge base than Albert Einstein, but makes you more impatient. Think about making vacation plans through a travel agent. According to The Age of Earthquakes, that’s “a slower process invented in times of less technology.” It’s unlikely we’ll step inside a travel agency when booking a week in Barcelona. Instead, our ability to cross-reference 150 airlines in a nanosecond, while making a cup of tea, is astounding. But the cacophony of flight times and car rental options makes us fretful. As does choosing one of the city’s 17,000 Airbnb apartments. After three hours of online anxiety, a vacation is needed to recover from the act of booking one.

As Coupland, Obrist and Basar attest: “The future is even smupider.” That’s if we don’t stop Dropboxing our DNA on a minute-by-minute basis. Stepping into the travel agency for 30 minutes may actually be quicker than scouring Booking.com. Downgrading to a dumbphone might make you more productive. And reading an Agatha Christie novel might still your senses more than a fruitless trawl through Netflix.

  • Words:
    Tristan Rutherford
  • Photograph:
    Aaron Tilley
  • Set Design:
    Sandy Suffield
  • Words:
    Tristan Rutherford
  • Photograph:
    Aaron Tilley
  • Set Design:
    Sandy Suffield
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