A book by Douglas Coupland.
First published 1995, although Chapter 1 appeared (in a modified form) in Wired magazine, January 1994.

The story is simple; a group of friends living in a geek house break away from steady-but-dull jobs in Microsoft to form their own exciting new start-up company. The narration is given in the form of the diary of a tester named Dan. It contains some great pages where Dan allows 'his computer's subconscious' to take over. (Any of these pages are practically art, and would look great photocopied and pinned up in your Veal-fattening Pen by the way.) Examples:

Stop Being Carbon

I'm okay. I am not being starved, or beaten, or unnecessarily frightened

I am Bill's machine.

Pull the wires from the wall

Pages 104 and 105 are written entirely in binary. RainDropUp was kind enough to dig out the decoded version:

I heart Lisa Computers

This is my computer.
There are many like it,
but this one is mine.
My computer is my best friend.
It is my life.
I must master it,
as I must master my life.
Without me,
my computer is useless.
Without my computer,
I am useless.
I must use my computer true.
I must compute faster than my enemy who is trying to kill me.
I must outcompute him before he outcomputes me.
I will.
Before God, I swear this creed.
My computer and myself are defenders of this country.
We are masters of our enemy.
We are the savioury of my life.
So be it until there is no enemy,
but peace.

Tinned peaches
San Fran

Microserfs, like the rest of Douglas Coupland's novels, is more literary impressionism than plot-driven story. Published in 1995 by HarperCollins, it focuses on a small group of low-level Microsoft employees who leave to found their own start-up. They live together, work together, romance one another, and argue. Mostly, they talk about their surroundings. The book is much less about what they do than what they are, how they go about being what they are, and how they feel about it.

Coupland's writing style is, as usual, disjointed and flighty, which can be off-putting to people who aren't used to it. The Sesame Street and MTV generations handle it with more aplomb than older readers, who tend to get frustrated. When reading Douglas Coupland's books, it's vital not to expect much of a plot. The story is a necessary evil, not the reason for writing. Once you're ready for that, you'll be OK.

Microserfs's conceit is that it's the diary of the central character (it would be misleading to call him a hero or protagonist), Dan. The diary format makes it easy for Coupland to offer the usual massive array of notes on pop-culture that make his writings fall somewhere between social commentary and observational stand-up comedy in book form. Dan riffs on everything from geek fashion to the differences between Apple and Microsoft to the moment of odd reflection precipitated by mistyping a date. These notes are simultaneously throwaway lines and the whole foundation of the book.

Often, the notes come through fictitious ephemera thrown into the diary scrapbook-style: Christmas lists, copied-and-pasted e-mails, lists of items at a garage sale. The sense of being a voyeur is strong.

One doesn't have to be a geek to identify with Coupland's characters, though it helps. Anyone who came of age in the Reagan years, growing up with ubiquitous consumer electronics, branding, and the budding yuppie ethic will understand precisely where they're coming from, even if they're in a different line of work. Coupland's willingness to refer to real brand-names, people, cartoons, and places (often unkindly) increases the characters' realism. It also reflects a culture where status is achieved by ownership, not accomplishment, a shift in the real world many modern artistic creations don't acknowledge.

When Microserfs was released, geeks everywhere snapped up copies, delighted to have a version of Generation X written just for them. Once they'd read it, reactions were mixed; many criticized Coupland's portrayal of geek culture as too extreme. That's semi-fair -- the characters' lack of serious interest in much other than their work and themselves sometimes seems to approach nihilism. But, like Generation X, Microserfs isn't journalism, it's art. One doesn't have to be an übergeek to "get" Microserfs, any more than one has to be a hopeless slacker to understand Generation X.

Microserfs came out just as Silicon Valley was becoming the only possible destination in North America for young capitalists and geeks with dreams, and it seemed positively prescient. It would be interesting to find out what Dan, Abe, Ethan, Karla, Todd, and Michael are up to now that the gold rush is over and it's gotten a lot tougher to become a paper millionaire.

You can’t talk about Microserfs without discussing the importance of LEGO blocks. The product that they are developing in the book is a software version of LEGO. Their office is decorated in LEGO. It is everywhere.

Douglas Coupland has identified what is, I think, the most common element in the personal history of geeks: we built with LEGO. Not played - built.



Collected, sorted, organized, categorized.

Built everything in the instruction books and every car truck ship spacecraft tool shown on the side of the box.

We examined life and recreated it in LEGO.

And when computers landed on our desks we started all over again.

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