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Review: Kitten Clone by Douglas Coupland

kitten-cloneKitten Clone by Douglas Coupland (Visual Editions) is a look at the company that has developed the internet we know and love today, in a beautifully-designed book that questions what an internet-saturated future looks like.

Alcatel-Lucent is a powerful corporation that builds and maintains the internet via fibre-optic cable networks, research facilities, and patent-generating computer scientists. Coupland details the history of the company, and in more peripheral terms, the internet, through a series of snapshots of what everyday life is in the company, and how the people who work there strive to connect us all. It’s a humanizing portrait of a corporation, and a layperson-friendly crash course on the mechanics of the internet.

The book is structured through visits Coupland made to Alcatel-Lucent branches in New Jersey, Paris, and Shanghai, framing the company’s development through the past, present and future. Images of dim cubicles, skeins of wires, and vacant office space expose the idea of a smooth, silver internet future as instead an unglamorous mess of cables and cutbacks. Coupland focuses on the question of how the internet has begun to shape us, rather than the other way around.

No book about the internet would be complete without cat photos, and Kitten Clone delivers, with a series of anecdotes about the human desire to share images of their cats throughout time, which has culminated in the ultimate cat-sharing network. Coupland fears that “the zeitgeist of the twenty-first century is that we have a lot of zeit but not much geist”, but only the internet can tell what the future has in store.

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This review first appeared as “All Zeit, No Geist?” in Geist 97.

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