In Douglas Coupland's novel Player One: What is to Become of Us, how does media affect our sense of self? What evidence shows this?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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All throughout the novel, examples can be found demonstrating the author's main point as expressed in the title, Player One: What is to Become of Us, that all forms of media destroy one's sense of self, making any sense of self very superficial. Two examples of forms of media we see in the very first chapter of the book are smartphones with cameras and the Internet.

The first example of media author Douglas Coupland uses to show the destructive quality of media is the smartphone camera. While on the plane, Karen, the first character we are introduced to, notices who she calls a "horny" teenage boy checking her out, despite the fact that she's in her forties. Seeing the teenage boy also makes her reflect on her fear of being videotaped or photographed, for she is sure that that's what the boy is either doing or wants to do. In her eyes, the smartphone's ability to videotape and photograph everything instantly is also an invasion of privacy. More specifically, she frets that such a camera will photograph her doing something she'd rather not be seen doing. We see her fret about the boy photographing her when she thinks the following to herself through the voice of the third-person narrator:

Karen is flattered to think she might be considered hot--albeit a "hot mom"--but then she also knows that this horny kid probably has some kind of sin-detecting hand-held gadget lurking in his shirt pocket. (p. 2)

Through the author's diction choices of "sin-detecting" and "hand-held gadget," we see that Karen associates cellphones with the ability to capture a person's private flaws and broadcast them to the world. Her belief in the protection of one's privacy is further seen when the narrator says that the cellphone was probably "lying in wait for Karen to undo more buttons or pick her nose or perform any other silly act that was formerly considered private" (p. 2). Karen's instinctive worry that the boy will photograph her shows exactly how the cellphone has already changed her, already greatly impacted how she thinks. It has influenced her in such a way that she is virtually afraid to move should any wrong move she accidentally makes be publicly displayed for all the world to see. Living in such fear is also a way of plasticizing her. She no longer feels the freedom to think and move as a human being ought to because no one's thoughts or actions are private any longer. If she no longer feels she has the freedom to express herself, then her self-expression will become stifled, stifled to the point that any move she makes will be programmed by society, as if she was made of plastic; she will no longer be a true individual. Hence, through this one reference to cellphone usage, the author is pointing out that the current social trend of invading privacy is stifling our abilities to freely express ourselves.

A second example of media Coupland uses to show how media limits self-expression is the Internet. Karen is on her way to meet a man in person, named Warren, who she has met only on the Internet. Karen likes Warren based on his email replies but is wondering if they'll actually click. At the bar where she is to meet Warren, while chatting with the bartender, Rick, and expressing her concerns about clicking with Warren, a very ironic thing happens--socially and conversationally, Karen clicks with the bartender. In contrast, Karen fails to click with Warren, who actually tells her she talks too much. We especially see evidence of her clicking with Rick when, during the conversation, he says he had "been thinking about time a lot today" and asks, "Wouldn't it be kind of cool ... if time stopped right now?" Thinking about time is actually rather a philosophical and esoteric thing to do. He goes on further to describe a moment when it felt to him like time had stood still, a moment when on a train, the train stopped halfway inside of a tunnel and the conductor announced they would "observe two minutes of silence" (p. 20). In that moment, all passengers turned off all electronic devices. As Rick further explains, that moment felt to him like a "religious" moment, a moment when "everyone became the best version of themselves" (p. 20). What's interesting, is that reflecting on time and the absence of these devices in this way is very similar to Karen's own esoteric thought process when in the plane she reflects on what it would be like for all people in the plane to disappear. It's after Rick shares his insight about time and people that Karen introduces herself, showing us that she too realizes the similarity in their thought process. Hence, it's truly with Rick that Karen experiences her connection and not with Warren, and the fact that the Internet is impersonal has a great deal to do with their lack of connection. Neither Warren nor Karen were able to express their true selves through the Internet, so neither had an accurate perception of the other, leading to no connection. On the other hand, Karen and Rick are able to immediately express their true selves through face-to-face conversation, leading to a true connection. Hence, Coupland uses the Internet as an example of media that hinders full self-expression and development.

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