I remember sitting there for hours watching people whose cells had gone out but they still had wi-fi. So the people in Tokyo had to figure out what was going on so they were going on Twitter, so I was redirecting people in Tokyo to places where they could find things like subway information. It was such a surreal, strange thing. It was one of the strangest evenings of my life, absolutely. I was up until one in the morning.
Throughout the aftermath of all of that, there was this picture that emerged of a calm, collective Japanese identity, waiting patiently in the face of catastrophe. None of that surprised me. The way that the people in charge of the nuclear plant — how they behaved later — that didn't surprise me, either. I guess it's all part of the same culture. But I'm not by any means any sort of authority on Japanese culture at all. I'm just a guy who likes their stuff a lot.But you've worked pretty hard to use it as a cool psychogeographic backdrop to all kinds of ideas that you're thinking about.
When I started writing, there was a certain kind of awareness of Japan in Vancouver and it's because we do a lot of business with them and Japanese tourism used to be a visibly big deal here, and I suppose it still is but as things have gotten bigger and busier here, it's harder to notice. But it was a very convenient "other place" to set stories, I think.
Looking back at how you've watched the world develop in these pieces, do you feel like we have a more solid grip than ever of what the future holds for us than we did in the past? I actually think we do, but in the sense that we don't really have a future culturally in the way that we so very, very much had one in the past. I think that the present has gotten very, very brief indeed. At one time, the present was about a week long [laughs]. Probably many years before that, the present could be a year or a decade. You could say "now" and really know what you meant.
But today, you don't even know what you mean. If you say "now," it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with what it's going to be like tomorrow. In that kind of world, we don't really have the luxury or even the ability to dream up fully articulated fantasy futures the way we once did, because they just get their legs knocked off the very next day by some new emerging technology or some new disease or something that could totally change the whole game.
It makes us less inclined to freak out over things now and that's a result of this very short present moment, with everything subject to change. It's really probably how it's always been, it just didn't look that way to us. We're becoming inadvertently more sophisticated about the future.