Archives for posts with tag: age of earthquakes


I’m enjoying the way The Age of Earthquakes is migrating across media. The BBC have, in particular, been generously receptive. So, when I was asked to go onto a World Service program, I’ll admit I got a little bit excited. Because it’s the radio station I listen to every day and admire both from afar and near. It is genuinely worldly. On another level, it’s also the radio station my father and his family listened to in Bangladesh when it was still part of India and then part of Pakistan onto Independence. BBC World Service is an institution that remains largely intact. That’s something to cherish.

Here I am on The Forum. The program is called, ‘How Long is Now?’ Time perception plays a big role in The Age of Earthquakes, and so it was a treat to be able to discuss this with experts from neuroscience (Virginie van Wassenhove) and musicology (Lawrence Zbikowski).

Of the three, I am the ardent generalist.

The host, Samira Ahmed, was enthusiastic and gracious and the entire team patient with my lack of studio panache. Radio remains at its best a bastion of slow thought. (Despite the fact our perception of the present has decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds today, a new study confirmed).

My theses come from simply noticing my own behaviour and how they’ve been changing. I can’t back it up with research — but I think that’s okay. Because it seems that neuroscience still doesn’t know many things about the brain — and there is even an argument to say it never can because: how can a subject analyse the object of its study with due objectivity and precision if that object is the subject?

Confused? Welcome to my world.

And so, again, without scientific fact to back me up, what I think I’m interested in and want to know more about is an ANTHROPOLOGY OF THE BRAIN.

PS. I make an extremely rogue connection between monotheism, eschatology and the 3 minute pop song that I literally came up with on the spot. As ludicrous as it sounds, I believe there is evidence for this conjecture. One day I will be shown it.


Here are the two cover designs for The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present, both rendered and designed by Wayne Daly. The one on the left is the Penguin UK edition (echoed in the German edition), which sets the title in a bespoke captcha font. What are captcha?

Don’t pretend.

You all know.

They’re the ever primitive looking warped writing used by computers to determine if you are also a computer or a human. They’re the machine version of the Turing test on us.


At their very best — or worst — it does feel like only another computer could decipher certain captchas, leaving us effectively locked outside our own existential homestead.

impossible captcha

We assume that captchas belong to Web 1.0, to a clunkier, Netscapey era of the Internet. But they’re around just as much — in more or less sophisticated forms. In fact, they illustrate the way in which the Internet is ‘chronochaotic,’ suffering olde bits of technology in tandem with the swooshiest HTML 1000 PRO (I made that up. I think). During the design process for AOE, we therefore liked the idea that our cover would effectively be this machine-Turing test for the reader, as well as another kind of test whereby some people will recognise the allusion to captcha, and others, simply will not.

The cover on the right is for the US edition, published by Blue Rider (also part of the Penguin Random House Group). Here, an illustration entitled Luxury Melted Earth by Alex Mackin Dolan, originally sent in as black and white:

ALEX MACKIN DOLAN melted luxury earth

has been artfully colourised and then even more artfully placed on top of a holographic foil.

Luxury Melted Earth _ Alex Mackin Dolan

We always imagined the front cover of the book — a paperback with an identity crisis — to be a kind of screen, so, it was thrilling to be given the go ahead with the holographic foil by our American colleagues. The insides of AOE are strictly black and white, following the example set by Quentin Fiore in The Medium is the Massage:


so, it’s important that the exterior has a chromatic, even tactile quality. The holo-foil is again both contemporary and also quaintly 60s or 70s, as if lasers and space travel have just been invented, and express the frontier of now. A time when Carl Sagan was our guide through the universe:

Carl SaganNotice the name at the bottom. Jerome Agel. Oft forgotten genius svengali who gave birth to some of the most important experimental paperbacks of the later 60s and early 70s, including the McLuhan/Fiore The Medium is the Massage:

Medium is the Massage

Outrageously, Agel’s name was not included on the original Penguin cover from 1967, but, the current re-print amends this, and says, “Co-ordinated by Jerome Agel,” which goes some of the way — but arguably not far enough. For that, I recommend the brilliant The Electric Information Age Book which restores Agel’s cultural and intellectual significance. It’s because of Agel that I’ve come to think of the paperback as a piece of always-new technology. A Papeback OS, as it were.

Doug’s simple request to Wayne was that the cover should “feel like a classic Penguin paperback.” And this time-travel logic continued in the brief for the insides, too: “Wayne, the reader should be able to open our book somewhere and it feels like 1967. Then open it elsewhere and it’s 2015.” Just like the bumpy contours of the Internet itself.


We hope we’ve succeeded.


Gerhard Richter did many of his most chromatic paintings with a squeegee. They flatten paint and turn it into flight. Here, I squeegeed the Earth – figuratively. The image, that index of space travel in the 60s, earthrise, Whole Earth Catalogue, speck, galactic spit, the blueness of the blue. Now it falls downwards. Digital striation. And I find it so tragically beautiful. Ultra vivid seen. I wonder what the drips on the floor look like.

There is a good chance this image will, in another form, play a major role in the book I’m doing with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Douglas Coupland, designed by Wayne Daly, and published by Penguin and Blue Rider in 2015, called The Age of Earthquakes. Watch (this) space.