Category Archives: social media

In an Age of Ice, An Auger is a God

Just trying to break the ice.

That’s the problem with taking too much time, whether it’s away or closer or wherever else we go when we are not present.

I’ve been away. Need to get back into it. But the blank page is a haunted house–the blinking word processor’s line is a reminder that bringing form into formlessness isn’t that hard…it’s only tricky if you want something more than a line.

The line never says enough. That’s where we pick up from.

And that’s where I need to pick up from. That last line, so long ago.

Don’t get me wrong. Been writing as much as ever. Just much more focused, less distracted by this social posturing.

But here I am. Getting back into it all–for posterity, for popularity, for the possibilities we are promised by extroverted polemics.

As simple as taking a solid stem auger to lake ice. Hold steady and let the drill’s teeth do the work.

At least until I break the ice.

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Ala Buzreba & Your Social Media History’s Impact on Our Political Future

To My Future Political Slanderers: Fuck You

Oh boy. I am so psyched right now. I want to share my excitement with you.

Someday, maybe a couple decades out, I will beckon to the call of public life, and may run as a politician (…you know, once my syphilis kicks in, my brain lesions, and I start to lose my mind). It is a noble job, and as participants in a democracy, we all owe each other the thankless job of helping to keep our public systems functioning.

But that job may already be out of my reach. It’s not that in my current perspective politicians appear to be the most disingenuous variety of people on the planet, and I want nothing to do with their circus right now. Nope. It’s because, like millions of Millenials, and the forthcoming millions of post-Millenials, I have an internet history.

Not my browser history, which is kept clean like a serial killer’s murder scene would be. I mean a social media history, that thread of unreal reality which increasingly captures so much of our lives.

The story has already played out—a young political candidate starts making waves because of a historic social media message, and then has to apologize profusely, like they never meant to say it or didn’t know better. In Canada, we have had it happen at least twice in recent elections. Most recently it has involved Ala Buzreba, a candidate in Calgary.

Is what she posted offensive? Mildly to some, severely to others. That is not something I care to debate—the subjectivity of morality is too often overlooked, and for the sake of mainstream political correctness, it is easier just to concede with the whiniest.

What I find most absurd of Buzreba’s ordeal, and many similar ones, is the expectation that is insinuated whenever there is “public outrage” about a political figure’s past. It is absurd to expect our public representatives to be squeaky-clean automatons that say all the right things and have always said all the right things.

It begs the question—is that person even human? Is that person even ready to represent a nebulous, heterogeneous population? Can we really expect a plain white square of tile to represent the multi-coloured, fragmented mosaic that so proudly symbolizes Canada?

While I was thinking about this, I started thinking about my caving experience. It is not extensive. I have been inside one limestone cave in the Rockies one time. I spent a couple hours within, with a guide. I dressed the part, did the deed, and although I will not call myself a cave-diver, I have topically observed it.

So am I ready to lead you on a caving expedition? Would you trust me to safely guide you through each squeeze, around every drop, and to the coolest depths carved by unpredictable natural forces?

You would be a risk-taking adrenalin junkie to agree to that. Caving is dangerous. The people who do it well have hundreds of hours of experience, and have taken huge risks themselves. There are pioneers of various cave systems around the world, who push to the furthest reaches of unexplored caves, know them intimately, and know where the average person without training or experience can go.

The guides I had while caving were experienced like that. My direct guide was from Kentucky, and had risked broken bones and suffocation to understand the threshold between safe and dangerous, sanity and insanity, naivety and caution.

In a similar way, can we really trust a public representative who has not explored humanity’s liminal experiences?

The mainstream says yes.

I say, fuck that.

Humans learn via play. A lot of the time, that includes experimenting. You know, throw a towel around your neck and be a superhero, or set some blocks up then smash them down.

But wait—Jesus, does that child expect to be a politician some day? Did you see the way he knocked down those building blocks?? And that gaudy superhero voice he was using, didn’t it sound a bit like he was making fun of [insert your ethnicity here]? And the way he yelled to his sister that he was going to save her, like the misogynist mansplainer he is and will forever be??

That is an obviously absurd example. To me, it is just as absurd to look back to a teenager’s messages on message boards, news sites, or social media sites. Sometimes, a kid has to say ‘screw the Jews’ to really understand that they do not feel that way at all. And sometimes, a kid will use a commonly-used cliché, however brash, to get their point across (e.g. “Your  mother should have used a coat hanger”).

We expect less from saints—I mean, how many pages of the Christian Bible is taken up by archaic blog posts of a guy who tortured and killed Christians? [That’s the Pauline epistles, for those unfamiliar with Christianity.]

We are electing most politicians to create and review legislation. It is mind-boggling boring shit most of the time. A lot of the fun stuff comes in the interpretation, which technically should not be the job of a legislator. That is the job of the regulatory bodies and the courts, which are not elected in Canada.

How a law can be interpreted is part of the review process, and that is one of the reasons why a legislator needs to have the wildest mind—to anticipate how things can go awry. Consider why Dexter was so good at evading detection…and alternately, why Dexter was so good at blood splatter analysis. The cliché says something like ‘the best policemen were the best criminals’ (Frank Abagnale is a great example).

A poet needs access to as many words as possible to do their job well. Even the ones that make your grandmother’s lungs crackle when she gasps. A politician needs access to as many experiences as possible to do their job well. How can any understanding be formed when an experience is completely foreign to a politician? It takes a politician born out of our weird white-bread expectations to create a law like NO ABORTIONS PERIOD. It takes a more experienced, multi-grain-bread kind of politician that understands the complexities and says, well, it’s not as simple as that…

I guess I am disarming, because I hear all kinds of people say all kinds of shit I am sure they wouldn’t want on ‘public record’. Even sitting politicians. You also probably know one person in a profession that has these upright expectations of personal conduct, who has a really harsh racist joke or eye-fucks waitresses or maybe lost their temper in their adolescence and said something they didn’t really mean.

Again, another question is begged: does it matter if it’s public or if it’s in private? Would Buzreba really be that much different of a person if, instead of typing the words into social media, she said them to her friend who was sitting beside her?

As more of our communication becomes digitized and trackable, that is a question that will become more important to debate.

Anyway, for Ala Buzreba, she has already crumbled to the outrage. It is unfortunate, because she had already become so endeared to me…regardless of my thoughts on her party’s platform. Imagine that, a politician who is actually similar to me and the people I know. What a fucking novelty.

The Nietzschean in me is disappointed, yet again. Stand up and own your words, whatever they may be.

Whether you like my thoughts on the matter or not, you will have to hear a lot more about it than what I am quickly typing down right now. Eventually, there will be a time when every single candidate will have been a teenager during the social media era (plus whatever comes next). Great! Another distraction from the actual issues—maybe future debates will be simply quoting re-tweets and tallying the number of views on questionable YouTube videos.

It will take a candidate who owns their past, understands and defends it as a youthful learning, and moves forward (not drop out or bend to false outrage), that will break the static mannequin image of a politician we currently have.

So that is why I am excited. Because maybe that candidate will be me—it will have to be one of us, sooner or later. And I am saving some detractor hours of work digging through my past with this one blog post. Please thank me when you begin your line of questioning or write that editorial.

#BoycottTims …Or, You Know, Whatever.

#BoycottTims

On Media Literacy, Slacktivism, and Resiliency

So why are you boycotting Tim Hortons today? Is it because they aired ads by Enbridge? Or is it because they pulled those ads? Or are you the usual mass of morning commuters I see every day, at the five Tim Hortons in my city, who don’t really give a fuck and just want their sugary cream to start their day?

If you live in Canada, or have ever visited (even just our airports), you will understand that Tim Hortons is a part of our national identity. I don’t understand how that happened, but I imagine it’s a lot like how McDonald’s is a symbol of Americanism around the world (and consequently, a symbol of its expansionism).

And maybe it is this façade of nationalism that makes people think we have a right to protest at every misgiving Tim Hortons Inc. makes (except the fate of its founder). I mean, it’s not like we have real political issues that can actually affect our lives, right? Nonsense. Tim Hortons aired an ad in its in-store TVs. Ads from Enbridge Inc. About how energy is needed to run those TVs, and brew coffee, and start up the SUVs packed in the parking lot that will drive our fat asses wherever we are going to continue our consumer ways.

There is clearly a debate that can be had about the pro-oil propaganda from Enbridge. Just like any advertisement, a viewer needs to approach it with some media literacy.

I remember in the 1990’s, TV (and particularly kids TV) was flooded with messaging about being conscious of what we see in the media. Remember the house hippo?

So it would be understandable if a contingent of people on one side of the ‘oil debate’ were standing in line at Tim Hortons, saw the ad, and said, “Fuck this. I’m not shopping here anymore.”

But in addition to making the direct, personal action of avoidance, a group called SumOfUs started a petition. I don’t know who they are and don’t care to research, because I have a feeling that they were just itching to start some shit, and they found some low hanging fruit with Enbridge’s ad campaign.

After 30,000 signatures, Tim Hortons executives considered the impact to their social license and pulled the ad.

Then the polar opposite happened. There was a social media fury calling for a boycott because Timmy’s pulled the ads. It even entered the realm of politicos (should be a red flag that this is bullshit).

And maybe some of this situation has to do with our desperate news cycle giving social media too much credit. The precedent has been set long before this issue, but I would hope that every time a media figure wants to write/say that there has been a social media flurry, there is a careful editor who is considering whether that qualifies as hyperbole.

The line I am trying to understand, though, is the one between media literacy and a sense of entitlement to complain something away with an exceptionable minority (30,000 signatures represents 0.08% of the Canadian population, assuming that all signees were Canadian).

It probably begins with our (relatively new yet) false notion that corporations are required to be ethical entities. And I mean ethical beyond following regulations and performing due diligence. You know the ethical I am talking about—the new moral norms that are expected by the politically correct, without excuse or exception.

Toms Shoes are a good example. I find a lot of people who wear the shoes will go out of their way to let you know they are wearing Toms. Because they have done something good. They basically donated a free pair of shoes to someone in need. Nevermind that the person receiving those shoes may have been the poor desperado who I saw jump a guy for his car in Buenos Aires, or that fashionable stick-up kid who tried to jump a tourist in La Boca on camera. It does not matter that we become totally removed from the good deed, because we received the same warm fuzzies regardless.

And it makes sense. Why would I buy a regular pair of shoes, when I am essentially buying two with Toms Shoes? It is a boon for that corporation to play the ‘ethical’ angle.

But nobody should forget that the central tenet of any corporation is to maximize profits for shareholders. I am not arguing that this is not an absurd notion; I am just saying that that is the reality that these corporations live in.

For us to feel good about ‘aligning ourselves with a company that aligns with our values’ is just an empty marketing ploy, and you are just as much a fool as someone who buys a sweater because the logo is dope.

There are obvious exceptions to my maxim, like blood diamonds and child labour, but in those situations, they are not issues to be dealt with by petitioning and hashtagivism, but by regulators who can set out the rules by which those corporations operate. [Note: Joseph Kony is still free, and it is Interpol, not his lack of social media clout, which has him on the lamb]

For example, many corporations don’t dump untreated and untested effluent directly into our major rivers anymore. They don’t do this because they are concerned that a bunch of kids with expensive phones will start hashtagging some clever complaint. It is because there are legal requirements that have tangible and reliable consequences (unlike boycotts, which are typically wishy-washy and ephemeral at best). And in places where dumping still occurs, it is because the applicable regulator has not set out legislation prohibiting it.

Not that I am saying that we are at the mercy of legislators, who themselves are heavily swayed by large corporations. But I am saying that when only ~60% of us vote in any given election, we are effectively letting those corporations continue to have the sway they do.

Let’s not wade into politics too much, though.

This is about one corporation who paid another to air some ads on in-store screens…and the First World whining that resulted.

The situation reminds me of some people’s reactions to news media—for example, the CBC for my conservative co-workers. Any story featured on the CBC, regardless of its validity, is always qualified by, “Yeah but it’s the CBC”, implying that their liberal bias plays into their reporting (vice versa applies to Sun Media). Like I tell them, I am perfectly okay engaging in news media where I can read the bias. The real danger is in news media where you can’t read the bias. That’s when the Bernaysian doctors are spinning at peak performance.

[Fun Research Aside! Check out Section 8 of this 2014 U.S. Act of Congress]

Similarly, I am more comfortable with stepping into a business by my own will and encountering an advertisement which I can clearly identify as propaganda. And I can understand that one company was paid to advertise another company. Tim Hortons Inc. wants to make money as much as Enbridge Inc. They are more akin to each other than Tim Hortons is to the Canadian identity.

This boycott will soon be forgotten. What should never be forgotten is that if we want to maintain any remnants of free thought, each individual has to build up a resiliency to media campaigns. Instead of feeling so threatened by an ad that we need to stomp our feet and create a ‘social media frenzy’, we need to become resilient and let it slide off a semi-impermeable mental filter.

If you want to boycott Tim Hortons, don’t take some faux moral outrage stance—do it for the real reason that you shouldn’t go to places like Tim Hortons: their non-nutritional foodstuffs. Boycott Tim Hortons because your risk of diabetes is climbing every time you order a double double and your cholesterol rises for every half-dozen TimBits you crush. Those are real threats.

Slipstreaming into the Spin: Tune Out, Turn Off, Drop In

It is a shame of our modern Western society that films and television have made such an impression. As a social species, we have probably always been prone to imitation and influence from observing behavior that may or may not be genuine. It’s just that now, there has to be a base assumption that behavior is probably not genuine—that is: not natural, a put on, an act, a vanity for the sake of portraying one’s self as something they may or may not be.

There is one item in particular that I am perturbed by…and maybe not perturbed as much as intrigued. It is the impression—or illusion—that life is exciting. Here, the term excitement is used in the way most teenagers use it: that something is happening, that we are part of something bigger, that we are doing something important and consequential and unique. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, reality TV, and scripted film all portray this, and usually layer on the traditional literary story arc: introduction, climax, and denouement, all in a neat package that is shared with any number of strangers and acquaintances.

Basically, most people on the Internet and certainly on TV want to portray their lives (fictional or not) as something wholly unreal, something so fab and wild that it somehow justifies their existence on the Earth. I’ve mused before that modern youth are appealed by the ‘I share, therefore I am’ philosophy…but I realize now it is rooted in a much more dark desire for meaning—meaning afforded by being exciting.

Excitantis vivere vita, vita mea. Qui blandit vita communi, ergo sum.
(‘I live an exciting life, therefore I live. I share that exciting life, therefore I am.’)

There are two options based on personal experience that I encounter in response to the above: 1) Either I am an anomaly and live my life without daily (non-orgasmic) climaxes or with very little drama to substantiate ironic/sarcastic/serious vitriol; or, 2) Everyone is full of shit.

I don’t think that I should fool myself into thinking my experience is universal. That’s for comedians and politicians. But really, getting a bagel with a few poppy seeds in the sesame seeds isn’t worth a post to all your friends/followers, and the truth probably is that that freewheeling road trip you keep posting photos of took place 3 years ago and you haven’t left your city since then.

Apart from that—because some people do enjoy enriching experiences on a regular basis—have we become so desperate for meaning that we revert again to the weird (and made up) Latin phrase above to determine whether our experience is real and fulfilling?

Or is the question evolutionary: are we at such a point beyond simple sexual selection that we equate what we portray with our ecological fitness? Is Facebook a proxy for our pheromones?

Back to the former Q: I had a good, cosmic laugh at the absurdity of my cellphone while on a healthy dose of psilocybin this weekend (~13 g of Psilocybe ‘truffles’ in an acid-tea extraction—I was going to include a recipe, but there are so many good ones out there already). As colours shifted, and everything vibrated and swelled with its primordial energy, and stable things started to swirl and transform, and phosphenes ignited myriad scenes behind closed eyes, and I slipped into the music spinning on my turntable, spinning with it and becoming a part of it, just as every molecule vibrates and lends itself to the totality we know as the empirical universe—as all of this was happening, one of many thoughts made me realize just how absurd it would be to try to capture my very personal visions. And even if I could, what the fuck would it matter to you?

Timothy Leary gave his LSD-influenced mantra in a vastly different time than ours, even if it was only ~50 years ago. When he said, “Tune in, turn on, drop out” it was meant to rattle normal society. But now it has become normal society. We tune in to false lives of TV and the internet, we turn on electronic devices that rule our attention, and we drop out of the ‘real’ world that dominated our consciousness since cells responded to their environment.

So I offer a not-so-original twist on Leary’s cliché that, for me at least, makes a lot more sense in our current context: “Tune out, turn off, drop in.” Tune out the manufactured/posed lives people try to portray, turn off our electronics (or cultivate the will power to), and drop in (I’ll leave this to your own interpretation).

Quite frankly, I am tired of posting shit on Twitter and Instagram. I hate having to boil down my experience to a box of pixels or to 140 characters. Social media is a tireless game. And I am reconsidering how much energy I want to afford to it.

It was a game I was very reluctant to play. I only gave it a go in 2012, with bright intentions of stepping into a ‘community’ as a writer. But none of it has helped my writing, however much it has helped my exposure (which in itself is questionable).

But don’t get excited. There’s no climax here. No big dramatic pronouncement of Twittercide. Because life just doesn’t work like that for me. It just keeps mushrooming—into different forms, different modes—but it continues with no denouement, no perfect finish, no finality, no