My Information Addiction

Twenty-five years ago, the Berlin Wall came down. I watched this spectacle on a solar-powered TV in a small Senegalese village (so small, in fact that not even the Google car has found it yet). The sound was bad and with my high school French, I struggled to understand it. I knew in the events leading up to it, that Berliners of both side were permitted to travel back and forth and I thought this was simply more of that. I had to ask around for a few days until I confirmed that, yes, it had come down.

I was eighteen years old at the time and while I missed home, there was a weird, helpless feeling not knowing what was going on. In that village, there was no electricity and few people had radios. The TV belonged to the village and was turned on once per night. The news would be presented in the majority language of Wolof, then again in the official language of French (or maybe I have it reversed). There were no shops so I couldn’t even scan newspaper headlines.

So I spent three months seeking out radio broadcasts or finding newspapers. I particularly liked the International Herald-Tribune. Late 1989 was a time of several historic events like the fall of communism, the impending release of Nelson Mandela, and the massacre at Ecole Polytechnique. I struggled to get details on all these events.

I’m not sure why it was important that I was aware of these things as they happened. My immediate knowledge of these events wasn’t going to change them. Perhaps it was because I wanted to be a journalist in those days and would eventually go to school for that. I made that my excuse to inhale news. Whatever the reason, I hated not knowing of certain events which is a silly thing to hate, really.

Later, when I attended a community college radio journalism programme, as part of our coursework, we had to run a community radio station. The newsroom had a teletype machine that I would watch type out breaking news. I loved the idea that as soon as I pulled that off roller, I would be the first to share this news over a closed circuit PA system with a bunch of disinterested agricultural students. I guess it was like being given a secret.

I would later repeat this behaviour at an FM station in Saint John where I did a work-study thing (I also may have sabotaged my career by refusing to work as an unpaid intern when my work-study stint was over). In the end, it may have been for the best. And later, when I attended university to get a degree in English, no Drama, no just English, I did the same thing and spent more time at the campus radio station than I did in class. But I did get to interview Svend Robinson and Rage Against the Machine, though not at the same time.

On trips out of Saint John to larger centres, I would find well stocked magazine stores so I could load up on alternative magazines like the Humanist in Canada, the Progressive, This, and Might. I wasn’t just interested in getting the news, I wanted to get a specific take on the news before I got the news. I subscribed to newspapers, went straight to the opinion pages. It wasn’t just that I wanted to be informed, I wanted to make sure my opinions reflected those of writers I admired and wanted to emulate as a journalist. I realize, of course, that this is what they call cognitive bias.

So, as you may imagine, when the internet became widely available and little more user-friendly for the masses, I declared that I had been waiting my entire life for this point. In the 2000s, it became extremely easy to tailor your bias through the news you consumed by simply choosing to read websites and bloggers who leaned a certain way and then declaring yourself well-informed.

Today, I still do this. My phone gets news alerts from CTV and Huffington Post. I love Flipboard for Sunday morning reading and when news breaks, I go to Twitter.

But I’m backing off a bit these days, in baby steps. I try to get other views on events, not just the ones that conform to my biases. And it’s really ok if I miss a story here and there. The fact remains I changed careers long ago, or simply realized that my original career just wasn’t going to happen, as they say these days, because of Reasons.

With all that said, it’s worth noting that my addiction to information was generally national and international news and almost never local, which I found dull. Today, that’s changed somewhat as, while it’s easy to find sources of national and international news, local news can actually be a challenge so I’ve been seeking out that out a bit more.

I think this has been just a roundabout way of me saying that I’ve been waiting all my life for nonstop, multiplatform access to news and opinion and now I have it and now I think its finally enough.

Let’s Judge the Other Parents, Shall We?

“I didn’t say I liked it. I said it fascinated me. There is a great difference.”

-Oscar Wilde

Because I know my wife and her love of car crash reality shows, I set the PVR last night to tape The Extreme Guide to Parenting which airs in Canada on Slice.

It’s a well know fact that your own parenting style is both well intended and well executed while other parents are all just batshit crazy who are borderline abusing their children. This show allows you to judge other more out there parenting styles from the comfort of your fake leather, cat-shredded couch.

I think the show has to walk a line between presenting unusual parenting styles versus something that would prompt someone in the TV crew to call 911. The children in the episode I watched may not always be well served by their parents but I don’t believe their health is in danger.

One parent believes her son, who has ADHD, is an Indigo Child and she practices aromatherapy to help him deal with it as opposed to, say, finding proper medication for her son to help with his symptoms. She tells a child psychiatrist that Indigo Children are going to change the world which is why they don’t have to do boring things like wait in line at the supermarket. Or something. She also focusses much of her attention on her son, to the neglect of her elder daughter. To her credit, her daughter calls her out on this behaviour.

Another couple refuse to leave their toddler’s side, even in the presence of a full-time nanny. When the nanny, who was the mother of one of the dads, quit on the grounds that they would not allow her to walk to the end of the driveway, they audition three new nannys and videotape them. It’s all very obsessive.

By the end of the episode, both sets of parents had examined their behaviour and grudgingly agreed to make changes to their approach.

So it wasn’t a total horror show. I think parents can all be guilty to some extent of living in a bubble and not considering other approaches to how they raise their kids. But people are all different and every family has its own system that works for them. But every now and again, it’s not so bad to ask if it’s still working.

In Which I Dream About Justin

Warning: This post contains the recounting of a dream, which is officially the boringest thing one can talk about.

Photo by Sean Kilpatrick of The Canadian Press
Photo by Sean Kilpatrick of The Canadian Press

Last night, I dreamed about a family reunion in which I was reunited with my long lost cousin Justin Trudeau. We had a good laugh about how long it’s been and he gave me a good natured ribbing about my support for the NDP and I, in turn, gave him a good natured ribbing about how, the last time we met, he had hair like one of the Musketeers.

People asked how we were related and, as it turns out, it was on both of our mothers’ side as one of my uncles married the sister of Margaret Sinclair.

We had such a good time at the family barbecue that I forgot that I gave bad directions to a friend who ended up parking her Yaris on Wolf Island (not Wolfe Island), a small circular land formation in the middle of the Bay of Funday which can only be accessed by land for one hour a day, thus stranding her there for the night.

I awoke in the middle of the night trying to figure out if I was in fact related to the leader of the Liberal Party. No, I only had one uncle on my mother’s side and he married a woman from New Brunswick who is no relation to Margaret Sinclar. Then I began to wonder if I was going around telling people that I was related to Justin Trudeau and a slight panic began to set in as I was sure I had and people would think I was a liar or a fantasist. It took a while for me to calm down long enough to remind myself that, no, I haven’t been making up stories about famous relatives before I would fall asleep again.

On a related note, I am attending a creative writing class at the local library tonight. I may be asked to leave.

Because I Never Miss a Vote

I mentioned before that we are new homeowners who, owing to personal indecision and, well, financial considerations, waited until our forties to get on the property ladder.

We ended up buying a condominium townhouse in in the suburbs. It’s small but it suits us and I really don’t know what I’d do with a detached house even if I could afford one.

Today, I got a notice from our board that the annual general meeting is in two weeks. I noticed two things: One was repeated warnings about unruly behaviour. The other was the proposal for a vote allowing a property management company to come run the day to day operations. My kneejerk response to that is to vote against it because I’m concerned the company would simply want to find a way to make a profit off the condos. Given that I’m already paying a 13% increase in heating costs, as well as our share for the new roof that was apparently repaired poorly and now must be repaired again, in addition to the regular monthly condo fees, I’m concerned we’ll be finding new bills in our mailbox sooner or later.

In any case, I’ll be present at the annual general meeting just for the unruly behaviour.

September Catch Up

I realize that it’s been since June that there’s been a post so here’s a little update of what’s been going on.

We Still Have a House

Beyond the initial painting, not much work has gone into as summer came and we got ourselves busy. It was a combination of relatives coming through the place as they re-immigrated from Scotland to Canada (no they weren’t fleeing in the event of a Yes vote) and just the lack of desire to do any work when the weather is nice.

Plans are forming with regards to what we want to do with it. It needs a new kitchen, bathrooms, and rec room. All of which cost time and money which we don’t have at the money. In fact, since buying the place, we’re actually stretched a little thin. It’s temporary but it’s a pain and it prevents us from doing more with the place. What worries me is that we’ll get complacent and think, “Yes. The brown kitchen suits us fine.”

We Still Have a Child

He hasn’t moved out or anything as he just turned six. He may well be going to the MacKay Centre to help with his dyspraxia. Motor skills are still an issue for him but he’s a great reader and loves his books, especially comics. This bodes well for future movies we’ll be attending together. He may or may not be trick or treating as Star-Lord this year.

He also started a new school to go along with the new neighbourhood. It’s a bit different from his last one as I’d reckon our neighbourhood is maybe a peg lower on the economic scale than the last one but the people there seem pretty devoted so I’m generally happy with where he’s ended up.

He also learned a lot about Terry Fox this year and has continuously reminded us that he is dead now.

I Still Have a Job

It’s been about eight months since I started in the new place. I say I work in I.T. but I’m more of a link between the business and tech side of things. I’m for sure not bringing any special skills or knowledge to the table other than some general background from my previous department.

Anyway, it’s still interesting and I’m still learning but in general the vibe of the place is much preferable to my old place.

I’m Still Married 

Two years and some, doing life in reverse: baby, wedding, house. Take that, society and your so-called “rules”.

I Still Get Migraines

And they suck,

I Still Have Panic Attacks

They also suck, but I don’t get them as much as I used to.

I Haven’t Been to New Brunswick Since March

Mainly because of a busy summer but also, because we travel standby, the flights have been too full. It may be March before we get back.

Yes, we were planning to move there and have tried to make this happen a number of times, including me interviewing with a Certain Large Company there just to get there. You know how Maritimers have a reputation for being laid back and funny? This Company is not that. Oy, those interviews were I may have dodged a bullet there. I’m sure I’ve said that before but it bears repeating, I guess.

Anyhow, I have a colleague who moved back to NB for similar reasons to us (larger family and social network, cheaper cost of living) and is thinking she may have a mistake. Quebec has a lot of services that NB can’t provide, particularly when it comes to education.

So the new job and the decision to buy a house means we’re here for quite a while.

And there are worse places than Montreal for a kid to grow up in.

On memories, Switchback, and Chubby Checker

On Monday, I received the above Twitter notification and was surprised to find I had been mentioned in a blog piece by Taddle Creak editor-in-chief and founder Conan Tobias. Conan was a childhood friend back in Saint John. We both shared a love of comic books, science fiction, and broadcasting in general.

Back in the early 80s, CBC aired a Sunday morning sort of free-wheeling variety show for kids called Switchback that aired different editions, depending where in Canada you lived. The Atlantic Canada edition was hosted by Stan Johnson. Imagine the CBC of today attempting to air four or five independent versions of one show.

The piece recalls how Switchback came to our elementary school as they often interviewed kids for various bits. I got on camera responding to the question, “Insecurity is…” (which was “Getting your test back and your teacher has an evil look in his eye.” I was a witty 11 year old, no?).

Aside: This was the beginning of my broadcasting career. The end of my broadcasting career was in 2000 when I appeared on the briefly lived CTV cable channel TalkTV (it became MTV in 2006). A friend who knew the producer invited me on to be part of a panel doing an “armchair review” of a Drew Barrymore movie. Despite my comfort doing campus radio for years before that, as soon as the camera went on, I froze. After that point, beyond a few additional appearances on the channel via webcam, I avoided broadcasting and even today, the thought of speaking in front of people gives me anxiety. But I got to meet Ben Mulroney and Seamus O’Regan so there’s that.

Anyway, the piece recalls how we also went to the mall as the crew was making an appearance there as well. It goes on to explain the importance of mentors in young lives and how this meeting with the show’s producer led to Conan’s own career in publishing. The thing is, I don’t remember this trip to the mall at all.

I guess that makes for a good reason to stay in touch with your childhood friends. They can help access memories that have been locked away for years.

I do remember our other brush with greatness.

Around the same time in our lives, a local car dealership was advertising an appearance by Chubby Checker. I liked 60s music thanks to another friend who listened exclusively to late 50s/early 60s rock n’ roll (specifically Elvis Presley and the Beach Boys). So we rode our bikes the five kilometers it takes to get there where waited for Chubby to arrive. And we waited. And we waited. Then his bus arrived. And we waited some more. Finally, he got out, signed his autograph for us and….went back into the bus.

Later, we learned the station was giving out tickets to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. There may have been a trivia question involved. Anyway, we won them and went to the movie and saw Kirk destroy the Enterprise. This was sad but also cool because we just assumed they’d get the Excelsior after that. Instead they got another version of the Enterprise. But hey, Sulu got the Excelsior so it’s not all bad.

The Circle by Dave Eggers

The CircleThe Circle by Dave Eggers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a frustrating book to read in retrospect. I’ve enjoyed Dave Eggers’s writing since he launched Might magazine back in the 90s. And, despite its 500-ish page length and my slow reading habits, I managed to zip through this one quite quickly.

Mae Holland is a newly hired employee at The Circle, a massive social media company that is a combination of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Wikileaks, and Amazon. As she rises through the ranks to become its ambassador, she increasingly loses her privacy as the company pushes through its agenda of total transparency in all realms: commerce, crime, politics, healthcare, etc. All of it with the goal of making life easier and safer for all without any concern for the more sinister effects this will bring, even when they start rolling out their 1984-style slogans: Sharing is Caring, Everything that Happens Must Be Known, and Privacy is Theft.

Eggers is a skilled writer even if this particular book is not without its problems: Mae comes off as two-dimensional and far too gullible (although perhaps that is the point), the innovations the Circle bring out seem a bit too easily developed and adopted (I’m sure an actual software developer would be rolling her eyes at some of what they come up with), and the concerns are perhaps a bit too paranoid.

It may even be a bit sexist if the only two people in the novel who are against the Circle are men. One is her ex-boyfriend who creates deer antler chandeliers (he works with his hands!) and a mysterious lover whose true identity is a bit too clearly telegraphed. There is a tone of condescension in the novel directed toward younger people as one character berates Mae and her generation for wanting to be famous all the time. And the ending gives us a fairly heavy-handed metaphor, which I liked regardless.

That said, I did enjoy the novel and it succeeded in making me wonder if I really need all these social media accounts. But I don’t think I’m ready to run off to a cabin in the woods, just yet.

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