On new beginnings

In 1986, in his very first episode of “Saturday Night Live,” Dana Carvey played a British rock star with writer’s block who is called in by his record company who want a progress report on the new album.

Flustered by the surprise visit, the musician quickly improvises a song about a woman chopping broccoli. The song, later known as “Choppin’ Broccoli,” became an early hit of the season and a favourite among my friends at Saint John High School.

He also improvises a song that he says is about new beginnings called, “New Beginnings,” which simply contains the repeated lyrics, “new beginnings.” It goes nowhere but he promises “once they layer in the synthesizers,” they’ll really have something.

So, for those of us who spend a lot of time (too much time?) on various apps, lots of us are considering the new beginnings of a Twitter-sized hole through the internet. Elon Musk overpaid for the site and everyday, he figures out a way to make it worse. So now many of us search of a new home to make jokes and generally offer colour commentary on the news of the day.

For all its faults, and there are many, there isn’t anything like Twitter for breaking news, organizing marginalized communities, and snarking on the main character of the day. I fear all that will be lost as Musk pushes the site further to the right.

The problem is that there is no consensus on where the new home should be. Mastodon has been an early favourite and has seen a rise in new arrivals over the past two weeks, but people are struggling with its decentralized “instances.” From my own observations, it seems a lot of people are using it as a Twitter clone. Still, some high-profile users have embraced it like George Takei.

There are others, of course. Tumblr is still around. And Hive seems to combine the best features of Tumblr and Twitter and also seems to skew young which perhaps reflects its 22-year-old founder.

And then there are those who are embracing longform writing at the various newsletter services like Substack. I tried it out by setting up a account and even wrote a post. But email is not the best way to communicate. How often does it go to the spam folder?

Two options seem absent from the post-Twitter discussion: Facebook and blogs.

Facebook, despite its attempts to rebrand as Meta and set up shop in the Metaverse (something nobody I know wants), has become the platform of choice of the 50+ crowd. It’s just not a growing company. But it is a good source of six month old memes from your local hit radio station.

Blogs, to me, should be where services like Substack are now. There’s always been an email subscription option and there really isn’t anything happening in terms of functionality with the newsletters that didn’t already exist.

But I suppose when Google pulled the plug on Google Reader, that was it for getting your news and views from an RSS feed. I still hold out hope RSS will make a comeback.

It seems we’re in a period of transition where we’ll have to see how people are going to communicate with each other online.

So I guess we’re all waiting for the synthesizers to layer in.


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.

It just goes to show you can’t be too careful!

You may recall my complaint about online comments and how they’re a sure sign of the end of humanity as we know it. Turns out I’m not the only one who’s noticed this. 

In a recent Observer column, British comedian David Mitchell describes, quite succinctly I think, these commenters as ‘inexplicably livid’. He also reports on the British government’s plan to allow users of public services to leave online comments of, for example, their nurses, all in the name of transparency, apparently. 

He also offers a suggestion for anyone reading a particular news item’s comment section where the discussion has turned sour. He asks readers to, en masse, start adding the reassuringly inoffensive one sentence comment: ‘It just goes to show, you can’t be too careful!’ 

I’m not sure what effect it’ll have on the the teeth gnashers over at the Globe and Mail’s comments section but perhaps it may just show how silly it is to yell at people anonymously over the interwebs.

His article also points to what has become my latest favourite website of the moment:  ifyoulikeitsomuchwhydontyougolivethere.com, which collects the best, most idiotic, racist online comments from British news sites.

I complain about these people but sometimes I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have them to infuriate and delight me.


Unlike a lot of people, I find that, as I get older, I get happier and more optimistic. Maybe it’s because I started off cynical as a teen and had nowhere to go but up. Today, I actively try to find positive, productive ideas in my daily life and try to weed out the negative, unproductive stuff.

So I really need to remember that, when reading a news story at CBC or The Globe and Mail, if the topic is “Israel”, “Quebec”, or “the CBC”, do not, under any circumstances, read the comments section. It’s enough to make a person give up on humanity.

NBS News

I love how the makers of the Watchmen movie are using the interwebs to cram in as much as they can from the comic. I can’t imagine something like this appearing in the final film for more than a few seconds. It’s a treat for fans of the original work to see this little bit of exposition in the form of a fictional 1970’s news programme, more or less as I remember it from the page. There’s nothing really being shown here that can’t be shown elsewhere in the film. It’s just nice to see that they are trying to get the adaptation right, as well as paying attention to the period details.

My only complaint is that actors pretending to be news anchors rarely sound convincing.