Sunday, February 27, 2011


Media scholar Neil Postman wrote of both the “Huxleyan Warning” in his 1985 “Amusing Ourselves to Death”. He compared two paths the human race can potentially take – we will either become an “Orwellian” culture, in which we are watched, regulated and controlled by “Big Brother” (also interpreted as technology and those bodies that govern it). Alternately, we will form a “Huxleyan” culture, where said control be imposed upon us by our own choice.

Now think about how much time of “your” time you spend with “your” technology – “your” cell phone, “your” Facebook, “your” computer.

Where are we headed?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Think Before You Post

Take a look at this:,17508/

Call it fake news, call it comedy, call it yet another distraction you wander onto in the middle of class (between Facebook and Perez, natch), but I’m calling it as I see it – The Onion’s pretty much hit the nail on the head.

I think by now we’re all aware of the perils of posting our lives on Facebook. It’s become well-known thanks to projects like this one and even the occasional news story popping up on the topic of shielding your profile from the wary eyes of prospective employers, mom and all around creepers. Set your privacy settings to the maximum – friends only for everything, they say, and untag yourself from any unsavoury albums. You cautiously oblige, removing any evidence of that night out a few weeks back that may not be appreciated by that potential employer a few weeks, months or even years down the line. You sigh a sigh of relief and go back to not writing that essay for class tomorrow.

I’m sure there aren’t very many of us Facebook-frequenters have read the privacy policy put out by Facebook. Yup, it’s there – very bottom of your news feed (third button from the right). Check it out, it’s a good read.

Take for example that picture your deleted of yourself – it may simply be an awkward shot of your bad side (on a bad day), or it could be something a little more incriminating. Either way, once it’s up on Facebook, it’s up. Forever out of your hands. Scroll down about 3/4 way down Facebook’s Privacy Policy which explicitly reserves their right to create a “Backup Copy” of your information. In other words, “removed and deleted information may persist in backup copies”. Think of it as a little filing cabinet somewhere in California holding evidence of all your drunken escapades.

Even creepier still, you think you finally shook the Facebook chip off your shoulder by “deactivating” your account? Out of sight, out of mind, right? Well, “when you deactivate an account, no user will be able to see it, but it will not be deleted”. Facebook holds onto your pictures, wall posts, comments and status updates, in case/in the hopes you decide to return to the dark side. The process of deleting ones account is a commitment indeed, at which point there’s no going back. Those hours, nee, days you spent on your Farm, “Liking” those hundreds of status updates and creating albums of all your family functions and childhood memories will be gone from that ethereal filing cabinet in Mark Zuckerberg’s basement and into the ether.

I’m not writing this to try and convince you to permanently delete your Facebook, nor am I chastising you for posting your private information. What I myself have gotten from the Reconnect is a new consciousness about Facebook; a new awareness that everything we put out into cyberspace is just that – put out there and thus, out of our control.

Don’t let those customizable privacy settings lull you into a false sense of security. Think before you hit “post”.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Activist Project

Free Rice is a non-profit organization that allows you to help feed some of the world’s less fortunate by answering trivia questions. What? When one logs onto the site, one can get started with grammar and language questions, then switch over to French, geographic, art and other multiple choice questions selected at random. For every correct answer, Free Rice donates 20 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program.

This is one of those organizations that no one has any excuse not to participate in. Consider all the hours you piss away Google-ing your own name or Facebook-ing in class. Twenty grains isn’t much, but multiply that by the number of people on the site at a given time and multiply that by the number of correct questions you answer and you can actually make some kind of a different. And it doesn’t require a credit card number or any significant amount of commitment. You can give someone a meal by sitting at your computer for a little while.

I feel like this brings to fruition McLuhan’s vision of a real “global village”. Those located in the third world (we’ve isolated them so much we’ve given where they live a name that suggests they’re not from our world) are now interconnected to the point that one does not have to travel many thousands of miles in order to help, even a little bit. We can agree that we’ve essentially made the shift from print culture to a more encompassing culture – a website organization such as Free Rice could not have existed before the advent of the internet. This enables us to act on the issues whether we like it or not, after all we’re not really doing anything whilst feeding someone far away, apart from answering trivia. While a great idea and organization which I still stand by, I can only hope it doesn’t lull people into a false sense of thinking they’ve accomplished a terribly generous act by answering five trivia question. I think the purpose of such a website, as well as the main premise behind McLuhan’s Global Village, is to stimulate change and action in people.

When the site first began operating at the beginning of October of 2007, so many people logged on and played that by the beginning of November, they were able to help feed 50,000 people. [1] In about half an hour of playing on Free Rice, I got 4000 grains of rice worth of questions right; that’s 83 grams of rice. It takes about 400 grams of rice to feed a person for a day. In half an hour I might have spent updating my Facebook, I didn’t change the universe, but I did something – and I learned that Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas (holla).

[1] "Web game provides rice for hungry." BBC News: Europe. 10 Nov 2007. BBC News. 23 Nov 2008 .

Playboy, "The Playboy Interview: Marshall McLuhan." Playboy Magazine March 1969. 23 Nov 2008 . <>.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Participatory Culture(s)

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) is a gigantic website that holds all information pertaining to movies, TV shows, actors, directors and anyone else who might even be related to someone who works in entertainment. I, myself, love movies, and when I discovered IMDb about four years ago, I also discovered the message boards, found on every person, movie, TV shows, etc page. Since then, I’ve spent countless hours discussing, arguing, debating, sharing, and agreeing with fans and trolls alike about movies and movie people. Although this academic blog is my first foray into the world of blogging, I suppose my time at IMDb can be seen as something of a spring board into my newest venture of blogging. Goodness knows I’ve spent enough effort on it.

It’s interesting to look at something like the IMDb message boards from McLuhan’s point of view of “the global village”. He saw a shift from the print culture to a more encompassing culture – the internet. The combination of two cool mediums, the internet and film/television (based on where you see it; it could even be a computer), heightens our sensory participation with the world. [1] No longer are we watching the movies alone taking in all the messages and storing them within ourselves. Likewise with the internet; we don’t simply go over to IMDb, read up on the newest James Bond film and mull over it silently in our rooms alone. We take these potentially all encompassing mediums and connect with others who may share or completely contrast our ideas and opinions on the films, etc. we love. The combinations of these media extensions amplify our senses tenfold.

Through sites such as IMDb, which enable message boards to the general public, there is a liberalizing process that takes over. It brings the art that has been so elevated for so long, in Walter Benjamin`s words, from the firm grasp of the bourgeois into the hands of the proletariat. [2] Here, individuals such as me can vent about everything from the casting problems in this film and the plot discrepancies in another. It democratizes the medium of film which, before the advent the internet and specifically sites like IMDb, was held accountable only to “movie critics” (who often times work for newspapers or networks which are connected to the production companies that produce the films and thus can’t really criticize even if they wanted... media hegemonies strike independent thought yet again).

Participating in this online subculture of movie geekdom definitely give me some pride and satisfies me. When I see a movie I absolutely loathed I can go on and vent my anger alongside others in my same situations and when I see a film I completely adore I can go on and fight off the people who dare insult my precious. In a strange way, I feel more connected with my films sometimes when I can go on and see what other people are saying about them as well, particularly when it’s a small movie I think I’m the only person who’s ever heard of it. I like the connection to my movies. I like the connection to my World Wide Web.

[1] Playboy, "The Playboy Interview: Marshall McLuhan." Playboy Magazine March 1969. 10 Nov 2008 . <>.

[2] Walter, Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Culture Jamming

At first glance, it looks kinda like those iPod ads. Everything from the individual posing in silhouette to the signature lowercase “i” to the white rope/iPod headphones to the statistic at the bottom disguised rather than information about the iPod’s capacity. All trademarks of Apple’s ads and yet, the message we get from it leaves a somewhat deeper impression than finding out we’ll be able to store a bajllion and a half more songs on a device no thicker than my nail. (Last time I checked there still wasn’t a cure for cancer...but seriously, I digress...)

When looking for the perfect definition of “culture jamming”, I found that Adbusters Magazine call their website “Adbuster Culturejammers Headquarters”. So it must have something to do with questioning authority and relaying a message. Ian Reilly defined culture jamming as “Taking an ad and subverting the meaning” and “radically changing the intended message”. [1] In this case, the mind behind the culture jam took an iconic ad to us (the iPod ads), took all its distinctive features and manipulated it to present a message that not only presents us with the facts (“10,000 Iraqis killed. 773 US soldiers dead”), but in such a way that makes the stat memorable for the consumer but also allows us to react this way next time we see an actual iPod ad.

As Scott McCloud wrote, “Comics can be maddeningly vague about what it shows us. By showing little or nothing of a given scene, and offering only clues to the reader, the artist can trigger any number of images in the reader’s imagination.” [2]. In other words, rather than filling up an entire frame with numbers and statistics and detailed images of the happenings and effects of the Iraq War, this artist chose to take the vagueness of the original iPod ads and simply replace each element of Apple advertising with a subtle allusion to the cause at hand – Anti War sentiments, particularly Anti US. The resulting culture jam is subtly clever, enough so to even bring out a chuckle, but also leaves the intended message deeply rooted in the audiences mind.

It can be argued that such a culture jam trivializes or demeans the Iraq War. A serious topic indeed, with 10,000 Iraqis killed. 773 US soldiers dead”, the decision to juxtapose this message with something as trivial as an ad for iPods could be seen as a slap in the face. However, I think the contrast of the (arguably, I suppose) trivial way with which the US media treats the Iraq war with the unbelievably elevated way they report on and emphasis every new release of every new iPod is an additional culture jam on its own. Consider the way news anchors report, some 6 or so years into the war, on any new attacks on either side versus how they report on Steve Jobs giving a lavish press conference on the new iPod model. And as Postman wrote, how can we even take the 45-second stories telling 150 Iraqis died when a US plane raided a school seriously when they’re only mentioned between weather and sports, followed by a 30-60 second ad for, what else, the new iPod. [3]

In the image-absorbing, fast-paced age we live in, no one has time to read a 300 page manifesto on why the Iraq war is wrong and misrepresented in the media. Rather than having to mull through that, however, I simply glanced at a clever pictoral image and with my background knowledge of pop culture and advertising, was able to make all necessary connections and understand the intended message in an instant. I think it’s safe to say the manifesto is dead, it's all about culture jamming. Someone call Karl Marx and pass it on.

[1] Reilly, Ian. Lecture. Mass Communication. The University of Guelph-Humber, Toronto, Canada. 5 Nov 2008

[2] McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. 1st. New York, USA: HarperPerennial, 1994

[3] Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business . 1st. Penguin, 2005.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Buy Nothing Day

You are not your bank account

You are not the clothes you wear

You are not your Grande Latte

You are not the car you drive

You are not your fucking khakis[1]

Buy Nothing Day, as described by one if its biggest backers, Adbusters Magazine, is a “24 hour moratorium on consumer spending” observed on November 28th in North America and November 29th internationally. [1]

This movement started as something of an underground sentiment of fighting back against the amount of rule corporations have over our daily lives and against the capitalist culture we have embedded ourselves in. To, for one day, be free from all this and make a stance against the bureaucracy behind international trade is a big step in creating an awareness of the pitfalls of globalization. Though McLuhan spoke of his dream of a “Global Village”, he was at the same time surely aware of the consequences of such mechanized society. “It is not an easy period in which to live, especially for the television-conditioned young who, unlike their literate elders, cannot take refuge in the zombie trance of Narcissus narcosis that numbs the state of psychic shock induced by the impact of the new media. From Tokyo to Paris to Columbia, youth mindlessly acts out its identity quest in the theater of the streets, searching not for goals but for roles, striving for an identity that eludes them.” [2] At the time McLuhan spoke these words (1969), he surely could not have even fathomed the technological strides we would make in such a short amount of time – and the colossal impact they would have globally.

Ursula Franklin spoke of the damaging effects of the impact of new technologies on a global scale, outlining it perfectly with her example of the sewing machine. “With the help of the new machines [sewing machines], sewing came to be done in a factory setting, in sweatshops that exploited the labour of women and particularly the labour of women immigrants. Sewing machines became, in fact, synonymous not with liberation but with exploitation.” [3] This is truer than ever nowadays, with practically everything we possess and wear coming from the Far East or elsewhere and having been made in sweatshops. Such realities are exactly what the “Buy Nothing Day” movement is trying to bring awareness to; if for one day we can make the conscious effort to not buy anything and be aware of just how much we, as North Americans, really consume every single day, perhaps we can brake out of the very “Narcissus narcosis” McLuhan was talking about.

One movement that spawned from “Buy Nothing Day” is “Buy Nothing Christmas”, which essentially advocates spending time with family and making homemade gifts and cards as opposed to maxing out for the corporation’s favourite time of the year. As much as I love shopping and I love going downtown during Christmas time (yes, I’m completely sucked in by the pretty displays in the shop windows on Queen West…just like the rest of you), I think I love the idea not having to worry about getting the “perfect” gift anymore (think of the “Best Buy” commercial… “I’m looking for the ‘OHMIGOD I LOVE IT! section?”) It’s weird to think that although Christmas has its roots as a religious holiday, how much of a corporate monster it has become since. Anyways, here’s the link to Buy Nothing Christmas so you can make up your own mind:

[1] “Buy Nothing Day.” Adbusters: Campaigns. 2008. Adbusters. 10 Nov 2008. .

[2] Playboy, "The Playboy Interview: Marshall McLuhan." Playboy Magazine March 1969. 10 Nov 2008 . <>.

[3] Franklin, Ursula M.. The Real World of Technology. Toronto: House of Anansi Press Inc., 1999.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Net Neutrality

I’ll be completely honest – I had been procrastinating this blog entry because I didn’t quite understand it for the longest time. I’m happy to say I think I’ve got it now, but I think it’s the concept of it that was most difficult for me to understand, likely because as an almost life-long user of the internet, it’s never occurred to be that the “Free Culture” (pun) floating about on the World Wide Web (pun again?) could be controlled and limited.

The organization “Save the Internet” defines Net Neutrality as “[It] means no discrimination. Net Neutrality prevents Internet providers from blocking, speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination.” [1] The reason why this concept is even being debated is because there are large corporations that want to control the content we absorb. In “Save the Internet’s” words, they “want to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites go fast or slow and which won't load at all.” [1] It almost seems like a sci-fi movies, or a cyber-thriller (dare I refer to “Eagle Eye” for the second time this semester?) where “the Man”, who shall remain nameless, has the power to control what we see, hear, learn and ultimately know. If we have no net neutrality, neutral and fair access to the sites we desire to view, we are no longer a free culture.

There is no other medium that in and of itself contains all the opportunities that the internet does. The internet can be considered the most participatory or the most dumbening medium that ever existed – we can fully immerse ourselves in the information it carries and create and expand on so many cultural phenomena. On the other hand, we can become blind consumers of the preexistent content of the internet and use it merely as a “read-only” tool. The two groups of people referred to here are the “media literate” and the “media illiterate”; those who can sift through the, in Ursula Franklin’s words, “giant dump”[2] that is the World Wide Web and decipher the propaganda from the neutral information. For the media illiterates, the loss of net neutrality or the privatization of the internet will likely not even be noticed (save for those who possibly examine their monthly internet bills in great detail – but either way the details will be well disguised by the corporations). However, for the media literate, it will be the loss of freedom and democracy. It will be dampening of imaginations. It will be the extermination of cultures.

Lawrence Lessig wrote in his aptly titled “Free Culture” that “the internet enables the efficient spread of content. That efficiency is a feature of the Internet’s design. But from the perspective of the content industry, this feature is a “bug”. The efficient spread of content means that content distributors have a harder time controlling the distribution of content. One obvious response to this efficiency is thus to make the internet less efficient.”[3]. By putting the chain-and-lock on the internet, the corporations will not only be robbing us of our free culture but making it near impossible to retrieve the shreds of information that remain. With the privatization of the internet, as mentioned before, “they” will be able to decide which sites load faster or slower or which even load at all. Likely sites that are anti-their agenda will be inaccessible and we’ll be far more accustomed to the site of “This page cannot be displayed”.

The fact that this is such a major issue affecting everyone who uses, even to some degree, the internet and so few people have heard of it or even understand it is a huge problem. Indifference or lack of awareness will only expedite the loss of our free culture. It’s important to get the word out from the bottom up – even starting from a small academic blog such as this. With the loss of net neutrality, who knows how long my blog would’ve taken to load.

[1] "Frequently Asked Questions." Save the Internet: Fighting for Internet Freedom. Free Press Action Fund. 7 Nov 2008
[2] Franklin, Ursula M.. The Real World of Technology. Toronto: House of Anansi Press Inc., 1999.
[3] Lessig, Lawrence. Free Culture. New York, USA: The Penguin Press, 2004.