“My wife could turn to me and she may say, ‘Why do you love me?’ And I can with all honesty look her in the eye and say, ‘Because our pheromones matched our olfactory receptors.” — Robin Ince

If we take biology out of the equation, why do we do the things we do?

Of course, if you totally remove biological responses, innate reactive and primal behaviours, physiology, and psychology, there very well may be nothing left.

If you believe in fate, or that we have souls, that there is a god or two or three, you may say that destiny, heart, purpose, or divinity wholly or in part answers the question.

The things we think may be thought out of our own free will, or they may simply be a series of chemical responses.

They may also be learned, and that’s what is perhaps the most interesting option of all. The most dangerous option: Learning to think a certain way without being consciously aware of the fact that we are learning, adopting, and executing certain behaviours based on certain passively constructed thoughts or ideas. This is the cousin of not being aware that we also have a choice in what we choose to think.

It’s called buying into a “normative society.”

None of us are born with a critically self-formed political affiliation. We may be born into conservative families, our early experiences may shape what we come to believe about politics, but all of this happens after birth. And for the most part, I think it’s safe to say most of us are aware that we are choosing to vote liberally over conservatively and vice versa, to like one politician over another, to choose between sides. Which party we choose over another is more or less an actively- and consciously- made decision. Sure, we may be manipulated, influenced, lied to, and our choice may not even be based on facts, figures, or anything of value. Nevertheless, we are aware of the act of choosing. But where did we learn that we have to choose between sides?

Where and when did we adopt and us-versus-them mentality? Why have we come to adopt the belief that life is lived in these phases of going to school, then starting your career, getting married, then having kids?

When did we come to associate being alone, single, and unmarried, especially later on in life, with being terribly lonely? Or weird?

Why do we buy into these overwhelmingly simple and classical theme of good versus evil? Why do some of us do things in the name of our country, or approve certain actions of our country, but dodge neighbours and disapprove of our kids behaving in a similar vein?

There are of course exceptions to all of these and they are by no means all-inclusive; people we know or have heard of or read about who defy these pre-set expectations of what is important, and of how to live in society. In some cases, there may be a lot of them. But a case can still be made that they are just that, exceptions. There are seven billion people in the world, and there can never be enough free-thinkers, innovators, and mould-breakers.

It may not necessarily be an entirely negative thing, buying into a normative society, and adhering to the norm. But like with any purchase, it serves well to be aware of the cost of such an action, and how much we’re paying.

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“Joseph Kony is one of the world’s worst war criminals and I support the international effort to arrest him, disarm the LRA and bring the child soldiers home”

It happened overnight. Or so it seemed. A viral outburst of tweets and Facebook shares linking to a 30-minute documentary video of one man’s goal to make Joseph Kony a household name.

And almost as immediately as #StopKony and #Kony2012 went viral, resistance to the idea and to the video and to the initiative popped up, also in the form of tweets and Facebook shares linking to blog posts.

It’s the nature of the beast: How the Internet works, how a democracy works, how freedom of speech works.

And there is no disagreement that Joseph Kony is a terrible, terrible beast. You would have to be to abduct children, indoctrinate them as child soldiers and force them to mutilate other human beings.

So of course, “I signed the pledge to help bring Kony to justice in 2012,” as many others have. I signed because he deserves to be brought to justice, and nobody with a pulse should be able to argue with that. (How he is brought to justice may be debatable, but even then, I’m not sure it could really be argued with any authority, nor can I see it garnering much support or sympathy.)

I watched the movie this morning, and saw this site this afternoon, which – in a nutshell – questions the authenticity and “ethics” of the #Kony2012 movement.

This is missing the point.

Take Joseph Kony out of the equation, and replace him with any war criminal. Take out the fact that money was spent to make the documentary. And take out the fact that there are other atrocities occurring in our world, and that those may be atrocities that you feel are worth spending money to fight, or warrant being put in the spotlight, but are invisible.

The message of this experiment is not that everyone should feel bad and donate because Joseph Kony is the most terrible person on the planet. The message is that there are people in our world like Kony, and that as citizens of the world, we should not only be aware of this fact, but we should realize that as citizens of the world, we have a human and moral obligation to do something about it: Borders, names, bureaucracy, geography, political affiliation and cultural, religious or ethnic differences aside. It is a much greater cause, and the initiative serves a much greater purpose.

What hit home for me, is the fact that one human being making a promise to another human being has turned into a massively influential grassroots movement that – regardless of what eventually comes of it – has touched so many lives by waking people up to one example of what is going on in the world.

To paraphrase a clip in the video, we shouldn’t be asking ‘who are we’ to take a stand, or question an authority, or fight for what we think is right or just: The question we need to ask is ‘who are we not to?’

#StopKony and #Kony2012 have managed to unite the world with a global discussion about something other than soccer or celebrity, and that is the most powerful thing of all: The idea of an awakened, aware and united global population challenging the way things are, and taking it upon themselves to better the world for the sake of humanity.

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Tourism Richmond launched an innovative campaign this week: A casting call to all bloggers, foodies, tweeps and online personalities for a gig dining out 365 days in the city.

The perks are fantastic: A year’s worth of dinners-for-two, an apartment in Richmond, a year-long gym membership – to burn off all of the noodles – and, last but not least, $50,000. Not too shabby.

Best of all, the job description basically requires the lucky blogger to engage with the community on Facebook and Twitter, to explore Richmond, take photos and eat. It’s like a paid 52-week vacation in a local city.

The information is available on the tourism Richmond’s Facebook page, and the contest runs throughout March.

Just like YVR’s search for someone to live at the airport for 80 days and 80 nights, I think the competition will garner (it already has) a lot of attention. It’s the perfect PR move: It will highlight local cuisine and rally the community together, and most of all, it does so in a cool and interactive way, with lots of multimedia and online engagement.

My love of food and burning desire to win this opportunity is only half of my reason for posting: It’s the realization that I have no idea where I’ll be a year from now. I could be on the other side of the world, travelling, or here at home wrapping up my final semester of studies before graduation. It’s the realization that 365 days is not a relatively long time, but it’s also an extremely long time to commit to staying in one place, doing one thing.

And I guess that’s the beauty of it: A year’s worth of covering Richmond will force the lucky blogger to find creative ways to highlight the community.

An ambitious project, but completely rewarding: How fantastic would it be to start every day with the goal of experiencing something new, and sharing it with others?

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Last semester, one of our journalism instructors asked us to first make a list of all of the magazines, newspapers, online publications and other sources of journalism that we were paying for. It was then followed up with a secondary list of which publications we would pay for.

My first list was empty, and my second list – at the time – consisted of the Globe and Mail, and the New York Times. That’s it.

It’s not that I don’t have an appreciation for the work that goes into writing good pieces of journalism, and it’s certainly not that I don’t care. But with Google quite literally at my fingertips everyday, most of the day, I struggled to define what it is I’d pay for in an age where information is free.

And that is the problem with paywalls.

We are living in a world that places more and more emphasis on education, and on the “right” to information. It’s not enough to wait until the 6 p.m. news to find out which stories we should be paying attention to: We need raw news, raw information, all the time, whenever we want.

This need to know has been accelerated by social media – namely Twitter – and reinforced by the work of Wikileaks and groups like Anonymous, which are exposing once private and confidential information for all the world to see.

An online newspaper site putting up a paywall affects the Internet like a giant boulder affects the flow of a river: Traffic flows around the restriction, with no harm done and no resistance. (Why would you pay to learn what you can learn for free?)

In order for paywalls to be an effective means for accruing revenue, there needs to be a shift in the way society distinguishes between information and journalism.

The digital music industry is a great example. There are two choices: Pay $1.29 on iTunes for a song, or download it for free from somewhere else. One option is illegal, the other is expensive. Regardless, I have only ever purchased my music through iTunes, and have never regretted it. My rational is that I don’t have any problem paying for what I enjoy, and what somebody else has created.

So how is this any different from journalism?

The issue, I think, is that I haven’t looked at journalism the way I have, for so long, looked at music. I treat journalism like information: Something beneficial that I need to know and have a right to know. In contrast, music is a “luxury:” Something I could live without if I had to, an added form of enjoyment that I am willing to pay to enjoy.

What distinguishes journalism from “information” is that journalism is information that has been – or should have been – digested, analyzed, organized and challenged.

And that takes work. Do we have a right to know what journalism uncovers? Yes. But it doesn’t just magically appear either. It needs funding from somewhere, preferably from people who support it, and recognize its value. Most importantly, people need to recognize that its “value” is created by the journalist: Great journalism isn’t just a word-for-word replica of something that happened. Rather, it’s an explanation, an analysis or a discovery of what has happened, what is happening now or what is to come in the future.

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A short post with a link to a considerably lengthier research piece I wrote for last semester’s investigative journalism course.

In brief: The article used the then timely Attawapiskat crisis as a starting point to look into the condition of First Nations housing across Canada.

Sources include various Canadian media, Statistics Canada, B.C. Stats, RIIC.ca, J-Source, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

Read by clicking on the link below:

A weak financial foundation underscores First Nations housing crisis

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To have an opinion, or not to have an opinion: A question that has governed my actions – or lack thereof – for quite some time.

More accurately, I’ve struggled with whether it’s important to voice an opinion.

Are our thoughts pulled out of us by others’ interest in what we have to say, or pushed onto unsuspecting listeners because we want them to hear what we have to say?

A field producer I once had put it best: “Opinions are like assholes: Everybody’s got one.”

It stuck with me.

In general, I’ve kept my opinions to myself. Mostly because I don’t feel like I really have any right to blab about things I don’t fully understand just because I have a constitutional right to blab. (I also like to think-out what I’m going to say before I actually say it.)

But today, I’ve decided to have an opinion. Or more accurately, I’ve decided to voice it.

I’ve spent the past several hours re-reading a column on columns by National Post’s Andrew Coyne.

I think he summed up the whole business of opinions nicely, stating bluntly that “nobody owes you the two minutes it takes to read your column.”

How true. And in an age of immediacy and choice and options, one could say that nobody really owes you two minutes for anything. Whether that’s called being autonomous or being careless, I’m not too sure.

Regardless, the second blow: “You do not do the reader a favour by writing something for him to read. He does you a favour by reading it.”

Also true: If you aren’t liked or read or respected or hated by some sort of sizeable audience, you’re losing. And not only that, but you’re losing to YouTube videos of pandas sneezing.

Enough said.

It’s a vicious cycle, whereby a columnist has to write to a specific audience to capture that audience. Eventually, hopefully having attracted a great enough number of readers, he can eventually transition to writing about what he wants.

The kicker, as pointed out by Coyne, is that if the audience stops liking what they read, nothing is preventing them from flipping the page. That opinion-writers’ readers have opinions about their columns is expected. But that they can altogether choose to tune out the other side of a topic is argumentatively unfair.

And that, I’ll argue, is the problem with media: That it’s so easy to tune out.

Of course this can be a good thing, because “media” includes advertising and OK! Magazine. But opinions and entertainment aside, the real problem is that good journalism is also optional.

A question: Is it not a problem that an article about alleged human rights abuses by Canadian mining companies in Africa can be ignored, because a reader simply doesn’t fancy being woken up by anything other than the morning coffee?

Whose fault is it that when “favours” are being handed out, important pieces of journalism can be overlooked? Is it the responsibility of the reader who actively chooses what to read, or the responsibility of the journalist to persuade people to care? Furthermore, what and who defines “important”?

That’s the irony, that we have a constitutional right to not practice our constitutional rights: That we can not only hold a particular view, but that we can decide to shut out all other arguments that may have had the potential to persuade us otherwise.

I suppose the problem is that this isn’t even a problem at all: It’s just a matter of opinion.

Coyne wrote also that “as a rule, most of us don’t like to be shouted at” and I have to agree, so I’ll stop shouting.

But in my “opinion,” people could stand to be shouted at a little more often if what’s being shouted merits being heard.

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