Your Experience: The Effects of Unregulated Social Media

Social media allows information to spread at lightning-speed. The internet has granted us an ocean of entertainment, news, language courses, parenting advice, exercise routines, support groups and recipes that less than thirty years ago, no one would see outside big, expensive cities. Everyone has access to everything all the time, censorship laws notwithstanding. This has given people in remote areas a chance to advance their education and careers, push for social movements, and find support for difficult life experiences.

We also know the dark side of the internet. The one that radicalizes disgruntled, young outcasts and pushes them to kill in the name of some political or religious ideology. The internet that instructs teenagers how to commit suicide. The internet that traffics humans, sells assault weapons and gang-controlled narcotics. The internet that spreads baseless conspiracy theories such as QAnon and Pizzagate. The internet is whatever you want it to be — boring, celebratory, friendly, nonsensical, hateful, beautiful, sinister. A resource that is only as good as its users.

In the mid-twentieth century, media was a shared experience. With only a handle of channels and newspapers, people gained their information from a handful of sources. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission required all public broadcasters to prevent both sides of any controversial issue. That rule was eliminated in 1987. This introduced a new era of news as entertainment and deepened the American political divide. With unregulated journalism, conditions were ripe for the rapid spread of misinformation.

Now, in the age of smart phones, media is your experience. Anything you want to read, see, or learn is a few taps away. Every bit of curiosity may be satisfied instantly. If you want articles confirming anything that comes to mind, you will find them. No fact-checking, no verification, no responsibility. Each search will influence your social media algorithm: YouTube will continue to offer similar videos, sending curious, vulnerable people down anti-intellectual rabbit holes.

At the dawn of the millennium, the internet was the great equalizer. Now, it has become the great divider. We are locking ourselves inside echo chambers, and the results are dangerous. Totally baseless conspiracy theories, once relegated to a tiny sliver of society, are now reaching millions. The Pizzgate theory began gaining traction in 2016. That year, Edgar Maddison Welch stormed into Comet Ping Pong, a pizza joint in Washington D.C. rumoured to be operating a Satanic sex trafficking ring. With his AR-15, Welch fired three shots that luckily harmed no one. It’s easy to write off these individuals as extremists, yet I have friends with university degrees that believe these theories. They are otherwise bright, levelheaded people that have been manipulated by unrestrained social media.

This issue isn’t going to solve itself. The peddling of patently false information with zero scientific basis is influencing elections and, in extreme cases, driving people to violence. Social media giants need to take responsibility for their content through fact-checking. Any major industry must work for the social welfare of its consumers. Cosmetic companies are regulated to keep carcinogens out of their products. Construction projects are regulated to protect the surrounding wildlife. It’s time to treat social media similarly.

Grieving Boredom

Sunday, October 11th, 6:28AM

I had finally uploaded and re-uploaded everything according to the rubric. I had fixed some last-minute sound issues. I was dizzy from endless cups of homemade coffee brewed into an inky, muddy sludge. The few nights prior I had only managed four to five hours of sleep peppered with nightmares about assignments.

I finally crept into our bedroom, climbed into my side of the bed, and turned on Airplane Mode. I had to wake at 8:00 for a nine-hour drive to see the in-laws for Thanksgiving.

Think of it as a quick nap. Once you get up there, you’ll rest.

As soon as my eyes shut, it happened.

For what seemed like hours, I had zero self-awareness. This was no nightmare; I was fully awake. I had become a story line in Final Cut Pro. The cursor sliced along my digital body, ruthlessly resizing, razoring, undoing and redoing. My breathing was shallow; my heartbeat thumped through my forehead. I wondered if I was dying. I needed to do something human. As the sunrise peeked through the blinds, I fixated on a small, white lamp. Its contours, its shape, its length. Anything to distract me from the internal horror. J turned and comforted me.

“I think I’m falling apart.” I muttered.

“Sounds like you’re a student.”

J assured me we could postpone the trip one day. He hadn’t gotten much sleep that night, either. Ironically, just hours before going to bed that terrifying that, I remembered I hadn’t had a panic attack in over one year; and what a milestone that was. Last year, I felt quite sure of myself. Armed with regular therapy visits, self-help books, meditation podcasts, and plenty of gymming, I often served the role of therapist for fellow students, friends, and family. Now, the therapist needs therapy. But she doesn’t have time to shower or eat dinner, let alone sit on another Zoom call for fifty minutes each week.

I have had the great privilege of working only part-time while in school. Still, from the moment I wake at 8AM to the time I cave in to my human needs around 2AM, I cannot seem to get ahead. In these eighteen wakeful hours, not once am I mindlessly scrolling through social media, watching YouTube, or phoning up loved ones. The day is a constant game of attending to the immediate, a DJ managing fifty turntables at once. And yet such discipline never seems good enough. For the first time in years, I’m regularly doubting my talent, intelligence, and capabilities.

On one hand, a packed schedule is good for the anxious, ruminating mind. Tending to the immediate leaves you unable to wallow in boredom, worrying that you are wasting time. Internally berating yourself for something horrible you said in 2009. My sense of purpose is strong, stressed as I am. Yet I miss boredom. I miss staring into space. I miss falling down YouTube rabbitholes, learning about the dangers of Victorian baths and the most volatile chemicals on Earth. I miss waking at 11AM and getting out of bed at 3PM.

I don’t doubt I’ve made the right choice by returning to school. But I cannot meet all of my needs if I am to complete my studies. So, I will at least honour these feelings by acknowledging their presence. I am grieving boredom. Spaciousness. Leisure. Yet if age has given me anything, it has given me perspective. You know whatever discomfort you are experiencing is temporary. One way or another, life will settle into a more sustainable pattern. And hopefully by then, I will have learned to savour the unscheduled.

Escaping Urban Madness

We did not evolve for 200,000 years to live at the breakneck pace that cities demand of us. We lived most of our lives moving, hunting, and gathering in the outdoors. Believe me, I’m happy to lived sheltered from monsoons, ravenous jaguars, and bitter-cold winters. But 2020 city life can overwhelm. The free-flowing internet keeps us fixed to four or more devices at a time, chiming, buzzing, glowing and hissing beyond 3AM.

We are taught to adore cities; urban wealth is the pinnacle of success. “Busy,” constantly tending to the immediate without a second to breathe, is a badge of honour. We did not evolve this way, and while the lifestyle is entertaining and convenient, city life is harmful to social primates. And this year, we are more wired than ever. Locked to our seats and elastic-waist pants, we barely know where we begin and our professional lives end.

Every sixty days or so, I reach critical mass with population density and all its rushing, blaring sirens, and fidgeting. I burrow into the homes of loved ones in more remote areas for a week or two. Having the good fortune of accommodating family members, I am able to recharge into the quietude of small towns. Relish in the ability to see nothing before me but nature.

A lifelong insomniac, I am able to sleep more than six hours only in these rural areas, even after plenty of afternoon coffee. Without CBD. No aspirational TikToker blaring his speakers at 1AM, a shrieking toddler above me and partying roommates below me, I can finally hear the world. Not urban humanity and all of its neuroses, fear, anxiety, and boisterousness. The world. The cracking of dried branches, the howls of large breed dogs with acres to roam, the rustling of crunchy autumn leaves. The sky is steely, the ground is muddy, but not in an uncaring way. It simply is. It folds and unfolds, inhales and exhales, lives without ego and dies with grace.

I go out for a walk through the trails, careful not to stray too far without bear spray. I then realize why everyone labels Canadians as some of the nicest people on Earth: no one passes without saying hello and warmly inviting me for dinner.

Canadian cities try their best to bury the stereotype of niceness. Of course, Canadians in cities and towns alike are generally more polite and less reactive. But in Vancouver, I continue to find the general disposition of every major city on Earth: uptight, rushed, materialistic, clinging to a false image, eyes darting around for anything more entertaining than the present moment.

Burrowed in the town, I feel my blood pressure steadily fall. Less to prove, less to want, less to grasp. And I gently come into contact with life’s natural effortlessness.

Facing Homelessness in Vancouver

The decades-long humanitarian crisis of Vancouver has long been relegated to one neighbourhood, the Downtown East Side. While homelessness and addiction persist throughout the Vancouver metro area, including “nice” residential neighbourhoods, the DES is unique in its frank and open drug use. Safe injections sites are deisgned to keep people safe. This latest propsal would bring an injection site to a traditionally wealthy neighbourhood, Yaletown. Residents of Yaletown are concerned by this proposal, according to an article by Vancouver Is Awesome titled “Downtown Vancouver Injection Site Proposal Draws Mixed Response.”

Employees and volunteers at safe injection sites are armed with boxes of Narcan, a life-saving drug that can revive people suffering cardiac arrest from drugs laced with dangerous synthetic chemicals, most commonly, Fentanyl. They are trained in first aid and ready to respond.

One concerned speaker at a city council meeting on Tuesday described “her observations of people using drugs on the street and how a man threw a milkshake at her after telling him not to smoke crack cocaine in front of children.” Of course, no one deserves to be assualted in public. But, let’s try this perspective.

You have lived on the streets for five years. You are exposed to the elements and stares of people every day. Some call you names in public, or record you on their phones and make degrading memes of you on social media. Walking on the hard cement all day, your feet are covered in blisters. You have not showered in more than one month. You have trouble keeping a pair of shoes for more than a few weeks before they are stolen. You have not slept in more than twenty-four hours. You have no reliable access to safe, clean drinking water. You have no phone to contact loved ones or 911. Even if you had a phone, you could not keep it charged, let alone prevent it from being stolen. You live under the constant threat of robbery, violence, and infeciton. In order to stave off brutal withdrawal symptoms, you use just enough of a certain drug, a drug that someone first gave to you as as a teenager. With no private space to use that drug, you are forced to use in public. Your life is public. Everything is on display and available for the scornful looks and judgment of others. Stripped of all comfort, safety, and dignity, you use publicly, and someone with all the resources in the world chastises you for it.

I have volunteered on the Downtown Eastside for about six months. Doing so, I have come to value privacy and quietude. Homelessness is a near constant state of chaos; privacy does not exist. With sirens blaring and traffic roaring at all hours of the night, a good night’s rest is nearly impossible; the insomnia only aggravates the stress of finding enough to eat, preventing withdrawals, and watching for any impending attack. Astonishingly, amidst so much hardship, many DES residents remain kind, compassionate, and hopeful.

Throwing a milkshake at someone is never appropriate. Though I ask, which is the better solution to such an issue: forcing users to use in another neighbourhood, still on sidewalks, in public washrooms, and parks? Public use increases shame and puts users at risk of overdose. Or, we could provide people a private space with trained health professionals on standby. A safe injection site would offer street residents three minutes of privacy and safety, two precious states of being that we, the housed, so easily take for granted. Such an establishment, by offering this bit of dignity, would likely prevent public instances of conflict and assault.

By Suzanne Pasch

Talking About Identity

My preteen niece is reading a new book in class, “This Book is Anti-Racist” by Tiffany Jewell. It teaches her about white privilege, identity, intersectionality, and anti-racism in a glossy, rainbow-coloured compendium that resembles a graphic novel. It reminds me of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” “Reviving Ophelia” and other classic, progressive works for girls growing up in the eighties and nineties. However, this new book focuses far more on the impact of racism in the wake of recent political unrest and the beginning of a much-needed dialogue.

Similar to these previous, girl-power books, “This Book is Anti-Racist” has drawn serious criticism from parents. They are concerned that their children will feel like bad people if they are part of the “dominant culture” of North America. That is, white, heterosexual, cisgendered, able-bodied, neurotypical, middle class, English-speaking, and Christian.

While COVID has put an enormous pressure on teachers to suddenly craft online curricula that the most distracted generation will understand, the pandemic has also given educators a certain levity in the material they are allowed to teach. Courses have grown more holistic, with elementary students doing Zoom yoga. And, public middle school students learning about their identity in ways that, only ten years prior, they could only do in their elective university courses.

Parents are concerned that students part of the “dominant culture” will feel antagonized. This is especially true of students from families that struggle financially. As these struggling households are reminded daily of their lack of resources, identity politics feels alienating, insulting, and uselessly indulgent, as it has since the 1960s.

Yet pro-woman is not anti-man. Pro-queer is not anti-straight, nor anti-cis. Anti-racist is not anti-white. Even if a student cannot relate to any of the identities featured in the book, they will undoubtedly encounter people with complex identities throughout their academic and professional careers. Such books, even if parents wholeheartedly disagree with them, will expose their children to different lived realities. Such exposure leads to increased empathy and understanding, two qualities our polarized world desperately needs.

“When this pandemic is over…” increasingly sounds like a pipe dream, not unlike “When I become a billionaire.” The world has changed permanently— socially, economically, politically, educationally. This includes a serious discussion about identity about privilege. And giving new material a chance.