Thursday, August 26, 2010

Who are you?

I held out from Facebook for what seemed like an eternity. I was asked to join, criticized for not joining, and, once I did, have wasted countless hours on the site.

But while I initially didn't post many pictures of myself, I realized its benefits for sharing pictures, promoting events, and connecting with sources for my work and friends outside of work.

I've always been careful, though, to keep a tight reign on my privacy settings. If you search me, you cannot see my pictures, wall, or much information beyond my gender, two favourite sites,  and my name. If I tag someone else in the pictures and it shows up on their profile, people can't click through my photos – they can only see that one.

But recently it's been reiterated to me in an unfortunate way how very public our lives have become online. Without going into details, in the event she ever sees this blog, I realized how much pictures can taint opportunities for volunteerism or employment and reputation. Yes, go ahead, post your pictures from the Naughty but Nice Sex Show, but realize that when someone is searching you to see if you're a suitable match to work with children, they may be wary. Feel free to post pictures of you in a bar with other men, drunk pictures of yourself looking like an idiot, and photos of your skipped-work-to-go-to-the-beach day, but realize that your employer might be your friend and discover your truancy, and any potential prestigious firms who may want to hire you in the future may be put off by these shows of questionable character.

Facebook has broken up marriages, ruined job opportunities, given reason for dismissal, and had countless teens grounded, punished, or banned from the computer.

What does your online footprint say about you? Have you ever googled yourself? You may be surprised what turns up. Kijiji postings, Flickr photos, Facebook posts, Twitter updates, and hundreds of other sites track who you are, where you're going, and what you're doing.
Keep in mind that even if you have your settings set as high as possible on things such as Facebook, your friends may not. Did they have that camera out in Las Vegas last week? What happens in Vegas certainly doesn't stay there... and if you're in pictures on someone else's profile and their pictures are public, you are visible to everyone.

And, by the way, do you want your photos used by anyone? Especially if you want to lay claim on your photos later, consider putting a water-mark on your photos. No one really cares about what they should do with your photos (like asking your permission to use them)... if it's online, most people consider it public domain.

In a more serious matter, if you're young, beautiful, or naive, you could very well be putting yourself in danger. At 12, posting "funny" pictures of you and your girlfriends goofing off with risque clothing or acting far older than your age isn't so innocent to some people. These people are patient, smart, and willing to prey on stupidity.

It bothers me to see pictures of some of the youth I work with, knowing everyone else can see it, and whether their intentions are innocent or not, they are setting themselves up for not only a bad reputation later in life but also putting themselves in a potentially dangerous situation.

I commend one mother of a 13-year-old girl I know, who insists on receiving every e-mail from Facebook to her personal e-mail account so she can see what is being said, what's being posted, and where her daughter is online. This girl is a great individual and would likely not even be in the position or circumstance to have questionable pictures posted or say things inappropriate, but sometimes I think kids have a twisted sense of what needs to be private. If this girl was 16, I might be a little wary about why the mother still has such tight control. But 13 is rather young, and monitored social networking is excellent.

Just as a last thought - what goes on the Internet stays on the Internet. It's very easy to find "cached" material (meaning the file and info is still there but something else is currently taking its previous place on the site), and it's impossible to contain what has been posted.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Beauty of technology

I have a love/hate relationship with my phone; actually, shall we just call it what it is - an unnecessary dependence? We get along just fine when it cooperates, receives calls, and stays charged. But the minute the low battery warning flashes, I feel a rush of conflicted emotions.

"No!" I think. "What will I do now? How will people get a hold of me?"

And then it hits me: that dark, sinister satisfaction. "How long can I keep this thing dead before necessity requires me charge it?"

So I'll leave it dead, sitting useless, wasting dollars per day on its inactivity because Rogers doesn't really care whether I have it turned on or not - just whether or not I pay the astronomical bill awaiting me at month's end.

Then, out of principle, I have to turn it back on again. Why pay for it if I don't use it? And, really, my job requires that I'm available to be reached at most hours. But there's a sweet satisfaction in dialing my own number and hearing "You have... two new voice messages". It worked! Someone called, and I didn't have to answer it!

But actually, that's not at all what was passing through my mind as I hit "new post" today. I'm curious on the toll technology takes on relationships. Not so much in the sense of online vs. "RL" etc., but in the false sense of closeness things such as Blackberry Messenger and Facebook allow.

I have more than 300 friends on Facebook... and I am ecstatic every time I can "reconnect" with someone. Isn't it great to be able to chat with my cousins in Texas, find out how my high school friends are doing, and find long-lost friends? I really think the potential is there. But there's no fulfillment in hitting the "accept" button and then never speaking with them again. Sure, creep their profile and look at pictures occasionally, but does that really give you an update on their life? Perhaps a glossy view of what they want you to see.

And then there's the Blackberry Messenger, where I can communicate with people for free as long as they have the device. (Great product-pushing, by the way.) I love being able to talk with my cousin, for example, in Toronto on a daily basis when she and I have been out of touch for so long.

Technology allows for these things.

But is it fostering a true relationship? Is it really based on reality? It can never replace face-to-face communication and bonding, and I believe it often provides for a weak alternative, lulling one into a sense of security, thinking they've done enough to build that friendship or care about that person by sending a two-line text message. Don't get me wrong - I thoroughly enjoy hearing how people are doing, having conversations, and staying updated. But sometimes I get the impression it's replacing real relationships, which is a human necessity - far more than a charged Blackberry.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The rat's lament

Poster from the Fish and Wildlife office
Poor rats – they have such a bad reputation. Rats were discovered in 1950 near Alsask, Alta. and provincial and municipal officials along with residents, farmers, and ranchers have waged bloody war on these creatures since they tried to come to a land of opportunity.

This particular poster made me crack up. The evil critter has Alberta in his sights, unable to focus on anything else but his goal of reaching wild rose country. What a misguided fool. Doesn't he know Alberta has been essentially rat-free since 1960? The rat must have had a hard go of things... trying to make ends meet by chewing through homes, under fields, and eliciting screams from unsuspecting human victims who knew of his reputation of carrying all kinds of diseases. I'm sure they didn't mean to pick them up.

And so, special poisons were designed, educational programs launched, and Alberta took a missionary's vigil against these hairy monsters. I tried hard to think of another animal so discriminated against, but could think of nothing.

The best part about this poster is that this rat is really quite stupid. The beautiful, open fields that look so promising turn deadly when the mercury drops. It's one of the only places that has been vigilant enough (or rich enough? It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars) to attempt such a daunting task. Most people don't believe me when I say Alberta's pretty much rat-free.

But if I've ever seen a poster that reminded me of Uncle Sam's days, it was this one. I could just see America's flag waving in Hitler's eyes...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Rules were meant to be broken.

I had the privilege of conducting our small-town paper's first streeter today, and realized no one, nowhere, likes their photo taken. While it makes my life difficult at times, I like getting out and talking to people to find out their opinions!

Here's the question: "Should town council implement their proposed curfew at 11 p.m. for youth ages 16 and under? Why or why not?"

Just to be fair, I also asked youth under 16 their thoughts... and the general consensus was that their implemented curfews were before that anyway, so it didn't matter.

One kid's comment was interesting, though:
"No, I don't think they should have a curfew because people are just going to try and break it then. If there's no curfew, there's nothing to break but if there is then people will try and push it."

What an interesting thought. Don't put rules in, because it'll just make people break them.

Here are a few other things I've heard that sort of match that idea:

• Give Grade 7-12 children condoms because they're going to "do it" anyway, so why not protect them?
• Let's have "safe grad" for all the underage youth, bring out the police to monitor it and have the parents buy the alcohol. They'd be drinking anyway so we may as well monitor them.
• If we legalize soft drugs, the black market sales will go under because it won't be illegal anymore and therefore people won't pay astronomical prices to get their weed. Plus, then it can be taxed.
• I let my child decide when he/she wants to go to bed, because I feel it gives the child responsibility and teaches them how to understand their body. If I tell them when to go to bed, they'll just stay up to spite me anyway.

So the more rules there are, the more likely they are to be broken? Taken too far it's almost anarchy. But too many rules and the pendulum effect takes place. People in general don't want to be tied down, but I really don't think rules compel people to misbehave.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The invention of laziness

I didn't have cable until I was in my early teens.

On Saturday mornings, it was bliss if we got less snow than usual on channels 3, 5, 7 or 11 so we could watch cartoons. But with such little choice, we were outside by noon and not at all interested in watching Bugs Bunny re-runs.

Now I have more than 50 channels – half of which have nothing that remotely interests me – and my evenings are filled with catching up on this show or making sure I'm home in time to watch that one.

It bothers me that I've become so lazy! But the thing about television that bothers me the most is how its quality has gone spiraling downward.

While waiting to drop off my car at the mechanic's today, I heard the sweet giggling of a two-year-old amusing herself by running around chairs. It was then sharply contrasted by the blaring of the television screen, to which she would occasionally look up, as it shouted "watch my a** as I walk out the door" and that someone was going to be such a sorry b*stard.

Okay so not the worst words I've heard come out of the box, but not quite appropriate for a child to be listening to. The lady helping me looked uncomfortably surprised, and I wondered aloud what show was on...

The worst part about it was it was probably some innocent renovation show or at least something that wouldn't have been added to by using crass language. What bothers me most about television is its allowances for the inexcusable.

Sexism is humour, lazy husbands are typical, comedians resort to dirty jokes as a last ditch effort for uncomfortable laughs, rude language is character development, children's cartoons are "not cool enough" anymore, and porn is freedom of expression. We have allowed that box to teach our children that talking back is brave, shooting the bad guys is the only way to solve problems, and it has filled our adult minds with tolerance. It has invaded our living room with what is often simply smut, and we say it's okay because "it's entertainment".

I know several parents who have canceled their cable now that they have children. One dad in particular mentioned he walked in to see some highly inappropriate activity his three kids, aged two to 10, had accidentally flipped to, and immediately called to cancel the broadcasts.

Since that time, he said they have been more creative, much more active outside, willing to make crafts, play games, and use their imagination. They have also been better organized in terms of doing their homework and practicing piano (and, as I teach two of them, that's "music" to my ears :) )

I wonder what we would accomplish if there were no cable in our houses?

And is it right to "deprive" children of such mindless entertainment? After all, it's such a good babysitter.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

First words

I've finally done it.

I've finally joined the world of citizen journalists.

The only difference is that I'm one in real life, too. Yes, I work at a small-town weekly newspaper, reporting on the happenings and have become known to most kids younger than 13 as "the newspaper lady".

I  used to have a blog back about 10 years ago. I then tried to keep some writing on Windows Live in 2006, but I rediscovered that blog several weeks ago and decided perhaps I should try to do something again. (Being that Windows Live is just so yesterday, though, why not try something totally new?)

Who knows? Perhaps it will be a passing fad, perhaps my week has been such that I feel like getting words out on a page that won't be broadcasted in newsprint – be they mildly entertaining or not – or maybe it's because I enjoyed reading my uncle's blog on before he passed away in January.

But for whatever reason, I've started another blog.

For those reading now, let me introduce myself:

• I'm in my 20s. A week after my last birthday, I removed the year I was born from my Facebook profile for several reasons, but mostly because ageism doesn't only apply to the elderly.

• I've been married for three years on Aug. 18. No, we don't have kids yet. I was told when we got married that there was "no way" we would make it to three to five years before conceiving, but unless  I give birth in the next two weeks (and I would hope I'd know by now), I guess we'll make it to three years. I could swear I married Prince Charming, but I don't recall kissing any frogs to do so! (Oh wait, maybe there were a couple... but they certainly didn't transform!)

• It baffles me as to why there needs to be an end to the "honeymoon" stage, and why, out of 100 quotes about marriage, 90 of them will be about the pain of living with an individual and the institution marriage is. Falling in love is for now, choosing to love is forever....

• I enjoy reading, writing, music, developing relationships (perhaps that's a grown-up way of saying "hanging out with friends"?) and I think I might enjoy gardening if it weren't for the weeds.

• We have a five-pound ball of energy that lives with us in the form of a Pomeranian. We call her Vixie but I haven't asked her what she calls herself. Probably "princess".

• My days consist of... sitting in an office on Mondays laying out the paper, and the rest of the week looks nothing like the week before. I take pictures, interview people, run around covering spot news and scheduled events, and then write about it. It's like being in school full-time, because I have to learn a little bit about everything to write about it properly!

• I also teach piano to too many students but enjoy it far too much to quit, and have recently taken up the position as youth leader in our town. We collaborated six of the churches together to make a mass youth group... and are now trying to keep up with the numbers. Six kids at one church and six kids at another didn't add to 50 last time I checked, but they're awesome teens...

Beyond that, I'm sure my posts will shine light on different aspects of who I am here and there. But isn't that the way one mostly gets to know a person – one little bit at a time?