No snappy title this week…

My teenage years were a traumatic time of my life that I wish I could forget. I really remember  continually being picked on.  I was the prototypical geek. I loved reading and science and dreamt of being an engineer. However I was short, stocky, shy, awkward, and very slow to physically mature.  I had lots of other interests, most of them in common with all of the other teens around me, but it was my appearance that some decided to focus on.  I can admit to it now, though it still haunts me to this day, I was bullied.  It was one of the darkest times of my life. A time, where as a young man, I didn’t believe things would ever get any better.  Thankfully, my parents and friends recognized that I was having problems, and were able to steer me back onto a path of life that was brighter and  going to take a lot longer to travel than my teens.

When things did get bad, I had places to hide.  I could take solace in my books, or judo classes.  Even playing hockey was an escape since I played with kids from other neighbourhoods.  I was lucky.  Anonymity could still be obtained in my youth.  I can’t say the same for kids that are bullied today.  While I am sure physical abuse still carries on, it’s cyber-bullying that really terrifies me. You may never know who your attacker is, and as long as you have a digital presence anywhere in the world, the attacker can repeatedly go after you. Even deceive your friends into thinking you’re some bad person, influencing them to turn their backs on you when you need them the most.

With this being my last entry for 2013 I felt I’d be remiss if I didn’t skim the surface of one of the worst side effects of the Internet.  Cyber-capping is one of the lowest forms of confrontation, and abuse someone can take.  Not only can the attacker demoralize and rip apart someone’s self-esteem, they can do this from the relatively safe comfort of their parent’s basement, while hiding behind the mask of anonymity.

These degenerate “lowlifes” troll the Internet looking for vulnerable teenagers that are sharing their lives through their webcams.  They sweet-talk and eventually persuade these kids into to doing things they wouldn’t normally do on camera, the victims believing these people are someone they can trust. The troll then captures the stream, or takes a screen shot and uses it later on to blackmail the teen into performing again and again with no end in sight. It’s an emotional downward spiral for this victim, and in today’s socially obsessed teens life, impossible to hide from.

I am not the first person at the table to talk about this situation, and I won’t be the last.  I don’t have any solutions to offer, nor should I, as I am not a parent myself. I do believe that teenage years are some of the most turbulent times a person will ever face.  Some breeze through, some struggle.  The only advice I can muster is to be educated. Parents, talk to your kids.  Friends, if you see your friend struggling talk to someone.  Get them help. Make as much noise about the problem as you can.  Stand up for those who are having a hard time standing up for themselves.

My inspiration for this week’s post was Amanda Todd.  If you familiar with this young woman’s story, you should click the link and watch the show that was posted by the CBC’s the fifth estate.  It’s an absolutely heart wrenching documentary on the hardships that Amanda faced after making one silly mistake while online one day.  In the end, Amanda took her own life.  Please, don’t let this happen to someone you care about.

Until next time
A Clockwork Techie

P.S. The Canadian government introduced Bill C-13 in an effort to combat this form of bullying.  While the bill still needs to be debated in Parliament it’s a start to help combat cyber-bullying within this country.

“Foiled again,” said Rob Ford

Quick! Take a picture! Use your phone! Let me see it! Ohhhhhhh I love it! I want to frame it! Send it to me, ok? These are words that I am sure passed Rob Ford’s lips, and will forever regret.

The advent of the high-megapixel camera in most of today’s mobile phones has brought in a staggering revolution in photography. Ten percent of all photos ever taken happened in the past year [source]. Four percent of all the photos ever taken reside on Facebook [source]. These numbers floor me. So many moments are being captured and preserved for the rest of time. So, does that mean that there are that many more incredible photographers now?

Well, take a moment and look at all the photos you’ve posted on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the social media sites and think about how many of them you’ve printed, framed, and hung on your wall (the one in your house) to share. How many of those photos do you think are iconic? Do they transcend time and place? That’s where I see a large fault in the continuation of a the digital hoarder mentality that we all seem to be developing.

I am a product of the traditional school of photography. I was taught proper composition, lighting, perspective, and critiquing. I learned how to use film, how to develop the spent roll in the dark. How to create my own prints using negatives and an enlarger. Sounds like a lot of work, huh? It was, however in the end it taught me to take my time and to realize that photography was an art. I knew that those iconic images that have stood the test of time.  It took time, maybe not to capture, but to produce the final product.

The downside to traditional photography was the upfront cost. Camera bodies, lenses, film, developing; it all came with an exorbitant cost. Digital photography reduced a large chunk of that cost. While camera manufacturers still charge high dollars for their most advanced camera bodies and lenses, those are one-time expenses. Once you own the parts, the rest is cake so to speak. No longer do you have to buy chemicals, mixing buckets, or fabricate a dark room to see the results of your photos. The results are instantaneous.

Digital photography has brought accessibility to the masses. Almost anyone can take a picture of anything at any time, which overall is wonderful. I know as a trained photographer, having my 8 megapixel camera phone in my pocket at all times is great for capturing that spur of the moment image. However what I am seeing is a trend of people using this great tech for the mundane. Do you really think that posting an image of your new toenail colour is a something that needs to be preserved? Even worse is that you stepped out of the nail salon, stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, put your foot up on the bumper of a parked car to take the picture! Was it really THAT important?

As I mentioned before, four percent of all photos ever taken are now on Facebook. I would really like to know what percentage of those photos is actually worth keeping over time? Which ones would you want in a photo album that is placed on your shelf that anyone could pick up and look at? I don’t mean the embarrassing or compromising images, that should never have been posted in the first place, but the images that you took while on vacation, or of your wedding, or your baby’s first day home. Do you think they should be captured on your Motorola Razr or that great iPhone you always have on you? Or should you maybe use a product that is specifically created to capture these images?

I am not trying to sell you a camera, or to get you to spend oodles of money on something you are only going to use on occasion. What I am asking you to do is consider why you’re taking the picture. What you’re taking that picture of. Think about the situation and wonder if it’s really appropriate to capture that moment with your Android device. Iconic Selfies?

The old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” is so very true. Keep that in mind the next time you start taking hundreds of photos of that new set of shoelaces you just bought, or decide to stop in for a quick bite at that neighbourhood crack house.

Until next week
A Clockwork Techie

“There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”

While Pierre Elliot Trudeau, then Justice Minister, was addressing the outdated criminal codes dealing specifically with homosexuality, I feel believe that this ideological sentiment could be applied to a greater idea of digital privacy.  The idea of being interconnected with anyone who wants to be on the Internet anywhere around the world is absolutely amazing, but I don’t think giving up my right to have a private relationship with that person should be sacrificed for the benefit of governments and corporations.

As one of my communications professors continuously reminds us, WE are Facebook’s products, and our personal information is sold to the highest bidder.  They gather large amounts of data on billions of individuals, in greater detail than our national census, and we move along like lambs to the slaughter.  We knowingly and voluntarily give up this information and don’t question, or simply don’t care what is being done with our digital lives.  It’s all fun and games to share goofy information, or to list where you’re worked or gone to school, but it’s this information that allows corporations to target your consumer needs.

This is a small part of a bigger problem with our eroding privacy.  Digital life brings new concerns.  It’s not just social media companies selling aggregate information, but governments and other formal bodies that are using whatever loopholes they can to spy on our digital lives and activities.  We used to seal letters with wax and a coat of arms to detect if messages had be tampered with, now governments are forcing companies who have secure messaging systems to hand over their encryption keys so they can track every word we pass along around the world.  No longer are we presumed innocent, we are presumed guilty the moment we touch a keyboard.

Individually we are to blame for this situation.  5 billion of us have acted like lemmings and gleefully stepped off the edge of the cliff while taking pictures being sure to tag all our friends all before we hit the ground.  I don’t ever remember growing up with this overly excessive desire to share every little detail of my life, but I’m old and out of touch, I suppose.  I just can’t see this open sharing, that is out there for as long as the Internet exists, won’t come back to haunt today’s youth.  Most social media outlets offer some level of privacy controls, however if you don’t implement them then it’s your own damn fault that your friends can post and tag you in that video of you in a drunken stupor getting a tattoo of the one foot tall My Little Pony in leather chaps with the name of your favourite professor written across the saddle.

It is still illegal for the Canadian Government to open our mail unless there is an obvious issue with the letter, like a funny looking powder or a ticking sound emanating from the package.  So, what gives our government a greater right to view our email?  How is that level of communication any different?  Email companies like the now defunct Lavabit used to offer a completely encrypted email service that, at the time, was impossible to circumvent.  It so frustrated the American Government that they try to force the company to hand over its encryption keys.  They must have really wanted access to that My Little Pony video.

I would dare to say that most of our daily lives here in North America have now been transferred into the digital realm in one form or another.  Whether it be banking, healthcare, job search, or even job interviews, why should we as private citizens not be offered the same sense of privacy that was afforded us when all of these things were done in the brick and mortar world?  I truly love the simplicity of doing my banking online, or paying for my purchases using a debit card instead of carrying cash around, but the idea of a government or corporation tracking and using this information to either bias their marketing or possibly give cause to flag all my purchases because I may be building an explosive device with that fertilizer that I bought for my vegetable garden sends shivers up my spine.

In the end, be careful with your online presence.  In the today’s world where the word privacy will become extinct much like an honest politician, it may be best to start limiting your digital footprint.  Go Green, digitally green that is.

This post is being published on Remembrance Day here in Canada, so please let’s give pause to remember the men and women who have sacrificed their lives to preserve our way of life as Canadian and as private citizens.

Until next week
A Clockwork Techie

What we have here is a failure to communicate (WARNING: Rant ahead)

As I sit on my couch and watch the ongoing Senate hearings here in Canada, I can’t help but think that Mike Duffy must wish he was actually Patrick Duffy on the TV series Dallas so many years ago.  He truly wants to step into a shower and pretend this is all just a bad dream.

I stole the title of this blog from the movie Cool Hand Luke starring Paul Newman.  While the statement is directed at Luke, who’s incarcerated in a rural prison, I think it so aptly applies to today’s politicians.   Politicians used to be held to a higher standard.  They were our representatives in this continually growing nation.  However recent events both at the federal and civic levels of politics has led me to be believe that we the citizens are going to have step up and force these duly elected officials back to that higher standard.  I am saddened by the fact that this idea has even had to cross my mind.  This, however, is where I believe social media can actually come in handy and play a large role in helping keep politicians honest and transparent.

Today’s politicians seem to feel less responsibility towards the people that elected them.   I really feel this is a situation that all citizens should be aware of.  We have a responsibility to remain educated on what politicians are doing while representing us on the national and local front.  We need to be involved.  We are the ones that elected them to office.  Ignorance cannot be our excuse for not knowing what is going on in this country.  So let’s use social media and technology to our advantage as citizens.

For starters, I think that every elected official needs to maintain a weekly blog. I want a current up to date list of every motion and bill they voted on, how they voted, and why they voted the way they did.  Did they ask for input from their constituency, or were they whipped into place?  They need to be held accountable for their actions and the only way I can think of this happening is through the use of social media, creating an open digital log for everyone to read.  Let’s put Foursquare too good use and have them check in at every new location they arrive at each and every day. They also need to tweet and post their status on Facebook.

To be clear, I don’t mean having staffers put out carefully crafted statements about a private members bill that their bosses are supporting.  I mean the politician has to do the daily posting, and they have to tell us everything.  Let’s have them show what transparency is really about.  I want to know how much they spent on dinner since they are paying for these things with my hard-earned money.

I think that every email sent to another minister, or member of the press needs to be posted.  All moves need to be accounted for.  Plausible deniability should no longer be allowed. However, we the citizens have to play a part in this new dynamic.  We would have to keep track of these people.  Scan, read, cross-reference, and comment on anything we think is out of place.  Look at their Facebook check-ins and follow up.  I know this all sounds a little like Big Brother in reverse, but something has to change.

A level of political scandal that this country hasn’t seen for a while is driving this rant.  While there are ongoing civic issues in Winnipeg, Montreal, and Toronto, the national scandals, most recently in the Senate, have grown to a fevered pitch here in Canada.  I think it’s time to have ALL elected officials socially state every move they make.

This of course is all tongue-in-cheek, however we need to grow our awareness of what’s happening in this nation.  I think that national political apathy has grown not only because of a lack of great leaders, but these days the politicians are so good at controlling the media and the message that the truth is not getting to the people.   This is where technology and the Internet can help the citizens of this country.  Politicians are using new media to help dominate the news cycle.  They are also using it to help garner popular opinion by skipping the gatekeepers or filters of the big media outlets.  It is now up to us to act as those filters.  Use the Internet to research all political statements.   Be sure to cultivate your opinion through the facts, not a single politically manipulated point-of-view.

We have the ability these days to be as knowledgeable as our leaders.   Let’s take up that responsibility and be better citizens of this nation.

A hat tip to my classmates for this weeks title.

Until next week
A Clockwork Techie