Talking To Strangers

I met a very interesting lady while I was at work today.

Being a part-time employee in a retail environment, it’s sometimes hard not to feel the soul-crushing weight of your university degree bearing down on you while you toil away earning just over minimum wage. The thing with that is that there is always a silver lining. Things can always be worse, but just as easily, they can also be better.

The great thing, and I suppose the only satisfaction that I get from this part-time retail job of mine is that I get to meet some really interesting people. Take, for instance, this lady that I met today. I was cashing her out, and asked if she required a gift receipt. She politely told me no, saying that the were going with her to South Africa. That statement alone was enough to spark what ended up being a 30 minute conversation between us. I use conversation lightly, as it was mostly her talking and I listening.

She told me that she still had some family in South Africa, but that she was of European origin. When she was maybe 12 years old, having been born on the East German side of the Iron Curtain, her family decided that they needed to escape. Fleeing in the middle of the night with only a few possessions, they managed to make it all the way to South Africa; the farthest that they could get from where they were running from. Having finished both her secondary and post-secondary education in South Africa, she decided that she wanted to travel, and go back to Europe.

Wandering around Berlin, after the Wall was destroyed, she realized that she loved the north. The cold agreed with her, and she found an intrinsic beauty in it. She spent the majority of her twenties travelling, ending up in Edinburgh, before she decided that in order to really understand and know the north, she needed to come to Canada. She first landed in Montreal (with two tiny suitcases), then Ottawa, and finally, Toronto. It was a year later that she met a person who would later become her life-long partner, and travel buddy.

Before they got married, she made him promise that they would travel across Canada’s northern Territories, and they did just that. They spent close to half a decade travelling up there, taking it all in, before coming back, and settling down.

Being a recent university graduate who’s finding it increasingly hard to find any real opportunities, the idea of travelling has become more and more appealing to me. It wasn’t really until I heard her story that it sunk in; there really is a whole world out there just waiting to be discovered by my relatively fresh pair of eyes. I’ve been across most of Western Europe, South Asia and Eastern Canada, but never by myself. I’ve never really been on an adventure like that, and while the early portion of hers was forced upon her, it helped to foster a love of travel and a love of the north.

I think that what can be taken from her story is that it never hurts to talk to people you may not know. You can only gain something from their experience, or even, inexperience. I cannot describe how it felt to stand there and listen to her talk; it was simply amazing. It didn’t hurt that she made the soul-crushing experience of working in retail feel like nothing, and that I, at the ripe old age of 22, can do anything I set my mind to.

I just wish that I had thought to get her name. Hindsight is 20/20, after all.

The Internet is Awesome, but...

Recently, I had a conversation with one of my close friends. I had sent her a link, and asked her opinion on the subject matter. Her response was, “I’ll be the first to admit that I’m ignorant to more than 50% of what the Internet has to offer. I prefer tangible things, and fresh air, and books.” Her response got me thinking, and while I agree with her position, albeit to a very minor extent, I offered up my position in that the Internet is actually a very awesome place, and is very much so tangible.

Something doesn’t necessarily need to trigger a direct response from your senses for it to be tangible. For something to be tangible, it should have a real, lasting effect on the world around us. For instance, look at Google. In their 2013 I/O conference back in May, they spent a portion of their time discussing their Google Maps platform. In short, they said that by giving the tools to countries in which their physical maps were horribly outdated, the users were then able to create real world, real time, and editable maps that were far more accurate than the ones they had. That had a real, tangible, and lasting effect on those people and those countries.

You can watch the Maps portion of Google I/O 2013 here.

My friend further argued that the Internet, due to it’s status as a man-made creation, is not natural, and will lead to our demise as it allows for us to communicate through an instant medium, even though we are thousands of kilometres away. She also stated that we are being pushed farther away from what we once were, in that we no longer actively seek the physical, but rather are far more content in the virtual, as we seek out and build new friendships via Facebook and Twitter. She summed her argument up by saying that, “we forget that absence makes the heart grow fonder due to this instant world that we live in. That we’re so caught up in our phones, social media, and our laptop,s that we forget to stay and take a moment to process the information we are in taking in order to create an educated opinion. It’s addictive. And all emotion and sense of peace and stillness is lost while doing so.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not claiming that the Internet is absolutely perfect. I agree with my friend when she says that it’s a volatile place in a state of constant flux. It’s far from perfect, but so are we. However, using my friends logic, most of what we enjoy in this world is not natural, due to its status as a man-made creation. Books are included in this, as they too allow for the transmission of ideas from one person to another despite them being separated by thousands of kilometres. Where the Internet excels at is the sharing of ideas; it’s an amazing tool for discovering new ideas like none we’ve ever known before. All that the Internet is doing is cutting down on the amount of time it used to take us.

However, this is where I get to the part where I agree with my friend (to an extent). She does have a point in that there is a whole new generation of kids who don’t have the proper tools to actually meet new people outside in the real world (real being used in the sense as outside of the Internet). We are so caught up in following celebrities and sharing our every thought and emotion, that we forget that when we type out “lol”, we are no longer actually going through with the act of emoting.

Think of it this way. How many times have you personally had a panic attack when you’ve forgotten your phone somewhere, only to feel that sense of relief when you realize it’s in your other pocket. We can no longer go through a meal without constantly checking our phones, and there are even tips and tutorials on how to get by and handle without being connected. You can no longer go to a concert without seeing a see a tiny glowing screens and behind them, their owners craning their necks to view the musician through the tiny glowing screen.

The Internet is an awesome place to discover and connect with people along similar lines of interest. It’s a great place to share new ideas, and get feedback, and to educate yourself. That being said, it shouldn’t completely take over your life. Every once in a while, unplug yourself, and take in the world around you simply for what it is, and let your imagination run wild and think about what it could be.

The Internet is awesome, but sometimes it’s also awesome to just disconnect.


A Culture of Indiscriminate Over-sharing

Recently, after having a conversation with my close friend, Dave, and after watching Sherry Turkle and her TED Talk, Connected But More Alone?, I have realized that we live in a culture of indiscriminate over-sharing.

Let me explain.

What I mean by a culture of indiscriminate over-sharing is that not everything you post from status updates to photos is relevant or necessary. Do your friends really care about seeing the 200 photos of you and architecture from Europe, or the 300 photos you’ve taken of your food with a million filters applied? The answer is simple: no, no they do not. Not everyone needs to know, nor cares, whether or not you can sleep, if you’re at the bar with your girlies, or if you hate the new layout of the social networking site that you’ll continue to use.

After coming to that realization, I began thinking; how did that process even begin, and it’s incredibly simple — it started with ourselves. Humans, by nature, are attention seeking, and we’re always looking for ways to one-up our peers. We see our friends and their amazing escapes around town, and sometimes the world, and we feel compelled to show that our lives are just as exciting. Susan Cain, in her TED Talk, The Power Of Introverts, says:

“It turns out that we can’t even be in a group of people without instinctively mirroring, mimicking their opinions. Even about seemingly personal and visceral things like who you’re attracted to, you will start aping the beliefs of the people around you without even realizing that that’s what you’re doing.”

Cain makes the argument that it’s a vicious cycle that we unknowingly perpetuate, and how it’s a cycle in which we need to break.

This isn’t just specific to Facebook; a recent study showed how nearly 40% of tweets were pointless babble from saying how much fun people had last night at that party in which they got SOOOOO wasted, or how they’re at 10,000 tweets! But, if you look, how many of those tweets were of any real importance that made people want to read more, think, and get engaged? Barely any, so much so, that almost 75% of all tweets go unread. Google+ is a unique networking site, because almost as an unwritten rule, you do not have people clogging up their “newsfeed” with one million photos of food, status updates, and pointless check-ins.

I’ve been a long time advocate of not being on Facebook. When the site originally launched, and had the VIP status of being associated only with top tier colleges and universities, it made sense. This was before advertising and the site in general opened up to the general pubic world-wide; it was the discussion between you and your classmates that kept you logging in every time, and not the steady decline to your five buddies clogging up your news feed by checking into the bar down the street. I mean, do we care if you’re at one bar and not the other? Once again, the answer is no.

While sites like Facebook might still hold some relevance, I see it going the way of Myspace very soon as users flock to other networks like Twitter and Google+. As Derrick Wlodarz puts it,

“If Facebook’s loss of 2 million users over the past six months is telling about anything, it’s that the social media craze of yesteryear has peaked — or is even on the slight decline already.”

From what I’ve been able to tell, the main reason as to why people aren’t satisfied with Facebook is due to their horrible privacy settings, and because Facebook continues to abuse it. Yet, what the same user base fails to realize that (pardon my slight anti-Facebook bias) besides Facebook being evil incarnate, they watch the trends of their users and adjust the site accordingly. So, for example, if they see users interacting with each other more than others, those users will see more of each other in their news than anyone else (Eli Pariser, in his TED Talk, calls them Online Filter Bubbles, and tells us to be wary of them). The same goes for with the way they upload information about themselves from personal phone numbers, to their sexual orientation, to photos of them doing kegstands. Facebook sees this indiscriminate over-sharing and once again, adjusts their site accordingly, because it thinks that the users simply do not care. It’s as much the fault of the user base as it is the fault of Facebook (and it’s evil, oh so evil, shenanigans).

Yes, I understand Facebook is seen as a convenient way to stay in touch with people long distance, but there are other ways as well, such as Skype, e-mail, and you know, by using the device you can’t go 5 minutes without; your phone! But, as we continue to make a shift from a world in which we once used online accounts and connections to stay in touch with relevant and important topics of the day and discuss them, to a more me-centric world, I fear that we will lose our ability to be truly social.

As my incredibly good friend Dave said to me,

“This is why we lack privacy these days. Smartphones will do our networking for us, and [not] as much effort will be required on our part to stalk and interact with people. Remember that shitty knock-off Android phone I had? I’m only making the connection now, but it had features I never got around to telling anyone. One was the option to send canned messages, like, “I love you.”…That is both hilarious, and seriously f-cked…it’s an unsettling thought to have in anyone’s head that your significant other’s texts are pre-written, so to speak.”

Dave was completely right, and his sentiments only further echoed what Sherry Turkle said in her TED Talk:

“And what I’ve found is that our little devices, those little devices in our pockets, are so psychologically powerful that they don’t only change what we do, they change who we are…People talk to me about the important new skill of making eye contact while you’re texting. Why does this matter? It matters to me because I think we’re setting ourselves up for trouble — trouble certainly in how we relate to each other, but also trouble in how we relate to ourselves and our capacity for self-reflection. We’re getting used to a new way of being alone together.”

This raises another interesting point; filters. This goes back to Eli Pariser’s talk; I think we like being online because it allows us to create this persona of ourselves in which we can interact with one another without actually having to interact. Another friend of mine once said that she tried online dating, and found that it the people she met in the flesh were different from their online selves, and she faced that same problem too; that she couldn’t live up to this character she had created for herself. This is a huge problem that stems from being online, and being able to edit, retouch ourselves not too much, nor too little, but rather, just right into the people we wish we could be, rather than who we are.

Personally, as much as I live on the internet and use it for almost everything I do, I wouldn’t be surprised if social networking was but simply a passing fad. What I’m more interested in is the world post-social networking.

My father has always told me that within my life time, the world’s most precious commodity will no longer be oil, or anything of material presence, but will shift to our own sense of privacy. Generally, I’d debate him on that, but in this case, I couldn’t agree more.



I’ve always wondered why things sound better when smoking a cigar, or why we get a sudden rush of our seemingly best ideas late at night, and I think I’ve finally found the answer: it’s when we are at our most relaxed that our mind is free to wander and think outside the proverbial box.

Think about it this way; cigars take time to smoke, unlike smoking a cigarette, which is rushed and filled with anxiety to get that next fix of nicotine. With cigars, you’re able to relax, sit back and think, and it’s only when you have that time to let your mind wander freely that you are open to new ideas and concepts that were once foreign and strange to us. For me, personally, I find that the same premise can be applied to mundane tasks, because those almost always require zero brain-power; our bodies are on auto-pilot and we’re able to go off into our own distraction free world where any random thought can be explored fully.

When it comes down to it, it is the imagination’s ability to wander that births good ideas, and it us up to us to simply embrace this.


Something Left To Give

If there’s one thing that I’ve realized about wanting to become a writer is that my heart and my mind has become divided between my many selves.

When I first started writing nearly four years ago, I wanted to stand apart from the rest of the aspiring writers. I aimed to add bits and pieces of my own life, experiences, and thought processes into the works that I had created in order to make the settings seem all that more believable and the characters people that I, and whoever found and read my pieces, could relate to in some small way. However, over the years, the characters that I have fleshed out via words have become as much a part of my personal being as much as I have become a part of their imagined beings.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that everything is connected in some small way, and if you can’t get anything out of whatever it is that you’re doing, then no one else will ever be able to.


The Fear of Being Alone

What I’ve always wondered is why people are so damn terrified of telling the person that they care for, that they care for them. Romantic comedies and perpetuated this fad wherein person A likes/loves person B, yet cannot tell person B for whatever reason. Person A then goes around telling everyone else this new addition to her life, all the while, not telling person B that he/she likes/love him/her. It makes no sense to me.

I suppose it has to do with the fear of rejection, mixed with the want to feel validated. For instance, let’s say I like a certain musical artist, and you don’t. Nine times out of ten, I will most likely say, “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU YOU’RE INSANE THEY’RE THE BEST BAND EVER!” I noticed this about myself, and others, when a good friend of mine told me that he did not like bacon, while another said that he did not enjoy sushi. We seek that sense of validation from others so that we don’t feel alone in our life choices, so that we can justify our actions as other people are partaking in the same activities and decision make processes.

The fear of rejection, however, is an entirely different story, which goes back to my first point; people are finding it increasingly harder and harder to tell the people that they want to tell what it is that they are exactly feeling. I’m guessing it’s because in doing so, you’re opening yourself up to that other person; you become incredibly vulnerable. And that’s where movies tend to fail us. They are an incredible story telling medium, but they don’t prepare us for the flipside of these situations. In most romantic comedies, person A and person B are together in the very end. However, that doesn’t necessarily always happen. Two people may not feel the same way towards each other at the same time, so what happens when one person opens up and the other one cannot reciprocate? How are we meant to deal with that? All I’ve seen is a slippery slope of awkward conversations because in the back of their minds, they’re both trying not to let what they say affect the other person, and after sometime, the strangers turned friends and almost lovers, are strangers once again.

And all of this, the fear of rejection and the need to feel validated, stems entirely from the absolute fear of being alone. We’re all so wrapped up in each other’s lives that we don’t take a minute to stop and think about what it is that we’re doing in our own lives. We don’t like being alone with our thoughts, and we drown them out with alcohol, weed, music, or whatever, because we’re so terrified of being honest with ourselves. We’d rather lie to others and say that we’re alright, when we’re not, even if we don’t know why. We don’t like being alone, and we don’t necessarily know how to be alone anymore either.

And that’s what terrifies me; distracting myself from myself.


The "I"deology of Writing

As someone who wants to write, I recently began asking myself the question of why it is that we, in general, write. In the simplest of terms, I think that writing serves as an extension ourselves, or more specifically, of our thoughts and our oral language, since it’s a practice of the everyday. In writing, we are attempting to take the thoughts we often turn into inarticulate speech and attempting to give them a sense of coherence.

Writing, much like oratory, is essentially the art of storytelling, which attempts to preserve, or document, some sort of “truth.” This can apply equally to fiction and nonfiction, both of which ask questions such as, “Who shot first, Han or Greedo?” The sharing of these truths communicates our own interpretations of something that is already established.

However, the oral is prone to error and wide interpretation, allowing for a distinct dichotomy between what may have actually happened and what was recorded. The benefit of the oral is in that those oratory stories can convey emotion through emphasis, and body language; however, the context can change depending on the space in which it was first heard, and the space in which it was retold. Oral retellings, in essence, are always mythic in nature.

Writing, on the other hand, is often seen as more rational: We are allowed to take our time to figure out the exact sentence structure, removing all room for error. It is temporal, in that it allows us to record a specific event and time, with the context of the delivery entirely removed. What differentiates writing from the oral is that writing is not done to seek truth in the general sense of the term, but rather as a very personal act of self-discovery. Many of the topics that we write about or find interesting often contain bits and pieces of ourselves.

Through this, writing is in effect a discourse of power. In psychoanalytic terms, we repeat the act of writing in order to get it right. So writing is inherently a violent act, since by attempting self-discovery, we initiate a process of a self-revisionist history. How many times have we looked back at the works that we have written, or things we have done, and thought to ourselves, “Man, I was really young,” or, “Man, I was really dumb.” The benefit of this violence is that, by externalizing ourselves, we are taking something that is intrinsically “us,” and letting others challenge and provoke our ideas about the topic at hand — and therefore, about ourselves. A completely objective third party has no social requirement to lie and be nice to us; they are allowed the position of being 100 percent honest. Writing, therefore, is industrious; we are often building something from nothing, developing and approaching a future notion of what we think we ought to be.

So why is it that I write, and want to continue to write? It’s because writing serves as a medium to connect two people who have never met over ideas they find interesting; it allows for a sense of commonality between two complete strangers; it serves as a different means of understanding ourselves, and, through the lens of ourselves, the world.


Everything Does Not Happen For a Reason

I have recently discovered that many of my friends align themselves with the ideas that 1. the movement and trajectory of the stars and planets somehow governs their lives and that 2. everything seemingly happens for a reason. These ideas of theirs tend to come up in varying contexts, but the one that I most frequently hear is in relation to a failed relationship, or in regards to some terrible event that they are currently experiencing and working through. Time and time again, I find myself disagreeing, and having to explain why everything does not happen for a reason.

Saying that everything happens for a reason is an extremely comforting idea; people know that bad things will happen in their world, but they do not know how to understand and come to terms with that idea. That’s because it’s troubling, and it should be. It’s a form of escape; It’s easy, light pseudo-spirituality that allows people the feeling that they’re off the hook. This sentiment is largely a moronic cop out, in that it is meaningless, and a way to avoid responsibility and avoid facing certain facts. We might not necessarily ascribe this to something religious in nature, however, we are still perfectly okay to write everything off as being orchestrated by unseen forces for our own personal, explicit, benefit. The assumption that everything happens for a reason lies under the faulty world-view of a predetermined future in which you have very little control of events that happen around you or that take place in your life. In effect, that statement serves as a type of crutch, where we are allowed to stick our heads into the sand and avoid facing the sometimes harsh reality. It removes all sense of agency, in that by blithely proclaiming that anything and everything in your life happens for some cosmic reason does not make you look sage and self-aware; it makes you seem rather stupid and overly self-indulgent. It makes you look unwilling to seek out or even acknowledge your own culpability in your actions and words.

However, that sense of responsibility, to me, is a much more comforting thought as it allows me to have a greater sense of control over my own life, and my own personal being. It gives me that sense of agency, wherein I am able to decide and make my own choices. The lack of being able to own up to something just allows you to follow the crowd, not really allowing room to think for yourself, and not having that time or space to think can be incredibly dangerous. Anything less than owning up to everything in your life is a direct avoidance of facing the tasks that lay ahead, or working towards improving yourself; it’s changing your mindset to fit the bad state of things to somehow rationalize it and make it better in their heads. And that is a huge problem, because it does not actually address anything; it’s all in their heads.

Of course, there will be certain things in your life that are beyond your control, and sometimes knowing what or why it happened will not give you control over other future events. But, if something does happen, it is your responsibility to find out why. At worst, you’ll be better informed, and at best, you’ll know how to potentially avoid that situation in the future. If we’re lucky, we all have about 100 years on this planet. We should not allow ourselves to become so complacent and brush things off with an easy excuse that everything happens for a reason; they don’t. Sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don’t. We need to learn from our mistakes, and take solace in the fact that in some small way, we will all live a small mark in the world that we live in.