a final letter to mark

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narrative / personal / thst*2450 blog

It’s a Monday, my day off, at about nine a.m., when I say these words out loud to my roommate:

“My weird gay dad almost died.”

This has happened many times, actually. He has what seems like an infinite number of lives, definitely not capped at nine like a feline. I worry. I worry too much, not because of him, but because by all accounts, it appears that the world wants to swallow him whole. I wouldn’t be all that surprised to hear that he had been sucked into a black hole, launched into the void.

I worry for selfish reasons. I worry because I would be lost. Very lost. I’ve been trying to come to terms with the person I have become since meeting Mark. I couldn’t imagine what path I would have taken, or where I would be right now. It all seemed to fall into place.

My family talks about Mark like he is my significant other, rather than my weird gay professor dad. They ask when they will get to meet him. When I’m bringing him home for dinner. My mother is so thankful that I have found someone like him. In all honesty, Mark has been a fantastic distraction for my family. They do not bother to ask about my love life any more.

This time last year was one of the most uncertain periods of my life. What I like about uncertainty, is that it takes reflection to truly realize that it was there. I didn’t know I was so unsure. I was not actively looking for guidance. I was looking for a job, and when this strange man with ornate rugs in his office hired me on the spot, I was thrown into a whole new world.

All summer, while Mark traveled, I locked myself in the office and worked furiously to try and prove to him that hiring me was worth it. His emails were so abrupt that I assumed he hated me. I kept pushing forward, fingers crossed that the decisions I was making were considered ‘right’.

Upon reflection, the single greatest thing I have learned from Mark is to trust myself. Right and wrong are entirely subjective. Mark and I agree on most things, which makes it easier. But the biggest change I have noticed within myself is my own initiative linked to my self-esteem.

Mark is contently commending me on my commitment to following through. Usually, this is in regards to my vegetarianism, but I’ve realized that I am consistently following through on things that are deeply important to me. Mark always wants me to take a day off. “You’ve done enough” is probably the most uttered phrase within the Massey office walls.

I’ve realized that I am a very passionate person, and I channel those passions by putting them all on my plate. These interests of mine, however, often take up too much of my plate, leaving little room for self-care and other things that are necessary to keep me functioning. Mark notices this, and admires my dedication but also is a far better judge of when I am running myself into the ground (which, let’s be honest, is almost always). And this is not to say that I shouldn’t run myself into the ground for the things I love, but Mark has shown me that the passion that I put into these projects should be reciprocated somehow. That my labour, including my emotional labour, is not only worth something, but is actually very valuable. I should be supporting what supports me.

If you would have told me at this time last year that I would be starting my MA in English at Guelph this fall, I would have laughed in your face. In fact, the more I reflect on the past year, the more surreal it all seems. I can now say I’ve volunteered at an international conference at UofT, designed a website from scratch over a three-way call with web designers, have had my research work recognized on a national level. I’ve conducted focus groups with young adults and am prepping to begin giving workshops to youth about online privacy. But these accomplishments shouldn’t be all that is discussed, and I think that things like missing grant deadlines, being rejected by big media conglomerates, the never-ending Research Ethics Board process, and the sheer amount of coffee I have spilled, have helped me to deal with failure and not let it define me or my experience.

I don’t know what my life would be like without my weird gay dad.

I hope I don’t have to know for a long, long time.

privacy stories

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thst*2450 blog

As most of you know, I’ve been working as a student researcher studying young adults and digital privacy under the supervision of Mark for the past year. Our research is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. In January, this organization challenged students to create a three-minute-long transmedia story detailing a research project at their school, in order to show the impact that humanities research has on the lives of Canadians.

I am ~very excited~ to announce that my video, PRIVACY STORIES, has been selected as one of the Top 25 entries from across the country! I have no words to describe the honour and gratitude that comes with receiving this prize as well as the opportunity to showcase our research at this year’s Congress at Ryerson to compete for Top 5! So proud to be a part of this year’s storytellers!

Find my privacy story on SSHRC’s youtube here.

wikiplay: connectivism

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thst*2450 blog

Using blogs as classroom tools allow students to form a different sort of relationship with the material as well as with each other.

I believe providing online spaces, like Wiki or WordPress, changes the way in which students are aware of one another, and this, in turn, affects the way we connect and learn from each other. This system created new routes of communication and collaboration for students. By allowing users to see the work of their classmates live on their blogs, for example, space was created where users could actively seek out different perspectives on the assignments.  Even just by reading the work of other students, I felt that bits and pieces of what they wrote helped me to understand the material better. In building on and connecting to the knowledge of others, we advance.

At a broad level, this notion of combinational creativity is really a socially connected process of learning. In a networked world, knowledge becomes a network forming process. To be knowledgeable is to reflect how we’ve connected concepts and ideas over a period of time. These online social systems allowed students to seek out the rounding of their perspectives and synthesize their learning on the platform that they typically feel the most comfortable- the internet. Systems like blogs have exceedingly become a component of our human knowledge and further, our overall capacity to know.

 

hub: an innovation in online learning

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thst*2450 blog

Hub is a collaborative project between Tyler, Bruno, Matthew and I.

Hub is an idea for an online learning portal that does more than CourseLink and gets students more bang for their buck. As this infographic discusses, there are many things that our group brainstormed that could be incorporated into a new system.

A perk for administrators is that exams could be facilitated through this system which could hugely reduce academic misconduct in online courses.

We plan to use the already existing distance ed. fee to pay for this system’s implementation in the school’s system.

Hub addresses a need within our school community.

 

good green transit

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thst*2450 blog

Working together with Rochelle, Atia and Sopulu, we created this reimagined version of the GTA/Kitchener-Waterloo-Guelph transit system.

I have created this infographic as an example of our marketing for the project. As we discussed in our group, our marketing strategy would be implemented through social media across university campuses. We use bright colours and relatable language in order to entice customers, in the style of Tangerine Bank.

We also discussed ways to incentivize the card system to students, including making the Green Pass like a SPC or Student Price Card. The card would then also provide discounts at participating retailers.

We discussed pricing for the card and came up with a monthly membership depending on the status of the buyer:

Students – $60

Commuters – $80

Public – $70

Children & Seniors ride free!

Good Green Transit solves the local problem of transit offerings and expense. Good Green Transit encourages public transportation for commuters, students, and the public, and will, therefore, cut down on congestion in our area.

algorithms as invisible technology

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thst*2450 blog

Advanced technology has become indistinguishable from magic.

The magic behind many of our favourite technologies, however, actually has a name. Algorithms. They work so seamlessly that often, we do not realize they are there.

We don’t understand the way that our technology works, let alone the algorithms behind it, simply because we don’t have to. We get the satisfaction of technology solving our problems and making our lives easier. The best technology is the one we don’t see.

Or is it? What is it, exactly, that these predictive systems are hiding from us? And more importantly, what biases do they have?

An algorithm is an attempt to technologically simulate the way that the human mind might work. This rational decision-making process produces a certain and simple output from numerous irrational, orderless inputs. Algorithms choose what is shown to us online, and what is not. Algorithms attempt to make our chaotic world tangibly simple.

But our world and our human experience is not simple in the least.

The discussion then becomes about algorithms and neutrality. There are those who think Facebook’s news feed is neutral, because it is produced by algorithms. But those algorithms are ultimately created by humans, who, by nature, have biases.

Zeynep Tufekci, a Turkish sociologist studying the interactions between technology and society, believes algorithms by nature have an ingrained bias, simply because they are created by biased human beings and “they optimize output to parameters the company chooses, crucially, under conditions also shaped by the company.”

When it comes down to it, social network’s algorithms are filters that say ‘Yes’ to some of the content we share, and ‘No’ to others, and these filters follow certain rules. That means there are theoretically as many types of algorithms as there are rules.

Algorithms are an invisible technology that we use everyday. Without them, the internet as we know it now would not exist. But this doesn’t mean that we should blindly accept whats on our feeds- on the contrary, we should be highly critical of this content. Do not trust that your social media accounts are showing you the whole picture, because even if they were, our own biases are typically reflected in our peers (ie, political affiliation).

Break out of the algorithm filter bubble. Stay woke.

Sources: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/19/opinion/the-real-bias-built-in-at-facebook.html?_r=0

how to train a silent tongue

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thst*2450 blog

My mother says that I wouldn’t talk until I could speak in full sentences. She embellishes the story by saying that when I did speak, it was perfect, free of error. I don’t know how much I believe that, but I honestly cannot remember any different.

I was not a babbly child. In fact, I remember not liking children as a child. They were too much for me. I was shy and quiet.

I remember my Nana taking me to get my hearing checked. I think she thought I was deaf or mute or both, and that my mother just somehow hadn’t noticed, and I remember my satisfaction in passing the test with flying colours.

Somehow, in holding back my speech, I was labeled as gifted. Maybe that’s honestly what gifted meant all along, the kids who are too afraid of other kids and all their noise and need a fucking break. I was small and cute and followed the rules, so I was allowed to stay in on recess to reading books above my grade level.

I had always been really engrossed in books. I had been read to every night as a child. My favourite was Beatrix Potter. Maybe it was because for me speaking was so rare, but according to one poignant story, I used the language of these books in my daily, child life. Throwing a tantrum, little me screamed “I AM AFFRONTED” before slamming her mbedroom door shut. I know. Fucking adorable, and really ridiculous. But not to discount the feelings of little me either- I probably knew the words mad, angry and upset, but wanted to make my point. And make it I did.

Perhaps this treatment forced me to appreciate every word. Maybe that’s why I ended up here, working towards my English degree. I just can’t get enough.

millennials and their memes

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thst*2450 blog

“Starter Pack” memes are an intricate meme style given the numerous references that are used in a single image, yet in most cases, the viewer will know exactly what type of person the starter pack meme is referring to and will likely have encountered this stereotypical person in their own lives. In a way, the starter pack meme acts as a way to make fun of and draw attention to the frustrating people we often come across in the 21st-century world.

I created this self-aware meme within a series as gifts for my roommates. I made each of us our own starter pack, poking fun at our neuroses and our ridiculous taste in food, films, social media, music and more. Because these memes are supposed to be relatable, I created these with my roommates in mind, and thus my starter pack reflects my identity within the scope of my living situation here in Guelph. It was a completely different experience to curate my own starter pack than it was to create three others for my roommates. I do wonder what the experience would have been had one of my roommates decided to make me my starter pack- would I have felt as though it accurately summed up my identity? Would they have added something that I had never noticed about myself? How would it have been different if my mom created my starter pack? What about if Mark created it?

The production of memes is something that is rarely discussed, but in my opinion, borders on basic graphic design. You don’t have to have any technical design skill to create a meme, but the amount of actual internet hunting that is involved in order to find all of your individual images, all while keeping them sorted in folders (I have close to 90 images from these four starter packs) requires patience. That same patience is called into play when it comes time to actually build the meme, just in sizing, layering, and organizing all of the images in a visually pleasing way. The time and effort put into a meme is an invisible labour, and millennials blindly share and consume memes without thinking twice about the real person who created that relatable content. Perhaps that is how the meme economy functions- meme-makers have to understand that their creation is no longer theirs the moment that they let it loose on the internet. Perhaps the good that the meme will do is more gratifying than the credit for their labour. Often, starter packs will have the creator’s Twitter handle hidden amongst the collage, a new type of artist’s signature.

Most of the content in the starter pack is straightforward. I am constantly juicing or making kombucha, I mainly eat kale, quinoa, or spaghetti. I work for Mark on Privacy Stories, I think Kanye West’s famous video was an artistic masterpiece. Boyhood (film) changed my life, Jaden Smith is a genius, and I always fall asleep on the couch.  I drive a little blue Kia and think a lot about meat consumption in relation to feminism. I need examples for every hypothetical situation, and am petty over Facebook chat. I smoke tobacco, am anxious about the future, and worship Miley Cyrus.

I incorporated many other memes into my meme starter pack, creating a meta sort of meme-within-a-meme complex. The Futurama Fry / Not Sure If… meme presents itself as both my skeptical tendencies and my major, English, as well as hinting at my habit of overthinking. The Kim Kardashian Dropping Hints meme reveals that my star sign is Aquarius and as well as that one of the key aspects of the Aquarius experience is that they have problems with emoting. I also added the gooey, drippy MEME QUEEN label because, after all, I am a meme queen.

 

gameography

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thst*2450 blog

My first game was a Happy Apple. Made by Fisher Price, the Happy Apple was reportedly all I needed. Pop baby me on a blanket on the floor with Happy Apple, and viola! Happy Apple=Happy Baby.

But Happy Apple only could hold me off for so long. I wanted more. As a toddler, I played in my very own tiny plastic kitchen with all my assorted plastic foods. I specifically remember a set that had velcro and allowed you to build your own sandwiches.

I’m not sure if I actually liked Beanie Babies, or if it was more of the fact that it was the 90’s and they were all the rage. Regardless, I had a collection, and they became another sort of world for me to escape to.

I was a lonely (only) child.

Once my fine motor skills could handle it, Pick-Up-Sticks was always my mother’s favourite. Cold Turkey, a game of the 90’s, was always mine.

There were the ‘girly’ games: Sky Dancers, Polly Pockets (the ORIGINAL), and MyScene Dolls, but nothing spoke to me like the Furby. Finally, something technological but soft, the Furby gave me a maternal instinct for the first time. I never actually owned my own Furby, but maybe that’s what made it so special to me. I would borrow my friends for sleepovers. The same goes for the Tamagotchis. I couldn’t commit to motherhood, not even fake digital motherhood, for that matter.

Mall Madness, the first ~computerized board game~ was fascinating to me. It was some of the simplest technology out there but again was very female-oriented. ECOSAURUS, a game that my Grandmother had on her ancient computer (no internet connection needed) was the first computer game I played all the way to the end. I even beat my big cousin Raph’s high score. I got the CD-ROM Game of Life in a cereal box and played it so much that it eventually stopped working. Before the ninth grade, when the internet arrived for me, I would often just play on Microsoft Paint into the early hours of the morning. I played Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 so much that I would close my eyes at night and still see the crowds of tiny people queued up for my ride.

The Sims was where gaming became ‘real’ to me. I had the first edition for the computer, and since there’s no way to “win” per se, I could literally play forever. I would make my friends and all our crushes and build us a custom mansion, or make all my enemies and burn their house to the ground. I got the second edition when it came out and for my birthday one of my friends made me a huge binder of all the different cheat codes. Then, I was able to make anything happen- instant friends, lovers, pregnancies, happiness, plague, whatever I wanted- the sims in the game were in my hands.

Truth or Dare becomes a thing. I always picked truth, my friends always picked dare, and the only thing I could ever think of was to make them lick the wall of the room they were in. No joke. They had to lick so many walls. 

I got my pink coral Nintendo DS and a puppy on my (11th?) birthday. Okay, so it wasn’t a real puppy, but a virtual one. My mother was much more understanding about a virtual dog than a real one. Besides, Nintendogs were super cute and you only ever had to pick up their virtual poop. And they brought you presents. Do real dogs bring you presents? I didn’t think so.

Super Mario Brothers was the second game I got for my DS, and the first ever video game I played all the way through.

I was also doing quite a bit of child acting around this time. I was cast as a Munchkin in The Dark Side of the Rainbow, which is essentially a mashup of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon mashed up with The Wizard of Oz. The next year I was cast as one of the schoolchildren in a production of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I don’t know why there was so much Pink Floyd in Sarnia at the time.

Then, BOOM. I get the internet. Finally, FINALLY, this glorious day has come. I honestly think holding me back from the internet as a child made me that much more addicted as an adult. Piczo, Dailybooth and Myspace were my go-to’s. If anyone from the class actually reads this, they probably won’t recognize those names because ALL OF THEM are now gone, lost in the abyss of the web. I mean, except Myspace, but that shits a MESS.

MSN Messenger was honestly a very important part of my teenage development. I remember making a new hotmail for the first day of grade nine, and giving it out to cute boys I met on the first day. I still remember the feeling I would get when my crush signed into MSN, when your heart skips a little bit. I miss the days of screen names and those ridiculous emoticons that predated emojis. And emo song lyrics as your personal message so people know you’re ~super deep and stuff~. I remember when Facebook Chat launched and people started to switch, and my friends questioned why I wouldn’t want everything in one place.

But MSN, too, is dead.

Never Have I Ever, the Truth or Dare drinking game of high school, was the best because at the time I liked to act like a ~total slut~. I know that comment sounds slut-shamey, but hear me out- I mostly was just the person who without fail had “done the most” or “gone all the way” and wanted to know who else was in that boat with me.  Honestly, a fun game, regardless of the eventual sexual end it takes. Plus, it was guaranteed to teach you something about someone, and get you wasted at the same time.

King’s Cup was big in first year and I knew all the rules by heart and would fight anyone who tried to tell me differently. It’s one of those chill games that you can play while chatting and hanging out. I seem to always end up drinking the cup at the end, the dark swamp water that is usually at least one part too-sweet-cooler and two parts beer. Once I got the cup and drank it and it legitimately tasted like a chai tea latte. I made everyone at the party pass it around.

As for now, sometimes I practice yoga and meditation. My social media usage has boiled down to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. A year ago, I played through Sword and Sorcery, which was gorgeous visually and has a beautiful storyline. I currently play Abyssruim, an app where you grow coral and fish in a soothing, relaxing gameplay.