Sunday, January 27, 2019

Time wasted and energies spent on non-events gone viral

Here's a must-read from the New Yorker on the strange and unsettling ways that social media and mainstream media interact in the modern world to take a thin story involving almost nobody and turn it into a viral phenomenon that actually looks like something big happened.

The example of the moment: the uproar over those Covington Catholic High School students. With one side crying racism and the other side saying the Indigenous guy started it, the world quickly divided according to their viewpoints, and everybody got savaged.

This think piece takes a step back to reveal that in fact, none of the participants came out looking good when you get beyond the massive media firestorm and take a look at the video footage.

Perhaps more importantly, the analysis reveals that the world blew up over an event so small that the reaction is actually the story. Yet that reaction changed nothing, other than to push us all a little farther into our individual perspectives and away from each other.

Where once the mainstream media unfairly dismissed information on social media as so much bumpf, it now gives it too much weight. And in the age of international manipulation by bots and Russians, that is a very bad thing. Worse still, there are real firestorms that require our collective energy - climate change, racism that's significantly deeper than name-calling, increasing inequality, growing poverty. As a species, we are losing our heads over the little stuff while real disaster looms.

Where the heck are we headed? There's still much to love about social media; it's got so much potential to turn all of us into storytellers able to share our individual experiences and perspectives with the world. Alas, it's also a powerful weapon - one that has demonstrated much capability to manipulate our thinking, rile us up over non-news, pit us against each other, and show us a false version of the world that simultaneously overwhelms us with the stories that intensify our biases while keeping us away from the truths that might open our minds.

"We may need to change the way we think," writes Joshua Rothman in the New Yorker article. "Instead of seeing virality as a genuine signifier of newsworthiness, we need to see it for what it is—a product. Covington is the kind of product our social-media platforms sell to us. Perhaps we should be warier consumers."

Yes, indeed. There are those who want us divided and arguing, whether for personal gain or just because it's fun to see us spend all our energies fighting battles that go nowhere. Social media is a dynamic tool in the disruptor's tool box, and I love that about it. But it also lures us into the pointless fights of furious retweeting and name-calling that now passes for "taking action," even while the real battles go unfought. 

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Please share this sex work podcast of mine and end this ludicrous, unfair stigma

Listening to the conversations of sex workers talking about their work is a privilege for me that lifts me up no matter how low the ways of the world have left me. The dream of capturing those voices for the world to hear started a couple of years ago for me when I did a series of communications workshops for Peers Victoria with indoor workers and was completely captivated by their conversations.

It got me wishing for a podcast. We did our first episode in June 2018 and learned a lot, most especially that doing the recording with a single mike in a room comfortable to sex workers is important. We wanted to do a podcast every month but life got in my way in the intervening months, but seven sex workers and sex workers rights activists managed to get together last week to record the second episode. Here it is!

The topic this time out is "What do you want the world to know about your work?"  Please suspend whatever you think you know about sex work and have a listen to the powerful words about work from some of my favourite people. And please share this podcast widely. The world needs to hear it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Missive from a climate-change fear monger

Graphic credit:
I'm in a heated Facebook exchange at this very moment with one of those people who don't want to be thought of as a climate-change denier, choosing to position themselves instead as brave challengers of fear-mongering and political correctness. Oh, please.

Anyway, I've just been thinking that I'm now writing mini-blogs via my Facebook messages rather than here on my actual blog. While part of me likes the transitory nature of social media, it does make me worry that much of my writing these days is like so much dust in the wind blowing across a social media platform that I'm not even sure I like anymore.

So I'm going to glue that Facebook exchange right here, for posterity. Also because I want to make climate change my No. 1 topic for 2019. What other issue possibly matters more than saving the planet from human-caused emissions so that future generations have a healthy, happy place to live that isn't tearing itself apart with fires, freezing, wind storms, floods and massive crop failures?

Here's my original Facebook post from this morning. Admittedly, it establishes a challenging tone with the use of "idiot" that I know brings out the critics, and is not a good tone for public engagement. But hey, I am so done with being nice about this issue:

When exposed to idiot ramblings around climate change/carbon tax from politicians like Doug Ford or Andrew Scheer, remember this: Nothing about addressing climate change will be easy or painless. So what's it going to be - petty political sniping and self-serving arguments because hell, you'll be long gone by the time of reckoning, or saving the planet? Then I linked to this story.

Reply from my Facebook connection:

Hey, Jody, without being TOO contrary a few points…
1.) The accompanying photo is of steam. So what, you say? When I am to be alarmed about an impending apocalypse and recognize steam, it insults my intelligence.
Right from the get go I am being mislead.
2.) They are called greenhouse gases. What do we grow in greenhouses? Food. If I am to be frightened by an impending apocalypse why has an image of lush greenhouses, filled with food been conjured?
3.) The NDP, Champions of the Little People, have taken it upon themselves to use BC’s carbon taxes for general revenues. Why then would I trust ANY government to claim that carbon taxes are to save the planet.
I am not a denier.
But I am surprised by the numbers of people who believe in climate stasis.

To which I replied:

Point 1: I see no issue with illustrating the article with steam, as what we're really talking about with climate change is the use of energy. Whatever's going on with the steam in the photo, I am sure you'll agree that there is much energy being used in the process. I would personally prefer a photo depicting infrared heat loss from a residence, because we tend to get fixated on industry as the cause of climate change without ever accepting our own significant role. Point two: I believe "greenhouse gas" refers to the greenhouse effect caused by C02, not actual greenhouses. Point 3: This is not about politics. I am not trying to say that all will be well if we elect NDP governments. It just so happens that the most idiotic viewpoints seem to come from the Conservatives. This is an issue for the world, not for politics. I guess that's one of my major complaints - we should not be using planet survival as a political soapbox. Please read this:

Responder then got into a short back-and-forth with another person, which ended with this other person thanking Responder for treating potted tomates well, which led to this post from him: 

ALL plants love CO2, The more CO2, the more plants. Science, botany in this case.

I replied:

Unfortunately, there is more than the happiness of plants at stake here. Climate change will destabilize all the things we take for granted - amount of rainfall, temperature extremes, wind extremes, capacity of wildfires, 100-year flood levels, crops that grow in different parts of the world, people's ability to work outside in areas of rising/falling temperatures, effects on weather from our poles, political stability, migrant movement, resource allocation. Seriously, M, perhaps you're not a denier, but you're certainly being contrarian without offering up any meaningful argument. Why do that?

His reply:

Well, I take exception to the outcome being an apocalypse. You mention 100 year flood levels. Given that the planet's geologic history shows us that the planet's mean temperatures are far higher than they are now and that atmospheric CO2 levels were far higher than they are now and that there were no polar ice caps, glaciers, even snow an apocalypse is not what comes to mind. A 100 year time frame is nothing. Also where did all this organic carbon come from in the first place? It came from that time of high temps, high CO2 and a planet covered in jungle. Canada's Arctic has 30% more vegetation now than it did in 1986 (NASA). The Sahara desert is shrinking (National Geographic). I do not see an impending apocalypse, I see a new Garden of Eden, an unfortunate analogy perhaps as I am not a Christian, but a world of much increased vegetation (read: happy plants, read: food). As well, plants are carbon sinks, more plants, less CO2. I grow weary of the fear-mongering. So... why do YOU perpetuate the fear?

To which I replied:

Believe me, I'm occasionally tempted by the idea of an alternate life in which I skip right over the big issues that scare me and just get on with a cheerfully ignorant life. That must be so much more relaxing. It does require that you shut your thinking skills down, however, so I'm not interested. I've worked alongside a number of UVic climate scientists in my work over the past couple of years. I read the IPCC report. I've researched, pondered, listened. And you know, it's looking pretty certain that human-caused GHG emissions are the problem. People can distract from that by talking about plant health or the way of the Earth throughout history, and I accept both of those points. We've been through ice ages and dinosaur ages and amazingly tropical ages, but let's be honest - those all must have been pretty bad experiences for whatever was alive and thriving under the previous conditions, wouldn't you say? What we're talking about is a wholesale change in everything that humans alive today thought they could count on. You can't just walk like Pollyanna into that scenario. Who knows if it's the apocalypse, but there are going to be fundamental changes happening at profoundly important-to-life levels that will affect every person on the planet. And here we are, still talking about whether it's happening. I'm not going to be one of those people wasting energy trying to convince those people. But yes, I'm going to be out here more and more with my fear-mongering, because I have children and grandchildren who need me to be doing that on their behalf.

Respondent's salvo:

I should add I have a degree in botany, B.Sc. from UVIC, '85. And with that bombshell, I've made my point.

And that's where we're at as I write this. If you have important points about climate change to add to this post because you care deeply about the issue and have put a lot of thought and research into it, I hope you will share those with me so I can deepen my own knowledge.

I'm fine with hearing from the deniers, too, of course. But from now I'm just going to send them these responses so I don't waste even a minute more time that could be going to actually addressing the problems.