Trying to imagine life without social media

I tried to recall life without social media. Wasn’t it just a few years ago when I walked around without a portable device strapped to my waist, a device willing to announce my every grunt, burp and fart to the external world, if I only let it?

Without social media, my concentration would improve, that much I am sure. I would not be constantly interrupting my daily chores to go check that infernal device for the latest chat or inspirational message. My self esteem would mature for I would not have those “likes” to prop me up but would have to “like” myself instead. I could spend many hours with just me and my thoughts and reap the inspiration that comes from a stilled mind. I would not suffer from “too much information,” a syndrome that makes you skim the surface of everything, just to cope, and miss some of the major issues in the process. I will get to talk to people instead of sending them written messages even when they are in the next room. Friendships will be few but more lasting and not something to be activated and deactivated with the push of a button.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t be “famous but poor” anymore. Instead, I would be “unknown and still poor.” I wouldn’t get to play closet politician anymore for my audience will have disappeared. I’ll have to stand up in my little room and declaim, to myself. Or join a political party and schmooze my way to the top over a number of years, not in mere days that it took me in the social media world. I would not have a test market for my writing. I would not be connected to the pulse of my peers, forever unplugged from their thoughts, drives, fetishes and joys. I would not be let into their living rooms, introduced to their families, invited as a virtual guest to their parties, or exposed to their embarrassing moments when they suffered mental or wardrobe malfunction and decided to share (or bare) all via the instant photos uploaded to my “stream.” Yes, I would have to kiss goodbye to my voyeuristic but engaged life.

Someone recently told me that “there is no going back.” We seem to have crossed a threshold into a new pattern of social behaviour that is irreversible. And I am not sure we are unique in that respect. Did people go back on their old habits when new inventions collided with their social lives in the past: the telephone, the TV, the car, the supermarket, the microwave, and canned food? Digitization and sharing has now replaced the communal life of the village where everybody knows everything about everyone else. Even the anonymity of cities—something I used to love to escape to occasionally—is breaking down under the new rules of conduct, where city dwellers cooped up in glass towers and matchbox condos, ostensibly isolated, are connecting with each other like never before.

Okay, so there is no going back, we are the social media generation, suck it up and get on with it. But there needs to be some “information firewall behaviour” called for; the confidence to switch on and off when needed, without the pressure to be “always on” in order to be relevant, despite Facebook and Twitter sending you those “How are you doing?” messages when you are minding your own business, or Klout warning you that your score is dropping because you have been silent for awhile. Taking social media•less vacations is a good idea, and retreats from “always on” to just read a book is also good for the soul. And most importantly, selfishly carving out time for contemplation and meditation is paramount.

Okay, now that I’ve got that off my chest, where did leave my Blackberry…? There really is no going back, is there?

Just-in-time Trudeau

I was elated when young Justin took the podium recently and announced his candidacy for Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. At last, new hope, a new face, and no baggage other than for a marquee name (with perhaps some old baggage). Now, let the young people try to make some sense of this mess that we Yuppies have created with our overflowing greed; as we stagger into our golden years, we can’t figure it out anymore, worried about diminishing pensions and healthcare, and wondering why we extended our lives so long but imperiled those very anchors that allow us to age gracefully.

Justin’s coming is also at a time when politicians in the recent Quebec election were throwing out lines like, “Quebec separating will be a like a divorce, painful at first.” I thought that was a rather flippant and utopian comment, implying that after the pain of separation will come prosperity for all. I find it hard to believe that Canada and Quebec on their own will ever be as strong as the combined entity it is today, warts and all. A divorce does not make the parties stronger although they may be freer to explore individual destinies. Divorced members also lose their friends, quickly, as it forces those parties to take sides and make bets. And capital investment is the biggest coward – it flees disputed territory.

Couples usually wait until times are good before pulling any plugs. And given our National debt being the highest it has ever been in its history, is this the time to go pulling plugs? And how about that “settling of debts” issue that comes with separation? What mutually agreeable contribution to the national debt will Quebec make when at last count the province has approximately 25% of Canada’s population and has enjoyed historical benefits of approximately 35% ? The issue will not be getting Quebec to accept its fair share of the debt, but leaving her healthy enough to honour it.

And language – French in Quebec has had its best bet for survival under Canadian Confederation, where even in distant Nunavut you will find a government employee providing service in French. Who will Quebec cry for support from if not from dear Canada? The USA? No way, amigos – the Spanish have been waiting for their turn down South since the Alamo. France? Non – the French have their house and the troubled House of Europe to clean up first.

We are dealing with a younger, smarter and more discerning voter, one without the baggage of past separatist sorties, people like Justin and his cohort. Economics plays more in decisions than nationalistic fervour, especially for a country like Canada that has skillfully navigated the economic fallout of 2008 and is considered the poster child amidst a bunch of reckless gamblers. “United we stand, divided we fall” is never more important, hence the formation of bigger and bigger trading blocks: NAFTA, EU (however troubled it may be), and Megacities Toronto and Montreal. And to say that you want a divorce just because you can does the most harm to a family and its members. All it takes is for the harried other party to throw up her hands and say, “You want a divorce? Okay, then let’s get one!” And we will all end up poorer.

I am glad the Quebec election ended in a minority government, everyone keeping everyone else honest. Change is good; but separation? That’s serious business.

As for Justin, a true Canadian who speaks English like an Anglo and French like a Qubecois, I hope he has broad shoulders to tackle this and other problems and bring our various solitudes together into a healthy and productive conversation. I know he hasn’t much of a platform yet that stands out from among the right wingers, left wingers, green people, and separatists, but I’m hoping that he has arrived just in time to save his party and our beloved Canada. Hope is a good thing to have…