Category Archives: cbc

The Virtual Self: a chat with Nora Young part 2

Today we continue our chat with CBC Spark host Nora Young about her book The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us. If you missed part one yesterday, go ahead and check that out. Otherwise, read on:

In your book, you also touch on copyright issues. Content owners are cracking down on privacy yet individuals have to accept terms of service agreements without any input. Is there an imbalance forming between corporate and individual rights?

In terms of service agreements in particular, I spoke to Ian Kerr at the University of Ottawa about some of the issues that come out of this and it’s mostly his observation that we have this standard form contract where you click “I agree.” Obviously it’s not practical for you to negotiate your own separate contract between you and Facebook, there’s a reason for why we have these things, and yet when we’re dealing with our data, this is really quite new.

If we had been born digital and none of those external things like terms of service agreements were in existence, we probably wouldn’t be thinking about negotiating those relationships in the way that we currently do. Again, one of the things that people who know a lot more about this stuff than I do (lawyers and so forth) are thinking about whether we need something like a data bill of rights or whether we need to think in terms of ownership of data and be more rigorous in the governance of who can do what with it.

Obviously in Canada we’re lucky enough to have organizations such as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner who are writing those questions. It seems pretty clear that if we’re going into a situation where theoretically it’s starting to look like our lives are being captured, do we really want to be relying just on these individual terms of service agreements or maybe what we want to say is that we’re the people who have the data, the data belongs to us and we decide when we want to lend it out and make it available to other third parties.

I consider it a completely fair exchange to be on Facebook for free and the quid pro quo is that they get to use my preferences and so on to sell me advertising. That might be a completely legitimate decision for me to make. But right now, what seems to be happening is that we have all of this personal data that we’re creating that’s kind of separated into all these different companies with which we have a relationship, which are governed by these terms of service agreements that are difficult to understand. They don’t really give us the power to control our data or bring it all together in one place. As we start thinking about whether this information has value, maybe we need to recalibrate that relationship. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on June 7, 2012 in blogging, books, cbc, copyright, Facebook, privacy, spark


The Virtual Self: a chat with Nora Young

Have you ever wondered why people share so much information about themselves on things like Facebook and Twitter? Have you ever thought about how all of that data might be used in the bigger picture? Have you ever wondered whether all of that stuff might actually be worth more than just free access to a site that lets you share photos?

Nora Young, host of the CBC radio program Spark (which I sometimes contribute to), tackles all of these topics and more in her new book The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us. It’s a great read that provides a good deal of food for thought in regards to why we engage in all this self-tracking, and what it all might mean as it develops further.

I had a long chat last week with Nora about her book and thought I’d present that conversation here in two parts. Here’s part one, with part two coming tomorrow:

What’s your back-of-the-book pitch? What’s it all about?

It’s really about the accumulation of what I’m calling the statistical minutiae of every-day life. I’m not talking about oversharing on Facebook, I’m talking about the way we’re starting to pump out enormous amounts of data about where we’re going, what we’re doing, how we’re reacting to the world around us, the pictures that we’re taking of all the stuff that we do in our daily life. That’s everything from wearing a Nike Plus when you do your runs to checking in on Foursquare to registering a status update on Facebook or Twitter or posting innumerable photos from your cellphone camera.

So it’s thinking about both why it is we’re doing this thing that’s sort of odd on a personal level, but also looking at, on a collective level, how this information can be used for beneficial ends and also what the red flags are as we go forward. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in books, cbc, Facebook, interview, spark


CBC cuts are bad news for everyone

Last week’s federal budget was disappointing on several levels. There was the lip service paid to innovation and technology - a couple mill here, a couple there - but no sign of the long overdue and desperately needed digital strategy. One can only hope against hope that such a plan is forthcoming now that the big stuff has been dealt with, but one can also be forgiven for expecting Canada to continue to languish as the only G7 country without one.

More disappointing however, are the drastic cuts that are coming to the CBC. With its budget being slashed by 10%, or higher than the overall 6.9% across-the-board cut, some are rightfully suggesting the government specifically targeted the public broadcaster with its chainsaw.

Of course I’m biased because I used to work there - the cuts will doubtlessly affect many friends and former colleagues. But they’re also bad given the climate they come in.

Simply put, if you’re a journalist in Canada today - especially in broadcast - there aren’t a whole lot of independently owned places left to work. Newspapers, magazines, websites, radio and television stations have all been snapped up by telecom companies, to the point where there are few big ones left. The CBC is the notable exception.

This doesn’t just affect journalists’ career options. The more significant effect is on the information the public gets. There have been countless studies done and column inches written on the effects of media concentration. Few have found anything good about it.

Rather than slashing, the government should be adding to the CBC’s budget. It’s the only way the sole independent broadcaster can stay relevant against the deep-pocketed competition.

CBC bashers would do well to imagine a country without it. In such a place, all of our information is controlled by a handful of telecom companies. Does anybody want that?


Posted by on April 4, 2012 in cbc, media


Are video games taken seriously? Hell no

I’ve been writing about video games professionally - that is to say for major news publications - for 14 years now, yet this week marks the first time I’m attending the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Why? Well, on the few occasions where I’ve asked my employer at the time to fund a trip down to Los Angeles to cover the event, I’ve received blank stares at best and laughter at worst.

It’s a big double-standard that exists among the majority of mainstream media. Getting funding to cover the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is usually not a problem, while most newspapers and broadcasters will also send reporters to television and film junkets. But video games? Come on, that’s kids’ stuff. Maybe some freelancers will get tossed a couple bucks for a story or two, but E3 and video games in general are a far cry from being taken as seriously as other areas of technology and entertainment.

As such, I know a few staffers and freelancers who’d like to be going to E3, but they can’t make the ends meet. I decided months ago that I’d go regardless of whether I recouped a nickel - fortunately I’ll be providing coverage for and won’t be losing a whack of money (be sure to check it out!).

Truth be told, this is one of the reasons I left the CBC. Somewhere about 10 years ago, my friend and former boss Ian Johnson started up a video game site for the Globe and Mail while he was technology editor there. I was only too happy to contribute and, in those days, probably wrote about five or six reviews a week for no extra pay. I just enjoyed doing it. Along with a couple other brave souls, we managed to drag the Globe kicking and screaming into covering games, a tradition ably continued today by the likes of Chad Sapieha.

Fast forward to last year, where Ian and I tried to do the same at the CBC. The result was Pushing Buttons, a fantastic series pulled together by CBC employees from all platforms - online, TV and radio - that looked at every aspect of games, from economic to social to cultural to historical. It’s an absolutely great website that I’m very proud to have been part of - nothing like it has ever been done before, to my knowledge.

In the run-up to that series, I proposed to higher-ups on several occasions the creation of a new position - a sort of “video game beat reporter” whose job it would be to cover games across all of the CBC’s platforms. With video games a larger industry than the movie business, with the vast majority of Canadians - young and old - playing games and with Canada occupying a rare global leadership position in their design, it seemed almost criminal how little attention the national broadcaster was paying to them. It would have been a dream job for me or whoever else got it, of course, but as with those E3 travel requests over the years, the only response I received was silence.

When I left in the fall, several editors agreed that CBC needed to build off the momentum of Pushing Buttons, so I was enlisted to write games columns and reviews on a freelance basis. I always suspected the axe would come down on that from above eventually, which in fact it did a few weeks ago. Alas, regular games coverage at the CBC is no more.

A couple reporters in the mainstream - such as Steve Tilley at Sun/Canoe and Raju Mudhar at the Toronto Star - are either lucky enough to work for brass who do take games seriously, or they have fought hard enough to get them taken as such. Hats off to those guys, who I’m sure I’ll be seeing at E3 this week. I have no doubts that the rest of the mainstream, including the CBC, will some day take games as seriously as they do TV, movies or technology. It probably won’t happen until people from my generation are in charge at every level, though.


Posted by on June 7, 2011 in cbc, video games


A brand new website

It seems like an eternity ago that I started my Sex, Bombs and Burgers blog, even though it’s only been about a year and a half. My intention at first was to have an online presence where I could promote the book in advance of its launch by posting items related to it on a daily basis. I didn’t know what to expect, but suspected I might eventually shut the blog down once the book had run its course. After all, how long can one continue posting daily without any real compensation, especially on such a specific topic? It’s a lot of work.

But these things rarely turn out as you expect them to. In the first case, traffic to the blog has been growing strongly and steadily. In my first month, March 2009, I had about 500 visitors - now I’m averaging about 5,000 a month. That’s not astounding traffic compared to bigger sites, but it’s also not too shabby for a relatively new, independent blog. On the basis of that momentum alone, I have enough justification to keep it going.

Also, there’s really no such thing as a book “running its course,” like a movie or music album might. Sex, Bombs and Burgers saw its release in Canada, Australia and New Zealand back in March, and it’s coming out next week in the United Kingdom and at some point soon in South Korea. The big U.S. release is still to come next year, plus there’s the Canadian paperback version in March. Obviously, I have lots of reasons to keep writing about war, porn and fast food.

Moreover, though, I also have my upcoming freelance career to think about - only one week to go at the CBC! In this day and age, it seems pretty foolish to me for anyone who works for themselves to not have an online presence.

In that vein, although Google’s Blogger service has served me well for a year and a half, I thought I would move onto something a little more robust. After weighing some options, I decided on WordPress, which is similarly free and relatively easy to use, but also offers significantly more features than Blogger.

I’ve set up a brand new website,, which is live right now. The site has quite a bit more information on me, including a portfolio section with some of my previous work, as well as links to television and radio appearances. It’s not meant to be an ego shrine, but rather a full repository of stuff I can point editors to as I inevitably beg them for work. (I’ve freelanced before… it’s not always glamourous!)

I’ll be blogging as usual, and concurrently, on both the new site and until at least the beginning of December, at which point I’ll be redirecting all traffic from the old site to the new. There shouldn’t be any hiccups, but if you’ve got the old site bookmarked you may want to update to the new. It looks like all my archived posts imported okay to the new site, with the exception of some messed-up video links (which I’ll be fixing).

And, as I mentioned before, I’ll still be blogging about war, porn and fast food, but I’ll be expanding my newfound freedom to writing about other stuff too. I hope to see you on the new site, and thanks for reading!

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Posted by on October 25, 2010 in books, cbc, internet


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