EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Me pontificating at COTR
Almost 20 years  ago now Howard Rheingold, one of the pioneers of virtual communities, said that " a tremendous power shift is underway ... this power shift is about people and our ability to connect with each other in new ways... " Speaking at the first Writers' Retreat on Interactive Technology and Equipment conference sponsored by the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and Emily Carr College of Art and Design, Rheingold noted in 1994 that he was struck by the "citizen-to citizen movement now known as virtual community" popping up everywhere he travelled.

I was at the conference preparing to teach my first Writing for New Media course at College of the Rockies where I was also working on a grad program in New Media Communications launched a year later. Very few people at the time agreed with Rheingold and other internet pioneers who believed as I did that we were embarking on the biggest societal change in communications since the days of Gutenberg and his printing press.

I spoke on the topic of how the Internet could defeat politicians, or help them win,  at an annual conference of the Canadian Association of Journalists in 1995,  and argued, that in due course, it would be a major contributing factor. Interestingly, the old guard in the room vehemently disagreed with me, while campus journalists supported my position.

The old guard, and me, had never heard of Barack Obama in 1995.

Fast forward to now! You don't hear much about virtual communities now, as all the talk is about social networking sites, one of the fastest growing and popular uses of the internet. The power shift has occurred despite the naysayers then and now, because of our need to connect, one with the other, especially because we now live in the world of many-to-many medium as Rheingold also predicted.

Take the popularity of Facebook for example. I joined  at the suggestion of some of my former students, and I extend great thanks to them. I have been able to reconnect with so many people with whom I had lost touch for many years, and catch up on thouple of examples.

By 1998 at least five of my students were involved in online romances, and if meir lives. Facebook is also an example of the success of new media with its convergence of all media to digital forms.

At any given time on Facebook, "friends" are using text, still photos, videos and all kind of cool things to communicate with one another and a broader audience if they wish. One-to-one and many-to-many!!!

However, the communications potential of Facebook and Twitter is not being maximized as far too often it is simply a one-way street. For example, journalists use Twitter primarily in my view to retweet among themselves as part of some mutual admiration society.

While teaching new media at COTR I made many fearless predictions about where we were headed. At times I really didn't have a clue but knew something big was happening. Let me share a cemory serves me right, three had gone off to meet their new loved one. They met in chat rooms.

In my office at COTR
One day in the lab, one student who was deeply involved in chat rooms was pounding away on her computer, when suddenly in a burst of anger rushed from the room, went outside and lit a cigarette. I went out to see what had happened. It turns out that the virtual friend turned out to be a he instead of a she, or vice versa, I just forget, but the emotions were every bit as real as in any budding romance.

Finally, in the COTR library where students had access to computers, they were banned by the powers-that-be from accessing chat rooms, which in those days was the main reason the students wanted to use the computers. To me it was a sure sign that big changes could not be far off. The kids were way ahead in social networking, while the established order wanted to ban them from the practice. Now kids are "tweeting" and "facebooking" -- at least for the moment.

Me in 2011 in Orlando, FL
When I think of it though, my generation liked to pass notes around the classroom to our friends, which of course was forbidden. Now they stay in touch by texting each other on cel phones, and using Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc. Plus ca change. Plus c`est la meme chose.

I would love to hear your comments on social networking and its place in your life, and how you enjoy staying connected with others.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Marathon, Ontario: microcosm of global economic crisis

I started out this morning checking out some of the major media web sites to see how the Stephen Harper media blitz in New York yesterday was playing. My first stop was at thestar.com, the web site of Canada's largest daily newspaper.

Not a mention of Canada's prime minister and his foray into the United States. However, to me, the Star's top story brought home the grim reality of the seriousness of the economic crisis we are facing in Canada and around the world.

David Giuliano, the moderator of the United Church of Canada, and a minister in Marathon, Ontario, just down the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks from Chapleau, my home town, has issued a letter urging Canadians to come together and help each other in these difficult times.

In Marathon, he notes that Marathon Pulp Inc has closed and is under bankruptcy protection, a tale being told in so many communities across Canada today. "Everyone here," he writes, "builder to baker, teacher to preacher, works directly or indirectly for the mill or the already vanishing mines..." adding that it "feels like a microcosm of what is happening to the economy across the country and around the world."

See full story at http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/592083

Just yesterday I was in a grocery store in Cranbrook, British Columbia, where I live, and the cashier was telling me how the impact of the shutdown of the Tembec mills in the areas was starting to hurt. "People have no money," she said and very bad sign, "are starting to live on their credit cards." They hope the shutdowns will be shortlived of course but who knows.

Similar stories are being told everywhere these days.

The Toronto Star article goes on to provide other examples of how the churches are moving to help in this time of crisis, which to me is wonderfully positive news. For all of us it is a time when we need to focus on those things that bring us together rather than those that divide us, and that is really to do all we can for those in need.

Back to the so called Harper media blitz. It seems to me he is trying to play Barack Obama. Well, if he is, he should note that the American president returned home quickly from his visit to Canada and has been front and centre in working on plans to solve the crisis, and tonight Mr Obama delivers his first State of the Union address to the American Congress.

Kudos to Mr Guiliano for speaking out! The letter can be read at http://www.united-church.ca/

Please post comments and any ideas you may have to help out! Email me at mj.morris@live.ca

Monday, February 23, 2009

Obama opens White House door to Michaelle Jean

WOW! That was my reaction to the news that President Barack Obama has extended an open invitation to Michaelle Jean, the Governor General of Canada to visit him at the White House. In an unprecedented move in Canadian-United States relations, an American president is welcoming the appointed Governor General to visit.

For those who may not follow the Canadian system here is brief primer. In our parliamentary system, under the constitution, the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II is our head of state, but the Governor General, appointed by the Queen on the advice of the prime minister of the day, acts on her behalf when she is not in Canada -- hardly ever here ever for that matter. That`s quite a mouthfull but that`s the way it is.

It was obvious when the president and the governor general met at Ottawa Airport last week on Obama`s visit to Canada that they hit it off, and they had quite a long chat particularly about Haiti where Ms Jean was born. It was also very historic. The first black US president meets the first black Canadian Governor General.

The invitation also signalled that President Obama does things differently than his predecessors.

After meeting Stephen Harper, the prime minister, Obama actually steered him out to where he could acknowledge the crowd of Canadians who had gathered on Parliament Hill to catch a glimpse of him. As he was leaving he did it again. Both unscheduled events but important to those who came out on a cold Winter day in Ottawa, although Harper looked totally surprised.

Obama also said he would like to return to Canada when it is warmer. Goodness, Mr President, it can be very cold in Chicago.

And perhaps on his next trip, Canadians can make sure he attends a hockey game. He admitted in an interview he had never seen one.

Heading back to the airport Obama`s motorcade made another unscheduled stop at the famous Byward Market where he got an Obama Tail at the Beaver Tail Hut and some gifts for his wife and children. I am not even going to try and describe a beaver tail! Apparently Obama was even going to pay with a $20 Canadian bill but he was given his purchases free. (We can be sure that the RCMP and Secret Service were well aware of this stop long before it was made,)

I had my doubts about the American media coverage of Obama`s trip but it got wide coverage on television and the newspapers. Ed Henry, a CNN White House correspondent was in full flight as he talked about `thousands`of Canadians lining the streets to welcome the president. Well Ed, maybe not thousands and thousands!

Perhaps the success of the presdident`s first official visit to a foreign country was summed up in his own words, ``I love this country.`` WOW!!!!! Let`s all hope the romance continues.

Please feel free to comment.

Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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Following the American Dream from Chapleau. CLICK ON IMAGE