What does my Instagram account say about me, and why does it matter?

My Instagram account is looking pretty slim lately.  I try not to overwhelm my social media feeds with pictures of my 1-year-old, even as though he’s clearly the most adorable human to ever walk the Earth.  Instead, I post pictures of images captured on my daily commute.  I didn’t create them, and they’re never staged, all I do is share with what speaks to me with the world.  I’d never call my self an artist, but I would say that I’m a decent curator of guerrilla art.

So, what’s the problem with that?  Nothing… as far as I knew.  I thought that this was an innocuous pass-time until I read about the new “Social Media vetting” involved with crossing the border into the United States.

“If that sort of rule is enacted and they’re required to provide passwords or other things related to their social media, people will really have to start thinking about whether they want to continue to travel across the border”- BCCLA on CBC

It has recently come to light that US border agents can insist that visitors to their country give up their social media passwords (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.) so that they can review travelers’ accounts and judge whether they are welcome to enter the country.  If you refuse to offer the passwords, they can refuse you entry into the country, simple as that.

My Instagram account shows that I have pride in civic rebellion, that I’m a left-leaning Canadian woman with Democratic sympathies, I may become a problem for the establishment, I clearly *have* a problem with the establishment, and that I am someone who would definitely be marching in solidarity with US citizens in the next  Women’s March.  And as the US becomes more and more restrictive to people’s liberties, this may limit my ability to visit friends and family in the future.  Even if it doesn’t, my name will most likely be added to a list for future evaluation.

Let’s be honest.  My Instagram account has a much more energetic and optimistic political-life than I do – I’m snapping pictures of art that other people took the time and effort to  create.  Regardless, I now own these messages and everything that they say about me. If the biggest penalty is I can’t add my 70 cents on a US dollar to their economy, I can deal with that.  I recognize that have the privilege to be able to stand by my  beliefs, but it’s just one more thing that makes me want to fight the good fight, you know?

What do you think? Am I over-reacting? Is giving up Social Media passwords a small price to pay for entering an entirely different country, or is it an invasion of privacy?

Twitter: Social media passwords, privacy, and border control. When #BigBrother actually is watching http://bit.ly/2lGdrbg

Facebook: A picture is worth a thousand words, and that might be a problem.  http://bit.ly/2lGdrbg



The Social Media Bubble


I consider myself quite well read and politically informed on topics relevant to both sides of the border.  I read the news voraciously, I stay up late watching Seth Meyers and Trevor Noah, I get HBO just for John Oliver.  The best clips I share on Social Media, that is, if my feed isn’t blowing up with it already.  So you can imagine my, and all of my friends, reaction during the American election as we collectively watched the election results roll in and they were a complete surprise.  I have hundreds of friends on Facebook and Twitter, made up of a fairly diverse range of gender, age, cultures and political beliefs (for Canadians).  None of them showed anything other than mocking horror at the “Trump phenomenon” and I am sure that they experienced the same thing in their feeds.  This, I’ve grown to understand is a phenomenon known as the “social media bubble”.

This Wired article confirms what history has already shown us – that Trump was indeed popular, with roughly 50% more Facebook likes than Hilary Clinton. The total social media shares between the two candidates were roughly even, reflecting the actual vote.  Interestingly, while the most shared article containing the name “Hilary Clinton” originated from her campaign site, the most shared article with the name “Donald Trump” in the title is on a free blog post – a conversational medium where people talk to people.

As mentioned in the article, Social Media feeds can turn into targeted “echo chambers” where you see more of what you like and less what you don’t. That’s great when you’re looking for movie recommendations, less so when you’re lulled into complacency because you’re existing worldview is never challenged. But I can’t just blame the algorithms for that – I have to admit that I actively muted any  voices that didn’t conform to my belief.  I mentioned that all my Facebook friends would have voted Democrat had we the chance – that’s not entirely true.  I do have that one aunt who I unfollowed; if she wasn’t family, I would have  unfriended her altogether.  It’s easy to be absorbed by a social media bubble – even easier to build that bubble yourself rather than engage with differing opinions when it’s just so much easier to ignore them and move on.

To be honest, it’s hard to convince myself to seek out and engage with people of differing political and moral opinions. I have a difficult time getting past these sorts of differences in order to find a space in which to negotiate a common ground.  I can widen my social media filters to hear more diverse voices, but even if I see them, I wonder if I will actually “hear” them.  What about you?  Leave a comment –  I’d love to hear your strategy for popping your social media bubble.

Twitter: Is anybody out there? Navigating your personal social media echochamber #dialogue  http://bit.ly/2lKvV7y

Facebook: The false-comforts of complacency.  Yelling into the echo-chamber of my own social media bubbles.  http://bit.ly/2lKvV7y

Big Data = Big Problems.


I never know how much stock to put into the whole “Big Brother is Watching You” thing. I mean, that’s the way the internet works.  Facebook and Twitter and Google and… almost every site is tracking my clicks, gathering data for future use.

I consider myself web savvy; I know what sites and emails are safe to visit, and I am even happy to ‘opt in’ to cookies as I prefer targeted advertising over random. I use Facebook and Google extensively, and I know that they need to pay their staff somehow. Besides, it’s not about me – I’m just a statistic, right? A trend line on a graph somewhere.

Maybe not.

According to this recent article on Vice, all of that data that I’ve thoughtfully and thoughtlessly offered up to the world has painted a clear personality profile… not of someone like me, but of ME, myself and I.

This article reads like a left-wing conspiracy theory, but it’s based on facts. To sum it up, a company called Cambridge Analytica  created an algorithm that pulls from a bunch of different sources of online data to build personality profiles of people, and then took the next step:  they associated that personality with the person’s name and address. This information was sold to political parties (ie Donald Trump’s campaign) allowing them to direct targeted advertising, both online and in person.  The data gathered by the algorithms allowed the campaign to determine what each individual wanted to hear on each issue, and delivered that promise. According to the Vice article, this is why so many of Trump’s messages seemed to contradict themselves: because they were specifically targeted to different audiences, each hearing the version that spoke to them.

Now targeted political messaging isn’t new – Justin Trudeau came to BC to speak about tourism, forestry and the Pacific Ocean, he spoke to Energy and job creation in Alberta, and to the Auto manufacturers in Ontario. But this is data-driven personalised marketing so much more elegant – targeted and effective. It doesn’t help that cultivated and curated social media feeds affirming our established beliefs just feed into our narrow world-view bubbles.

So that’s what has been keeping me up at night lately.  What do you think about this use of data collection? Is it an invasion of privacy, or the price we pay for the convenience of our social media feeds?

Twitter: Big Data = Big Problems. The true costs of “free websites”. #socialmedia #privacy http://bit.ly/2liNYoJ

Facebook:  Big Data = Big Problems.  We’re not just a number anymore.  http://bit.ly/2liNYoJ


Winter, the gift that keeps on giving.

icy_roadIf you live in Canada and you’re anywhere outside of the Greater Vancouver region, you’re most likely tired of hearing about our cold snap.  If you’re in Vancouver though, you’re probably glad for the chance to have something other than the high-cost of living to grumble about with strangers on the bus.  It’s abnormally chilly here in Vancouver; we’ve had the coldest winter in 30 years which has taxed both our municipal and our personal resources to the limit.  Our city is built for rain not snow – we can deal with floods like a champ, but this last season saw our garbage/recycling/compost left in alleys for over a month, roads and sidewalks, even main arteries, sat un-ploughed and caked in black-ice, businesses closed early or didn’t open at all and the entire region was bereft of salt.

It’s January 23rd, the sun is shining and it’s 7 degrees outside right now.  Our horrid 44-day long winter is only a memory – or so I thought.  I received my hydro bill in the mail last week, and it was almost $300!  I’m a single mom; this just isn’t in my budget!  Before my son came along, I’d just spend more time at work and pull out the blankets at night, but living with an 18-month-old means staying in, doing laundry every day, and baseboard heaters on to counter a semi-naked existence lived under the 3” mark.

So I did a little research to see what I could do to cut corners.  First step? Track my usage.  Here in BC we have “Smart Meters”.  It was a bit of a dramatic headache when they were installed, but IMO they’re great.  They break down your usage by hour so I was able to test how much electricity was increased when I used the major appliances like washer, dryer and dishwasher.  Big surprise – each one load cost only about $0.50 each, which is better than I thought!

weather_strippingNext step: Insulate. Look at this weather-stripping! Picking away at it is the cat’s way of letting me know she needs in or out; year after year she’s left a 2 inch gap under my door in which the cold air can sail right through.  One click and I ordered up some new weather-stripping on Amazon  and it’ll be here in a snap. Hopefully these will be as easy to install as they look in the pictures.  I also bought some window insulation, but as it has wormed up, I’m keeping that in the closet until next year.

Next up, I bought these amazingly effective, simple, and inexpensive foam backings at Home Depot to insulate the face-plates covering my light switches and electrical outlets.  They took approximately 30 seconds to put on, and I can already feel the house warming up. It’s amazing how much heat you lose when you consider all of the holes that are punched in your walls leading directly outside (and remember, here in Vancouver, the houses are not built and insulated like in the rest of Canada.  Think the middle-piggy’s wooden house).  I finished these up with Safety First plug protectors to complete the seal.


Finally, I know that I need to reduce my usage.  I rent, so I’m not really into paying big bucks for a fancy Nest thermostat but I can commit to turning down the heat in the house (except for the baby’s room) when I go to bed at night, and not turning it back on until I get back from work.  Plus, I picked up a folding clothes-drying rack. Even if it only saves me $10 a month, that will add up to over a $100 a year.  I’ve been needing one of these for ages, and it’ll be paid for the next time it saves a pair of pants that I would have accidentally shrunk in the dryer.

I’d love to know if anyone has any other tips for keeping my small suite warm in the winter and cool in the summer – I’d like to be a bit more proactive for the next extreme weather changes instead of reacting after the bills roll in!  I’m thinking that this will be the end of our Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Winter, but these small investments will not only last through future winters, but also help out in our hot-hot- heat filled 28 degree summers.  In the meantime, $300 is a small price to pay for the memories of my son’s first snowfall.


*** I’m not really a lifestyle blogger, so instead of the Amazon links being routed through my own Amazon storefont, all proceeds for products bought through these links will be donated to the Red Cross. ***

Twitter:  Is your cheque-book feeling the lingering effects of #winter? Check out these #costsaving #tips to keep you #warm.

Facebook: The sun is shining, the snow has gone, but the winter bills are just starting to roll in.  Check out some cost-saving tips I’ve put together to warm up your house and relieve the pressure on your cheque-book.