Going Viral Com0011 Blog 6

I have spent way more than my fair share of time at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) over the last few years.  In fact, I am such a regular that my phone thinks I work there and for the life of me I can’t figure out how to dissuade it of that notion.

Earlier this year, my daughter had the opportunity to give something back to CHEO by participating in the Ward+Robes video.  This ongoing project is a collaborative effort between the Starlight Children’s Foundation, CHEO, six Canadian artists and Rethink a Toronto-based advertising agency whose purpose is to design and produce unique gowns for hospitalized teens that are reflective of their personalities and individual characters. These new designs with any luck will over time replace the standard issue blue robes we have all grown to hate.

The initiative went live in mid-July with an article in the Globe and Mail as well as a YouTube video launch.  Neither of these two events garnered much traction from what I could tell and I pretty much forgot about the whole thing until about a week later my daughter was stopped by a stranger at CHEO who congratulated her for her part in the video.  I dismissed this as a polite, if not an inside baseball kind of acknowledgment but my curiosity got the better of me late last week I Googled the project and was quite literally blown away by the response.  The story has been picked up by Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Up Worthy, Now This, Bored Panda, the Scary Mommy blog and probably of greatest significance to her, Teen Vogue with countless reblogs and mainstream media reports worldwide.

As of this morning, the Huffington Post 5.8 million views an increase of 3 million views since the August long weekend.  I now find myself just a little bit obsessed and I keep checking the number of hits and how many different languages I can find the story in and from what countries.  This isn’t a vanity project to placate teens as some of the online critics have suggested, it is a fundraising effort and an open call to designers and artists from everywhere to come forward with their own creative ideas for new gowns.  The goal is to have people donate as little as one dollar so that gowns can be produced and given free of charge to hospitalized teens in Canada to help them get through their medical challenges.  Click here for more information on the project. Whether you think this is  laudable or not is a different matter entirely and if you are going to suggest that sick kids need to suck it up, be forewarned I will go all mama tiger on you.

I don’t have any access to any empirical data that would measure the efficacy of the video in financial terms but if success is simply based on the number of views it has a great ROI. Quite apart from my tangential relationship with the project, I really want to know what it is about this video which can be seen here has caused it to grow legs.  The teens featured are relatively divergownshospitalse in terms of ethnic background and gender, some with very visible health issues and others where no indication is given so it isn’t simply a case of medical voyeurism.  The gowns themselves reflect many cultural traditions, tattoo art, animal motifs, and camouflage so there isn’t a captive audience for any one type of design and despite the fame of some of the designers, I don’t think, notwithstanding their own reputations and existing portfolios, they could draw the kind of numbers that this video has racked up in the past three weeks. It might be in the absence of any good news lately that people are hungry for something beyond the vitriol and tragedy that has been in the news of late.  After having viewed the video, I would be curious to know why you feel this campaign has gone viral.  Is it because we are hungry for something positive?  Is it a “there but for the grace of the God” go I sentiment?

Algown5_charityowll of this got me wondering how much psychology goes into the production of videos or in other words how much is luck and how much is manipulation?  In Contagious: Why Things Catch On the author argues that the most shared content had to evoke strong emotions in the reader or viewer.  Obviously, the goal is to create a video that will go viral but if it were simple everyone would have viral hits on their hands.  If you were in charge of creating a video and social media campaign for Ward+Robes, what if anything would you have done differently?  Have you ever felt manipulated by an advertising campaign?






Missing Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney was the curmudgeonly voice of discontent whose weekly segment on 60 Minutes was a must see when I was growing up.  Whenever I get particularly grumpy and irritated by little things, I imagine his saying, “have you ever wondered?”, so channeling my inner Andy Rooney here is a quick compilation of lessons I think we should all take heed of and a couple of hashtags that might just catch on.

Listen to your mother

Havbreak1e you every wondered why your mother told you not to go down the stairs in the dark? Well, this is why. This is the x-ray from five months ago that shows you in black and white why this is excellent advice no matter how old you are and yes that is my ankle/leg.  I should probably add, don’t forget to wear your glasses they really do help you to see. I would also suggest that when the paramedics offer you drugs, take them because there is no prize for taking Advil when there are much more efficient options on the table. I will also never be so arrogant to say after someone has been hurt, “well it is just a broken ankle” and if anyone ever says to me “break a leg” I suggest they do so from a distance that is longer than my good leg. #motherknowsbest

Memes on Facebook

In our hyper-connected world where we all have access to unlimited sources of news from media outlets worldwide,  why is it people think I am going to be swayed by a pithy political meme that that lambastes one political candidate or party?  If you are going to decide who you support based on an anti-Trudeau, Harper, Trump, Clinton, Holland meme you really do bouncedognot deserve to have the franchise.  Yup, I said it and if you are going to put that kind of simple minded crap out there, don’t get your knickers in a twist when you get called out.  Fact checking isn’t really that difficult and when in doubt go to Snopes.com or any of the other hoax-busting websites out there.  The same goes for the type Amen posts to show that you are against a litany of terrible behaviours, events, and diseases.  Learn what click bait is and avoid it and if you can’t, please don’t share it.  Think of these posts like you do someone who coughs in public during flu season- no unnecessary exposure to viruses. #sharingisnotcaring

Can’t Touch That

Not so long ago I was walking a friend’s dog down a busy street in Ottawa. This dog is by breed and temperament a working dog who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Grimm from Harry Potter.  While she went into a store, I waited on the sidewalk with the pooch and a couple of people approached and asked to pet the dog and I said, “he isn’t my dog and I would rather you not”.  Most people heard me and said how beautiful he was and walked away except for one man who ignored me and leaned in and asked, “does he bite?”  “Yes, of course, he does” I replied because as far as I am concerned that is the only proper responsegrimm in that situation. It is like the difference between can and may when making a request. Why is it so difficult to understand that a dog has a limited number of arrows in his communications quiver. A dog can’t say “hey man back off” but he can change his head and tail position, raise his hackles, show some teeth, growl and if all else fails he can even bite.  People forget that no dog is going to engage in a Socratic debate, so it really does behoove the person asking the question to listen to the response whether it comes from a human or the dog himself.  In this instance, the man came back to me a few minutes later and said that I did not need to be so harsh.  I had to restrain myself from saying bite me. I blame the abundance of cute animal videos that populate social media, they somehow make people forget that animals are actually animals no matter how cute.#notadisneycharacter


When in Doubt – Don’t Comment

I don’t know if it is because I have been less mobile than usual and have spent more time online than before but I am astounded by the comments left by people to stories in the news.  Families who have lost children in terrible accidents are excoriated for being negligent parents and there are demands for retribution as if having your child injured or killed isn’t punishment enough. Just this morning someone shared a heartbreaking Facebook post by a young mother whose son had a habit of undoing his five-point seatbelt harness in the car.  The little boy had been reprimanded in the past but he believed that he was a super-hero and did not need any kind of earthly protection.  He unclipped himself, there was an accident and he was killed instantly and the trolls came after the bereaved mother in droves demanding to know how she could be so negligent and wanting her surviving children removed from her custody.  Just because you have been so graced as to not have something terrible happen to someone you love, don’t think for a second it is because you are somehow more special or a better parent, you are just a bit more lucky.  Even freedom of expression has its limits. #saynothing

A Dog’s Life

We are a dog loving culture and the online word warriors are not shy about imparting their wisdom.  Just look at the number of people who lost their collective minds over                          winicepictures Prince George feeding his dog some ice cream. While maybe not very nutritious I don’t think the dog’s health was seriously imperiled. Keep in mind most dogs if left to their own devices will eat excrement and drink out of toilets and puddles.  As you can probably imagine, I also have strong views on terms like fur baby, rescue dog and hashtags like #adoptdontshop.  I have a dog, I did not rescue her,  she was not lost on an ice floe or in any kind of real peril, she was simply abandoned and needed a new home so I went through an adoption process, plunked down my credit card and bought her.   The last time the groomer referred to Winnie as my fur baby was the last time she groomed my dog. I don’t think my quick biology lesson was appreciated.  If after this dog is gone I may go to a breeder and get a purebred Golden Retriever, I really like their personalities and I won’t be shamed into doing otherwise.  And yes that is my dog Winnie enjoying an ice cream in celebration of the 9th Winniversary of her adoption. In case you are concerned, she gets one vanilla ice cream a year and first dibs on whatever falls on the floor. #icecreamforall

Have you ever wondered why people feel a need to make the comments they do online? Do you still read the comment sections of online media?  Is the increasing lack of civility in our culture the new norm?

To quote Andy Rooney, “Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don’t need to be done.”



At a Loss for Words – Blog #4

I have long suspected  and have finally confirmed to myself at least, the simple truth that I do not enjoy writing. It isn’t that I lack for ideas so much as I do not enjoy the whole process of putting pen to paper. I find a blank page or screen quite intimidating if not downrovercoming-writers-block-nonprofit-bloggingight annoying.

In an effort to avoid writing this blog post I cleaned my kitchen, did all of my physio exercises, changed the kitty litter, checked my Instagram account at least five times, and played two games of Words with Friends. In spite of all of that effort and time, I still had nothing concrete to show for my blogging efforts except a deep sense of desperation.

I don’t lack for ideas really and  I estimate that I have started at least eight or nine blog different posts over the past week. There was one about bow-tie wearing, Ivy League Quaker, blue-blood I met many years ago on a cruise. This man was a fascinating individual and possessed one of those names you usually only see in the Sunday New York Times in the announcement section. You know the ones I mean- Skippy Peanut Butter IV married Hermione Pickleface at her father’s estate on Cape Cod today in an Episcopalian ceremony. Skippy is a lawyer who studied law at Harvard and Hermione works in finance and earned her MBA from Yale. The happy couple will make their home in Tribeca where they run a squirrel rescue and organic yogurt bar. After rereading it, I deleted it because it seemed somewhat disrespectful to the tall man who had a passion for cherries jubilee and argyle socks.

Then I moved on to the sounds of my neighbourhood. where this weekend it was like being trapped in a kaleidoscope of sound. There were house parties, kids laughing, a myriad of different genres of music competing for air time, and the cacophonous sound of birds trying make their voices heard above the tumult. Sadly, and despite my best efforts, I was not able to find the way to adequately describe the scene or how much I enjoy Parking Wars- Bluesfest edition.

After that, I turned my mind to writing about misheard lyrics. For example and for many years I thought Peter Gabriel sang, “she’s so popular” but it wasn’t until my daughter, who was probably in grade 5 at the time pointed out my error. Damn that French immersion education. Jeux sans Frontières so simple, how did I get the lyrics so wrong for so long? Not wanting to sound too foolish, I tossed that one on the reject pile as well.  I am sure, however, that I am not the only one to have fallen victim to the curse of the mondegreen.

It soon became abundantly clear that I needed to concentrate and I turned to the online news for inspiration. Sadly there was none to be found, just unprecedented sadness and my own frustration with the state of our world but just as I was about to give up I found an article that started with “Mounties in Saskatchewan say they’re investigating an kitty ramboanimal cruelty complaint against a kitten at a country music festival.” It made me happy to know that I wasn’t alone finding writing a challenge.

How do you find your inspiration? What tricks do you use to get your homework done? Is it just harder to get things done when it is summer?

Did I Tell You About the Time? COM0011 #3

I think that it would be safe to say that I am a reluctant user of social media. I find it far too invasive and risky, but being a pragmatist I have adopted the philosophy that social media

chris and eli

Eli (left) before his mysterious demise

is a lot like reading a Penguin Classic book or eating kale, something you do because in the long run it is probably good for you.  There is one major exception to my grin and bear it approach and that is is that I am very pleased with the ability of social media and Facebook in particular, to bring people together if only through the magic of computers.

I come from a relatively large family, I have in excess of forty first cousins but we are not especially close due primarily to the realities of geography.  I am amongst the youngest of the grandchildren and it became patently obvious to me as my father’s generation began to pass away that our shared history was at risk of becoming lost to future generations and I did not want to dishonour them by having them forgotten.

Grave markers of adoptive great grandparents in Wild Cove, NL

Growing up I was the kid who liked to sit with the adults and listen to the stories but coming from a family of Newfoundlanders,  determining what was truth and what was tall tale was not always easy. I had heard about the schisms caused by religion, the great uncle who was given “concrete shoes” in Boston and of the tragic drowning of Clarence and the death of Jack in Italy in the waning days of WWII or how staying up late playing cards and drinking kept my father from being torpedoed on the SS Caribou by a German U-Boat on the North Sydney to Port-aux-Basques crossing in 1942.  I had thought these tales of trouble, triumph and loss were known to all, but to my shock these histories were already mostly lost.

When I started this project, I had already opened an Ancestry account and had successfully traced my peeps back through the centuries but without any context there was no sense of ownership just a bunch of  funny names names and dates. I had no more connection to my ancestors than I did to the anyone else, but through the use of Facebook these people have been given backstories and personalities.  The family page started small but the group grew quickly and in no time my hypothesis that I was not the only one with a box of unidentified photographs gathering dust somewhere was proven correct and together we slowly began to colour in the spaces.

Earlier this year the last of my father’s siblings passed away at 103 and with her death we ran the very real risk of losing our connection to our past. Through our family page we have been able to anchor ourselves and by using Facebook to connect, she and eight siblings are still with us online at least. By using social media to bring our family together we have been able to get to know our ancestors and to feel their losses and share in their joys because their stories are our stories and without social media, their legacies would have been lost to the current and future generations.

Our page provides not only a platform for the ephemera of a family,  it has also earlesforged connections that did not previously exist. My collection of cousins, first, second and once removed has grown exponentially and we have been able to give each other the gift of memory. For instance, I uploaded a previously unknown photograph of an aunt and uncle with their twins that nobody else could ever recall seeing and this photo and the memories it jogged was a much better remembrance than flowers for my aunt when she died.  Without a platform like Facebook none of this would have ever happened.

We have been lucky that our page has not become a forum for old wounds and I can see how some stories should be left in the shadows but overall using social media as a meeting place is one of its primary redeeming qualities.

How many of you have boxes of photos in your basements and attics that you have been saying that one day you will sort?  Have you ever wondered why that moment in time was captured?  What stories about your family could you learn?


The Wisdom of Oz – Blog #2

I had a hard time coming up with a topic or theme for this blog and as I thought about what to write, the song “If I only had a brain/heart/nerve” from the Wizard of Oz kept playing in my head.  With few exceptions, this has been a bad week for humankind. Whether it is the mainstream media or social media; the flow of information this week has been relentless.  The pace that we receive information has become so rapid that we do not leave ourselves the luxury of sitting and thinking about an issue before we pronounce judgement.

One of the topics that consumed space in my head this week was Brock Turner and overwhelming reaction to his sentence for sexual assault.  As way of background, my father was a lawyer and we were encouraged to try to look at all sides of an issue before forming an opinion.  While this is a good intellectual exercise it can easily put you at odds with popular thought and opens up some uncomfortable debate and that is where I find myself this week in a head versus heart tug-of-war for which I have no real answers.

I have thought a great deal about the young woman who lost so much of herself that night but who has through her words has given voice to the countless nameless and faceless survivors of sexual violence whose stories we have never heard but know by heart because they are just so prevalent.  That is an incredible burden to bear, and I hope that she remains anonymous.  Learning her identity would be tantamount to revealing the secret identity of a superhero.   I am thankful that she is protected by rape shield laws and that she is finding her way forward and that despite, what can only be described as a lenient sentence, the perpetrator will serve jail time.  According to the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network, in the US out of every 1000 rapes only 6 perpetrators end up being incarcerated. (https://rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system ) Moving beyond all of outrage about duration of his sentence, this has to be seen as a victory, albeit a very small one. In our demand for justice are we letting the good become the enemy of the perfect?

There has been a lot of discussion around privilege and race and a lot of unhelpful invective thrown around. There are those that have decried the delay of the release of his arrest photo as racism and a sign of privilege.  I can’t speak to the hearts and minds of the police in Stanford and am not willing to label anyone without fact but that said, and as perverse as it may seem, there is some advantage in having his clean-cut boy next door photo so widely circulated.  Just as how stranger danger myth has been debunked, so now has the cartoonish central casting image of what a bad guy looks like. The man in the photo has an every-kid quality about him, nothing remarkable either way but certainly nothing that screamed predator.  I wonder if the negative reaction to this crime would have been so widespread and pronounced had he not been a high achieving, athletic frat boy? His conviction has forced people to rethink some pretty well ingrained stereotypes and there has to be some benefit to that.

I have also spent time considering what I would do if a person I loved and thought I knew committed a horrible, indefensible crime.  What if it were my child?  Could I leave his fate entirely to the judicial system? Would you hope for the most lenient sentence possible?  Hire the best lawyer?  Implore the judge to give him a second chance? These are the questions to which there are no easy answers and much depends of what side of the fence you find yourself.  

This case and its aftermath has unleashed a torrent of opinion but very little considered debate about a way forward. This could be a watershed moment and this opportunity it is too important to be played out in memes and cartoons about drinking tea.  I worry for the safety of my daughter and her friends.  Barely a day goes by that they don’t tell me about being catcalled and being critiqued by strangers both male and female. We need to do better and like Scarecrow we have the power we just need to believe we can achieve change.

I’d unravel every riddle for any individ’le,
In trouble or in pain.
With the thoughts I’d be thinkin’
I could be another Lincoln
If I only had a brain.


A Little Bird Told Me Comm0011-1

When I was coming of age, my youthful indiscretions were not generally recorded for posterity and on the off-chance they were,  it took a minimum of a week for the film to be developed. Social media platforms like Facebook and Snapchat were not even within the realm of the imaginable, and for that I am grateful. As a result, most of the more outrageous things I have ever said or done have mercifully vanished into the fog of memory.

Growing up my neighbours had absolutely no compunction about calling my mother to report my misdeeds and that is where it ended; your punishment was meted out behind the closed door of your home.  Beyond that the worst thing that might have happened was that you were made to publicly apologize for your behaviour. End of discussion.

In retrospect the Mrs. Kravitz’s phenomenon, as we called it at my house, was relatively benign. In today’s online world, the impulse to act as both judge and jury in any given circumstance is not. While I do not have the empirical data to back this up, it seems more and more people are having to suffer the deleterious effects of online abuse. Member of Parliament, Ruth Ellen Brosseau has been called some of the most vile names in the English language lexicon and has been physically threatened in the wake of “elbowgate”.  Models and actors are regularly criticized for being too fat and even Queen Elizabeth, who is generally beyond reproach, too has faced the wrath of the public outrage after having been caught on tape saying less than diplomatic things about a visiting delegation from China.

Early proponents of social media frequently touted the new technology’s potential to be a great democratizer and while it has played a positive role in mass movements like the Arab Spring and in the wake of natural disasters, it has also become a very negative influence in our culture overall. In many ways, we are all just one ill-conceived post away from potential personal and professional catastrophe.

Take for example, Justine Sacco the unwitting poster child for what happens when a Tweet goes viral for all the wrong reasons. While on a series of long flights she sent a number of acerbic tweets to her small group of followers, mostly harmless observations like,  “ ‘Weird German Dude: You’re in First Class. It’s 2014. Get some deodorant.’ – Inner monologue as I inhale BO. Thank God for pharmaceuticals.” On the final leg of her trip she tweeted the following:justine-sacco-photos-1

Little did she know that her Tweet was going to go viral and that while she slept she had become a social pariah. Her fall from grace played out in real-time to an avaricious international audience. She was shunned by her family, fired, and threatened with rape over a flippant comment that was intended be an updated version of the old ugly American tourist joke.

Shame as a modifier of behaviour is nothing new, humans have been doing it to one another since the dawn of time but with the advent of social media, its scope and scale has grown exponentially.  When I was thinking about what to write,  I conjured up an image of a modern day Madame Defarge knitting at supersonic speed waiting for the guillotine to fall on the heads of the guilty, 140 characters at a time. Seriously, however, try to imagine how you would react, if one indiscreet or misunderstood post online made you a cautionary tale in perpetuity or if that same comment made you fear for your safety or that of your family?  Given the choice, I would take the memory of my father’s raised eyebrow and lectures about discretion being the better part of valour in a heartbeat rather than running the risk of over being pilloried for writing something that runs contrary to the current zeitgeist.

Without a doubt, what happened to Justine Sacco was at the extreme end of the spectrum of reaction, but a quick read of an online comment section from any media source clearly shows that we as a society have little tolerance for differing points of view.  The tendency to rush to judgement has undeniably had chilling effect and if we become afraid to express ourselves without fear of repercussion, what becomes of our western democratic principles? For the sake of brevity, I will spare you my concerns in this regard, but will leave you with this quote from John Stuart Mill, if we don’t allow opinion to be ‘fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed’, then that opinion will be ‘held as dead dogma, not a living truth’ but that is a blog for another day.