Courtroom vs. Classroom

My kid? A registered sex offender?”

Talking about sex with kids is hard enough. Having the sex offence talk might seem unfathomable.

Still, refusing to think or talk about a problem does not cure it. Ignoring an issue does not dispel it. Paradoxically, keeping students in the dark about sexual offences is exactly what our teachers are supposed to do this year.

On one hand, talking about sex crimes might seem too sophisticated and too dark for children.

However, sexual crimes range in severity. They can seem trivial at first glance. Indeed, many sexual offences have euphemisms:

  • A stolen kiss
  • Surprise butt slap
  • Drunk sex
  • Sexting
  • Peeping Tom

What makes these offences even trickier is that they are not always crimes. Is all sexting criminal? Of course not. Is sex after consuming any alcohol always rape? Nope. Do all students know where the law draws the line?

Does your child?

Here is the problem. Criminal law dealing with sex offences is complex. Sex offences are not just about stranger rape. Sex offences happen online, on phones, in grocery stores, at parties, amongst friends.

Courts and lawyers are still grappling with issues of consent, inebriation and sex, child pornography and texting, and sexual bullying.

All-things-sex are getting more complicated every year. This year, Ontario educators are being told to provide even LESS information on the topic of sex.

Pop quiz!

  1. When Johnny sexts a naked picture of himself to his girlfriend, is he breaking the law?
  2. When a high school senior hooks-up with a junior, is it a sexual assault even with clear consent?
  3. Is the explicit Sailor Moon cartoon that kids googled on the internet “illegal pornography”?

If you fail this quiz in real life, there is no re-test. A failing grade when it comes to breaking the law is a conviction. The punishment? Sex offender registry, minimum jail sentences, probation, prohibition from internet/parks/pools…

Surprised? With proper sex education you wouldn’t be.

Lack of information is a wicked trap. You can easily commit a crime you did not know existed. You can easily be found guilty of a crime you did not know existed. It happens all the time.

In the eyes of the court, the fact that a person did not know what they did was illegal makes them ignorant, not innocent. Ignorance of the law is not a defence to a crime.

Closing our eyes does not stop sexual offences, it abets them. The #MeToo movement aimed to open the public’s eyes to sexual offences we had been blind to. Shutting down reality-based sex education places the blindfold back on.

In every subject, students need to know material before they are tested on it. Educators must have an up-to-date and accurate curriculum to navigate these difficult and complicated issues.

The time to learn about the legal landscape of sex is not in the courtroom – it is in the classroom.

The Juggle

“Girls can do anything!” got translated somewhere along the line into “Women must do everything.” – Kristi Coulter.

I will begin with an apology. I am sorry that your Cup of Jo may have runneth dry lately.

To be honest, this is the fourth time in a month that I have started this very column. I was unable to find enough time to myself to write a piece on work-life balance. Now that, Alanis Morisette fans, is ironic.

Juggling the Work-Social-Health trifecta can be an exasperating trick.

As with juggling balls, maintaining a rhythm between just 2 items is fairly simple. You focus on the first item until you feel confident. At this moment, you divert your eyes and focus on the second item. You focus on the second item long enough to feel confident. Once you are confident you’ve handled the second item, you return your attention to the first – just in time. Repeat.

Bringing-in that third ball adds complexity. You have to think two steps ahead. Your margin of error is smaller. You need hyper-focus and very quick reaction times just to keep the act going. If you divert your eyes too early: disaster. If you lose focus: big flop. If you get stuck on one item: everything goes to hell in a handbasket. What pressure!

Soon, it feels like you don’t have enough hands to manage this trick. You become exhausted from trying to do everything and be everything. At a point, you realize, you cannot do this forever. Even if you could, would you want to?

Trying to balance Work-Social-Health concerns in our lives is just as tricky. Having two of the three focuses allows us to feel accomplishment, but we seem to flake out on the third item.

  • We can be a kickass professional in excellent physical condition year-round. However, push-ups on money-stacks can be a lonely activity when your friends and family are out enjoying life.
  • We can spend our days at the spa with our friends, but neither our banks nor our friends are going to finance a life full of play.
  • We can work hard and play hard and ignore our health. The enjoyment, like our time on this earth, would be short-lived.

Even though Health-Work-Social are equally important areas in our lives, we feel we can only do two and lose our work-life balance. How is it that we have all gotten here?

I have three ideas.

First: we have set the bar too high. In the not-so-distant pass, we lived in small communities. At work, we competed locally. At home, we socialized privately. Our health was nobody’s business but our own. With the internet, communities have expanded to include the entire world. We compete against global conglomerates like Amazon. Our private moments are posted for approval on social media. Our fitness is judged by online postings of race times.

When every sale needs to be a “deal”, when every post needs to be a “like” where every race needs to be a PB, life is exhausting. We either need to have hyper focus, or we need to bear the burden of faking it until we make it.

Second: we have added in extra tricks. If all of these things weren’t enough, we sabotage ourselves by artificially making our juggling act harder. Imagine if Cirque du Soleil had to start a pack of cigarettes and finish them by the end of each show? We add all kinds of extra hurdles to our already packed lives: cigarettes, booze, serial shows, and Candy Crush, to name a few.

These distractions only make our work-life balance harder. Not only do they take extra time, but they make us less productive, healthy and social. If you thought a half marathon was hard, try training for it alone with a hangover and the black lung.

Third: we need to give ourselves a break, for heaven’s sake. In trying to do everything and be everywhere, we easily forget that this is supposed to be fun. Although life isn’t supposed to be easy, it is supposed to be enjoyable.

We have chosen wherever we are because, at least at some point, it seemed like a fun option. We owe it to ourselves to enjoy the lives we have. We only each get one (except cats – which is why they are allowed to be so damn unpleasant).

What should we do with these? Well, we can’t take down the internet. But we can choose to take time away from it on a regular basis. We can disconnect our lives from the competition and start trying to support one another locally, again.

We can kick the bad habits in our lives. The habits that, like YA fiction vampire villains, ask to be your boyfriend then suck the life out of you. We can re-prioritize our busy lives by ignoring things that claim to artificially relax us and using that time to get things done or, even better, to actually relax.

Finally, if we don’t like what we are doing, it is imperative that we act to change it now for the better. Maybe we can be on one baseball team fewer. Maybe we do not need to be the bodybuilding champion of the world. Maybe we can be happy just because we get to live here in sweet, sweet, Deep River Ontario.

We cannot change the world that we live in, but we can choose how we move within it. We can step away from our screens, kick an unhelpful habit and focus on the fun and relaxing parts of life.

We cannot juggle three flaming knives all of the time. We can, however, simplify the trick and remember that juggling is supposed to be fun.

Little Theatre, Big Issue

The controversy surrounding Confederate Monuments and Sir John A. MacDonald tributes has come to Deep River with the local production of Anything Goes.

What do we do about historical nuances that we wish were not a part of our past?

As a society, we recognize the importance of remembering and accurately depicting defining historical moments of our culture: in war, in politics, and in art. We have filled history books, compiled museum exhibits and erected statues to help us recall and, in many instances, revere important historical events and persons. We remember and celebrate theatre in a specific way: by re-creating and performing it.

In the last few years, we have re-examined the way we pay tribute to more complex parts of our history – specifically, the aspects that are marred by racism and prejudice. What does it mean to pay tribute to a known racist? What does it say about us to erect a monument that inspired racism?

If we memorialize racism, are we condoning racism?

Nobody could dispute that erecting a statue of Hitler sends a very chilling and aggressive message about racial and religious intolerance. When we name a bar after a former racist prime minister, the argument is muddier. What about if we perform a play that did not intend racism, but is racist nonetheless?

The 1930’s musical theatre piece, Anything Goes, by Cole Porter, premiers April 13 at Mackenzie Highschool by the Deep River Players. The play itself has innocent intentions. The action is set onboard a cruise ship where the antics and blunders of celebrities, criminals and crew result in love triangles, intrigue and comedy. The musical is light-hearted, a little cheesy and extremely dance-y. At first blush, one senses Porter simply meant to engage the audience in a “good time” for a couple hours.

The play, however, is undeniably racist.

Anything Goes has been written and re-written multiple times. The first version was sickening. The show’s signature song lyrics included racist slurs so derogatory that I have removed them from this column. (Adam Feldman has reproduced them in his Time Out, New York opinion piece on the play, if you wish to seek them out).

At the time the play was written, America was ripe with racism. The 1930’s may have been the time of swing dancing and Hollywood glamour, but it was also the time of the Nazi rise to power, of the Ku Klux Klan and the perpetuation of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Now, as the lyrics say, “Times Have Changed”. Society is much more progressive – and less racist – albeit by no means clean of all racism . The show, too, is less racist, having many of its lyrics replaced.

Nevertheless, Anything Goes still features a highly controversial scene where the main characters engage in a lengthy vaudeville portrayal of demeaning racist stereotypes for comedy. Porter wrote the scene to feature actor William Gaxton, a specialist in comedic disguise. The play is built around the racism inherent in this disguise and, as such, cannot be removed.

Herein lies the dilemma. The play is an accurate portrait of the 1930s. While the time was a fun, care-free, and silly time of luxury for some, it was not that way for all. Prejudice ran so deep at the time that it was embedded not only in the dark shadows of society, but in its brightest emblems.

Anything Goes presents an ethical and cultural dilemma at the feet of a small-town theatre troupe. Like the cities re-considering Confederate statues or establishments questioning Sir John A MacDonald’s namesake on their windows, the Deep River Players had to decide what to do with a great musical that had a big racism problem.

The way I see it, there are two options: ignore the issue, or deal with it.

The Deep River Players could have ignored the racism issue by proceeding without acknowledging the racism in the show or could have chosen not to do the show altogether. Either way, the Players would have been side-stepping the issue: choosing not to engage with it. This cannot be the way forward. How do we learn from our past if we allow it to continue or pretend it simply did not happen?

The Deep River Players chose to deal with the racism head-on. I cannot imagine this was a decision to be taken light-heartedly. After all, this is a play produced and performed by a predominantly white cast. The play will be received by a predominantly white audience. They had to wrestle with the possibility – or even probability – that their own experience and background may allow some offensive material to pass or even slip-by, unnoticed.

The production team always needs to make choices in a play. For this play, they had to make many difficult and nuanced choices.They determined that acknowledging the racism meant including a sincere apology and warning in the program about the challenging content. They determined that addressing the racism in the show meant changing the script, where they felt they could.

Even before the dress-rehearsal, we have already seen this conversation about racism developing in the many questions it has brought up for everyone: production, cast and audience.

The production team had to ask themselves : what is wrong with this joke? Do we want the audience to laugh at this? Do we leave the scene in? Is writing an apology in the program enough?

As a cast member, we have had to ask ourselves similar questions: what does my participation in this musical mean? Am I condoning the racism inherent in the show? What part can I play or should I play to stand-up to racism?

The final questions will be left to the audience. It is my hope that our friends and family choose to not side-step the racism issue but similarly choose to confront it head-on by attending and considering. Anything Goes presents an opportunity to open-up a dialogue, to ask one’s self hard questions, to sit with an open but critical mind: How do we feel about the racism in this play? Have times changed enough?

While I cannot say I agree with each and every decision production made about this issue, I nevertheless applaud their willingness and courage in attempting to address this very divisive subject. Whether Deep River Players wanted to produce Anything Goes despite its darker side or whether it had the intent to open-up a discussion about racism, it certainly has a small controversy waiting at its feet at the premier.

The choice to engage a play with a racism issue was made months ago, when the Deep River Players decided to produce Anything Goes. The subsequent choices about how they were going to address the racism issue (what jokes would be kept in, what pieces would be left out) have been numerous and have at least indirectly affected all aspects of the show from costumes, to dialogue, to plot.

Did this Troupe err in choosing to re-create this theatre piece? Did it take a big step forward in addressing racism by choosing this piece? Did it manage to play this difficult hand right? Like any great production, the audience’s reaction to the production’s decisions big and small can only be known once the curtain opens.


happy christmasIsn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different… – C.S. Lewis
I like to imagine the newly elected Town Council sitting around in their big chairs in 2014 just staring at each other. Starry-eyed and hopefully grinning, thinking about all of the great things they were about to do. This venture, they must have thought, is going to be phenomenal.

We must have thought so, too. Each of the Council members were so well-liked, so well-respected, we voted them in over many other very popular, capable and revered community members.

Fast forward four years later to 2018. References to Town Council are met with a sneer, personal insults are thrown at members of Town Council in public and in private, nearly every Council decision becomes divisive and includes at least one gossip controversy. Deep River Townspeople have become suspicious of our Town Council.

Are Deep Riverites all wrong?

Is Town Council out to screw us over?

How can both of these statements be untrue?

Plenty has changed over the last few years. Even in 2014, politics looked a little different. The increasing popularity of 24-hour news cycles, Twitter, memes, online blogs and Facebook pages mean that lay people have become more political than ever. We have easy access to information and we want more of it.

In the past (when social media was more about sharing photos than opinions), municipal news came from two sources: live Town Council meetings or NRT articles. Honestly, I used to skip municipal politics articles and go straight to the NRT Lost and Found column. Match-Up was sassy. Town Council meetings and articles were targeted to those who were actively interested.

In a new and more accessible world, Deep Riverites now have access to a quick and sassy Coles-notes version of municipal politics: other people’s online posts. Angry, excited and surprising posts are most likely to catch other people’s attention. Objective first-hand materials on the town website tend to be skipped-over. Which would you chose:

(a) A seven-paragraph explanation of a complex financial proposal and presentation?



You have my attention!

In Deep River, where social media does not reach, the social gossip does. Conversations that begin with “Did you see what so-and-so posted about…” are regularly overheard Saturday afternoons at the Legion.

Our newfound access to municipal politics begs the question: what’s the problem?

Contrary to the cliché, all publicity is not good publicity. Headline-driven news funnels out success. Opinions and drama make social media news. Competence and stability do not. Exposing supposed blunders and conspiracies happening in our own municipal government is a great way to lure people into caring about municipal politics. Using this tactic means, however, that Town Council members get caught in the net. The municipal news stream reads like a tabloid, and the Town Council is the favourite target.

Who should we blame for our biased municipal news stream?

Well, we could blame the townspeople for failing to read the town website and be objectively informed. However, the minutes are no John Grisham novel: they are boring and long. Tedium is why we never got interested in municipal politics in the first place.

We could blame our little NRT. Having solid hard-hitting investigative news stories that uncover newsworthy tips before the event happens would be amazing. In this day of SunMedia and a dying press, we are lucky to have a local paper at all – especially one of this calibre. Funding for “Spotlight” likely is not in the cards. Besides, who would be left to write the sassy Lost and Found?

Unfortunately, it seems Town Council takes the blame on this, too. In an information age, it is helpful to provide candid and timely updates to residents in formats they can understand and in formats that appeal to them. Our town likes to be updated and in the know so they can participate or at least feel like they can participate in a meaningful way.

The good news is that Town Council can change its lot. It can move from tabloid target to public ally by repurposing social media to its advantage.

By jumping ahead of the social media opinions and divulging the story before it becomes a story, the Town has a way of explaining itself. Deep Riverites can feel like they are working alongside Council in addressing the problems that affect us all. Social media can even invite participation for many who do not have the time or the confidence to otherwise share their views. Transparency alone can quell suspicion.

Town Council is not poised against us, the people. We are not the United States of America. Cobden did not meddle in our election, Mayor Lougheed is not antagonizing Bruce Township about the relative size of its nuclear reactors, Terry Myers’ children are not posting fake news on Twitter. While we will not always agree on the decisions Council make, we must all agree that they are doing their best for us.

Suspicions naturally arise when people feel they are being left in the dark about important decisions. If the Town wants the trust and confidence of the townspeople, they need to turn on the light early so we can easily perceive their best intentions.

Mean Behind The Screen

I was an amateur ballerina for eight years. I did not have a bright future as a dancer, but I did know the rules of the classroom. At the beginnings and ends of lessons, we had to acknowledge our teacher with a curtsy. Why an open-legged squat is a sign of respect remains a mystery to me. The rule, however, makes sense: in every interaction, we must begin and end with respect.

Outside of the mirrored walls of the ballet class, we see a handful of ways we show courtesy for one another in our communication even before we start: handshakes at meetings, warm greetings to start conversations, using formal prefixes for people we are just meeting. These symbols of courtesy have evolved alongside our communication and are practically intrinsic in any exchange- unless we are speaking through screens.

Chatting changed with the advent of e-mail, followed quickly by messaging, texting, then posting. We are less formal, we are more expedient. “You” becomes “u”, we omit punctuation entirely, we abbreviate “in my opinion” to IMO. We want to hurry-up and say our piece. Our fast-tracked communication has lost more than just grammar, spelling and full words. Somewhere along the line, we dropped basic courtesy.

Courtesy, at its plainest, is defined as behaviour marked by respect for others. In our community, it is on regular display outside.  A grocery line is not complete without a routine battle of the “sorries” between kind customers (“Were you here? I’m sorry, you go ahead” “No I’m sorry, you first, please”). Even a brief conversation downtown starts with a quick inquiry about our health (“How’re ya now?”) These exchanges, like a curtsey or a handshake, show our general respect for each other that transcends whatever the eventual conversation subject may be.

When we move behind our screens, our small-town familiarity and mutual respect is lost. Instead of assuming the best of people, we can assume the worst. Instead of looking out for one another, we can fall into the trap of throwing each other under the bus. Whether it be a garbage debate, the firefighter debate, or even a Tim Hortons debate, online conversations about “hot topics” can divide even the tightest of little communities.

In recent community discussions on several social media pages, a “thread” (group of typed posts) begins with one neighbour’s take on a hot topic. People respond by posting their own hot takes on the topic: usually brief, rarely without typos. In too many cases, the conversation devolves into mockery, name-calling, blocking and sometimes even aggression. On both sides of the battle: upstanding and kind members of our community.

How can we be so kind on the streets but so mean behind a screen?

On the streets in Deep River, we are not anonymous: we are recognizable, we are public. When we are behind a screen, it gives us the illusion of anonymity and privacy. We can say things we otherwise would not say. We behave as though our online personalities exist in a bubble. We have forgotten that we are still accountable for the things we say from the privacy of our smartphones. We ignore that the people receiving our words are our neighbours, colleagues and friends.

The benefits of aggressive posting cannot outweigh its problems. It is foolish to think that a single post or reply to a post will drastically change a complex issue on its own. It is very unlikely that a post can even change one person’s mind. However, an aggressive threat or mean-spirited joke can certainly have a detrimental effect on the typist’s own reputation, on the recipient’s sense of well-being, and on the general feeling of inclusivity and respect in a community.

In a community where we thrive on our mutual support, our reputations for kindness, and our heightened respect for one another, we must keep courtesy at the forefront of every interaction we have. The upside to the internet is that we have a moment at the end of a typed rant to reflect before we click “post” or “send”. We can choose to edit and amend to ensure we have shown respect to one another throughout the post. Online communication may not have a shortcut to show respect, it does not mean that we should forget about courtesy altogether.

In Deep River, our community members are too nice on the streets to be mean behind the screen. We need to hold our online communication to the same kindness standards we have in public exchanges.  Whether it be a ballet class, a Town Hall meeting, or an online exchange, we must begin and end with courtesy.

A Costly Cup of Tim’$

coffeeEarly in the morning this summer, I enjoyed a sweet workday start: sitting in my office chair, drinking what’s left of my Tim Horton’s coffee, and browsing Deep River Discussions. One post warmed my heart: “Huge shout out to Cody (not sure of his last name) from Deep River Tim Hortons”, it read, “…some of the friendliest service I’ve ever had.” The post blew-up with Likes, Comments and Shares: locals agreed.

I looked down at my coffee and remembered the smiling face and cheery greeting of the young man that served me. I DID enjoy my experience there. I SHOULD go back tomorrow. No sooner did the thought cross my mind that I realized that Cody from Deep River probably makes Tim Hortons an extra chunk of change, and that my Large Regular would not profit Cody at all.

Apart from our drive-thru run-ins, I have never spoken with Cody. I am willing to bet, however, that he makes little more than minimum wage. Having worked at that same Tim Hortons years ago, I have a small idea of what his workday looks like. He arrives work-ready in his work-mandated uniform at least 15 minutes before the start of his shift. He puts his phone away.

Cody’s work day is packed: he has regular chores that need to be finished before shift’s end, he has additional chores to do if he finishes the mandatory chores (if you can lean, you can clean), he focuses on each person’s experience while simultaneously meeting the corporate time requirements for maximum customer flow, and yet he still probably gets publicly criticized by one customer or co-worker once or twice in the day. His day is strictly regulated with conversation time being limited to 1-2 breaks of 15 minutes, during which he can eat by himself in a small back room. Cody earns every penny he is paid. The smile and cheery attitude is a bonus he throws-in for us.

Minimum wage jobs are extremely difficult. Personally, I have worked in over 20 different workplaces through high school, university, and law school. With the possible exception of articling, I have never found work as draining as when I worked minimum wage jobs – particularly, in the fast service industry.  The pace, the lack of recognition, the monotony of forced routine, the high number of tasks and lack of any real control in your day requires massive amounts of energy and leaves the worker with little to nothing left at the end of a shift. This is not to say that people who work at Tim Hortons do not like their jobs, nor that minimum wage jobs are devoid of reward. This is to say that they are damn tough.

As a capitalist society, we endorse reaping what you sow. The harder you work, the more you stand to profit, right? Not so for minimum-wage employees: they hit the glass ceiling hard, regardless of profit creation or capability. Cody is rocking it from the drive-thru window making even us locals want to buy into the Tim Hortons’ overpriced drip coffee enterprise. Cody realizes almost none of the additional profit he makes for his store. When the minimum wage was $11.25, the average Tim Horton’s employee earned $11.50. That average accounts for seniority! What about Cody’s boss? The Executive Chair of Tim Hortons, Paul D. House (even with credit for working double-double hours), makes approximately $945/hour. Is Paul D. House working 80 times harder than Cody per hour? No way, Housée.

Tim Hortons Corporation is structured so that, after franchise royalties, mandatory costs, mandatory expenses, etc., even our local franchisee will only see a small fraction of any profit Cody makes. Our Deep River Tim’s money is not local. It gets funnelled straight to the Big “Paul D. House” on the top: the CEO and all the coffee bean counters.

The Liberals have made a small change to the minimum wage that impacts us in a big way in Deep River. The minimum wage increased to $14 this January (annual salary of $29K before taxes). Prior to this, those making minimum wage lived on a wage sitting directly atop the poverty line at $22K (below the poverty line if they had even one kid). Since most minimum wage workers live locally and spend most of their time in the area, nearly 100% of their paycheques are funnelled back into Deep River: into town-run community services, local establishments, landlords and taxes. $14 per hour does not land anyone into the lap of luxury, however, it may mean that someone working at Tim Hortons can live (frugally) on one job alone. Minimum wage hike: good news for Cody, good news for Deep River.

Local franchises and businesses, however, may not see the minimum wage increase as all sunshine and ice caps. Minimum wages hit franchisees and small business owners hard: they expose the thin profit margin that differentiates local business persons from Paul D. Houses. The natural inclination is to look at minimum wage workers and blame them for the squeeze. This anger is righteous – but misdirected.

The $14 that goes into a skilled, minimum wage worker is money well-spent: it pays for a loyal employee, working hard under direct supervision, promoting the business locally, being taxed locally and spending their money locally. The tight squeeze in profitability is likely not from Cody’s extra $3 an hour, but rather in the exceptionally high costs of globalization, franchises, and large corporate retailers who inflate the bottom line expenses of Maw and Paw shops.

With the minimum wage hike, Deep River Discussions has seen some angry posts. The brewing rage focuses on how over-paid minimum wage workers are. Some rants directly blame those minimum wage workers for their own unemployment. The out-of-town corporations who regularly price us out of small businesses and franchises somehow avoid all blame.  This logic is backward. The local minimum wage workers are not driving the franchise royalties and mandatory costs. The local minimum wage workers are not relying on out-of-country production and services to drive down their costs and price local vendors out of business. The local minimum wage workers want local businesses to succeed and have a vested interest in their success.

As a small community that relies on local business, on local support, and on a thriving population, we must be thankful. An increase allows our neighbours, who work for the least amount of money, to receive a fraction closer to what they have earned through hard and dedicated work. We need to focus our frustration not on the Codys, but on the Paul D. Houses, Galen G. Westons, and Stephen G. Wetmores. The middle-initial corporate barons not only hold our extra spending money on their Tim’s Card, PC Card, or Canadian Tire Cards, but also the key to the profit handcuffs on our local businesses, and the rightful earned wages of our community members.

White Screen Christmas

What was the best part of your day? My little four-year-old friend considered the question. On a busy holiday Sunday, she had a lot to choose from: sitting on Santa’s lap, carolling in the pub, gymnastics, a birthday dinner… The winner? Playing on mom’s iPad.

Internet, social media, and our screen devices have revolutionized the way we live. From everyday bedtime reading to planning your latest gala, technology is the backseat driver on our fun. During the Christmas holidays, our tech makeover is more galling than ever. Screens run rampant live-broadcasting our social events, taking pictures of our holiday food, filling the rare silent moment, and offering us guilt-free last-minute Christmas shopping.

This is not a Holly, Jolly reality. It is more of a Nightmare Before Christmas. Our obsession with screens creates some real privacy concerns, makes us anti-social, and can be downright depressing. My iPad-loving four-year old friend is lucky to have a very attentive mom who actively limits her access to and use of screens. However, after 18, we are on our own to monitor against our own screen-obsession.

Let’s talk privacy. Our smart devices smack of Orwellian predictions about our future. We record, track and disseminate our private lives through social media. One SnapChat program provides a live-feed GPS to track your every movement. On Facebook, I can see the events my Facebook “friends” have attended, what they were wearing, and who they were with. The fitness apps track when we sleep, heart rates, what we ate, even our measurements. Right now, these private broadcasts may not seem like a big deal. However, our informational world is still evolving.

How would your Health Insurer feel about the MacDonald’s diet you have been faithfully reporting to your Fitness app? Would your stalker ex-boyfriend like to see your live GPS feed? Would you like your boss to have access to your twitter opinion on a controversial topics? Everything you put on your device is available to any user with the right technology. We need to stop confiding in our phones like they were our best friends and start treating them like the frenemies they are.

Speaking of friends, our smart devices have become the stage-five clinger in our lives. Screens drive us away from the important people in our lives, constantly demand our attention, and then pit us against the people in our real-life social networks. A recent study reveals that one third of people admit they communicate less with their parents, partners, children and friends because they can just “follow” them on social media. Our smart devices also create divides between people: 42% of people felt jealous toward their friends who received more “likes” than they did. The nerve!

Spending our lives on our devices watching the best-of reel of our acquaintances’ lives on social media can be downright depressing. We spend less time outside, we have less human interaction, and we can easily feel like we are trying to keep up with an unlimited number of The Jones’. The sad reality of screens and social media calls into question why we use them at all.

Unless you hide away in a camp out in the Wylie Road backwoods, we are all stuck with screens. We use them out of necessity. Screens and social media do, of course, have a helpful, informative, and entertaining side. They are a guilty pleasure we all revel in. All of us have undoubtedly heard of a friend who publicly boycotts the modern world of screen technology and social media. We have all equally bit our tongues when the same friend returns back into the screen world quietly a few weeks later.

The key to harnessing the best parts of screens and social media has got to be informed moderation, not abstinence. We cannot ignore the positive or negative reality of social media. Hiding from technology leaves the non-user ill-equipped to participate in our modern world. Our best defence against the phone is informing ourselves of the dangers and adjusting our use accordingly.

I simply cannot end a pre-Christmas Cup of Jo as a Grinch. To turn things around, I have written a little parody of what I believe to be the most entertaining part of social media: Deep River Yardsale Facebook Group. At the request of Katie Roblin, please enjoy this little Carol, set to the tune of “My Favourite Things”. Merry Christmas, Deep River!


One grass stained prom dress,

‘80s cassette player,

Used size-C brazier,

Four blades for your razor,

Kombucha Scoby,

Sad engagement ring:

These are some Deep Ri-ver Yard-sa-le Things!


Lulu Lemon Pants,

One actual rooster,

Old beat-up couches,

Broken baby booster.

What in the heck is a “Fingerling”?

These are some Deep Ri-ver Yard-sa-le Things!


Stolen road bike!

Gross homemade soup!

Shirt with a breast hole!
Once your friends buy your impractical things,

You, too, can mark them…