To paraphrase Luke Skywalker: “Amazing: every word of what I wrote there . . . was wrong.” Looking around at social media just five years later, there’s more division, more arguing, more yelling than ever before. People are not breaking down walls, they’re reinforcing them. Isolating themselves in echo chambers where the only ideas they encounter are the ones they agree with and where every voice is a familiar and reassuring one.
I used to be a cat person. When I was a kid, I always owned cats. There was Frank*, the orange tabby we adopted in Kingston. There was Sinbad, a slightly psychotic white Persian barn cat that we unsuccessfully tried to rehabilitate. And when I was in grad school studying Reformation history, I had cats named Calvin and Zwingli – something even my professor thought was pretty nerdy.
One day many years ago, I was sitting in my living room with some friends. It was Sunday afternoon and we had just gotten back from church. We were drinking strong, black coffee in cups with little windmills on them and eating Dutch pastry – gebakjes – when the subject turned to immigration.
“I don’t mind all these immigrants coming here,” my friend said, balancing her gebakje on her knee. “I just wish they’d give up their culture and become more Canadian.”
When I was a kid, my cousin Henry and I played a game called “dig to China.” It wasn’t a complicated game. Basically, you’d say: “let’s dig to China!” and go digging in the backyard. Looking back, there were several flaws in our plan.
There was a time in the distant past when “distance education” meant sending letters to an instructor far away by post. In the long-distant past, you could do distance education by sending cassette tapes to an instructor in the mail. And just yesterday, distance education was about sitting down in front of a desktop or laptop computer and doing education over the internet.
Not long ago, watching television was like this: On Thursday night at 8PM, you and your dad would sit together for one hour with a bowl of popcorn and tune into CBS to watch the latest episode of Magnum PI. The next day at school, you’d talk about that episode with your friends.
At this time of year, we’re supposed to sing the praises of our dear, sainted Mothers, who are one part June Cleaver, one part Marge Simpson, one part Julie Andrews and a healthy dollop of St. Mary.
Over the March Break, my 15-year-old son Cameron and I spent a good deal of time in downtown Toronto, visiting the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario. We also ate in various ethnic restaurants that serve up the kind of food we can’t get back in our small town.
A SWASTIKA IS NOT EVIL. Swastikas are found in many cultures, dating back thousands of years. They have been symbols of piety and good luck. Ultimately, a swastika is just a geometric object – lines on paper or on stone. It is not inherently evil.
We all know the world is changing – fast. In my lifetime we’ve gone from computers the size of an office building with barely the brainpower of a pocket calculator – to phones containing all the world’s knowledge, plus a camera plus a music player.
Because so much around us is moving, the information we learn gets outdated really fast. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, if you learn a skill today, that skill is out of date within three years.
The Christian existentialist, Soren Kierkegaard, once said that “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” When I taught high-school history, I used to tell my students that “you can only understand the present from the vantage point of history.” There are so many cross-currents swirling around you right now, it’s impossible to see where they’re flowing.
I love Amazon.
I know that’s a that’s a controversial thing to say. Amazon pays its staff terribly and treats them even worse. They’ve helped kill bricks-and-mortar “mom and pop” retail stores. Their CEO, Jeff Bezos, is a swivel chair and fluffy cat away from being a Bond villain. But boy, do they know how to ship a product.