Category Archives: Uncategorized

2020: The Year We Look for the Future

The year isn’t two days old and already we are dealing with climate change fires in Australia, half the city of Hong Kong is still protesting after 8 months, and the US is still practicing diplomacy via remote controlled contract killings. The world’s democracies are electing strong men once again to somehow control a changing world. In times like these, there’s only one thing I can do: Look for the future.

I’ve looked to the future my whole life for answers. They were right there in that Usborne book of the future I took out of the elementary school library. I learned that yes, some day Star Wars could be real. For a while, this last decade, I thought I was living in it for a while. We got computers that fit in our pockets, we had access to all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, and we communicated through social networks where everyone, no matter how small or marginalized your identity may be, had a voice. Computer power accelerated exponentially according to Moore’s Law. I just assumed that humanity would get better along with the technology. It didn’t.

It turns out all those wonderful computers, materials, and software were bankrolled by old money trying to “create value”, as it were. The goods and services that we take for granted are being optimized beyond the point of uselessness. Our search results are choked with ads. Our social media feeds are filled with racism and mysogyny because it “drives engagement”. The gig economy that was supposed to liberate workers from the drudgery of 9-5 office jobs instead places them in servitude to giant tech monopolies. The blockchain, the technology that was supposed to automate ownership, is inefficient and deadly to the environment. Bitcoin alone emits 22 million tonnes of carbon every year. In every sector of the economy, the profit motive has ceased to make our world better. The pundits tell us to just not buy from Wal-mart, Amazon, McDonalds, or any other company that’s having a PR team off-day, but what’s the point of voting with your dollars if your wages are being depressed?

To illustrate how much corporations have ruined the web, take this essay posting on my obsolete website from 2005. I’ll have to copy and paste it as a facebook post and twitter thread, because those companies hate it when users follow links off their website. I’ll get buried by the algorithm in favor of some minion meme. So technology, in and of itself, is not the future. Neither are the corporations, or the business of billionaire-making.

Anyway, if that’s not the future, what is? I think we got a few glimpses of it in this last decade. The internet was at its best when it put you in contact with people outside your social circle. I’ve got whole extended found family in Seattle thanks to cheap and easy instant messaging. Anything that stretches the boundaries of your social skills is going to be crucial. It’ll take breaking some rules. Look at that facebook friends list for example. What if you sent any of those friends a message? Or hit that video call button by mistake? Think of how that would change your day. We’ve been duped into thinking that maintaining all these acquaintances is friendship, but there is no real maintaining going on. Only 10% of those contacts post regularly anyway.

The way we relate to ourselves and each other is going to change a lot in this decade. New conflicts are going to erupt. Others are going to be resolved. This is not some half-hearted call for a return to civility. The concept of respect itself is going to be redefined. We cannot simply defer to some abstract idea of objectivity. In the past this was the person in the room who talked the whitest and malest. Marginalized voices will be crucial to this change. Facts may not care about your feelings, but feelings are also facts. There will perspective taking, but also boundaries drawn. I know I’m speaking in vague soothsaying generalities, but we are dealing in the ugly, exciting, and unpredictable world of human contact. Where we are going, we don’t need roads.

And what does that mean for me? 40-year-old James Strocel with his job, family, and mortgage to pay down? At the beginning of the decade, I was having lunch with more people. I’d like to do that again. I want to stop being so precious about my writing. Get out there, say stupid stuff, and pay the price in my twitter mentions. I understand the economics of those platforms, and what they are doing to society, but right now, it’s where the people are. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to talk to more people regularly via text message or signal, my paranoid secure instant messenger of choice. Lots of times I send out texts and get no response other than existential dread in return. I think it means I need to send more memes. It’s going to be a lot of cancelled plans and awkward silences, but I think this is the direction I want to grow. It’s a direction that fills me with that nervous excitement that I felt before, so long ago. It is the future.

Voting, in the City and Elsewhere

I wonder why we are okay with this.

In the town where I live, we have skyrocketing housing prices, rapidly expanding homeless camps, gang violence, and a stadium that lost its NHL farm team. Despite this, the voter turnout for our municipal election was only 35%. So for 65% of the 141,000 people who live here, this is all a perfectly fine outcome. Most of the people voted in were incumbents. It could have been worse, many of the new anti-SOGI trustee candidates did not get in, but other conservative candidates held on to their positions. It just boggles my mind that most people in my hometown could not be moved to take 10 minutes and vote.

I wonder if this is what true privilege looks like. To be so far removed from the decisions governing your life that anything short of a military coup d’etat couldn’t get you out to the polls. Then again, are we so beaten down by the crime and poverty that we just accept it as a part of life?

I’m probably thinking too hard about this. The truth is, city politics is just not exciting enough for most people. The CBC ran episode of “Murdoch Mysteries” instead of the Toronto election results, and the stakes were far higher for that contest.

It just feels lonely more than anything. I like the idea that I have a say in the way government is run. All that boring stuff creates decisions that fundamentally change our lives and that’s exciting. I don’t feel like I can shame people for not voting if they don’t feel represented. God knows I don’t feel represented every time I head to the polls. But if this isn’t working, we need to have better options than just being ruled over by decree.

The Cishet Male Selfie

Why do men hate taking selfies? Messing around on the internet one night, I decided to type this question into google. All I came up with was a bunch of articles talking about how men hate it when women take selfies. It was like I was looking at the patriarchy in clickbait form. Not only were people not asking why men didn’t take selfies, but they were more concerned about men’s opinions of other people who took did selfies. Talk about making it all about you.

The cishet male selfie is rare beast out in the wild internet. They don’t post photos of themselves in an outfit saying, “I feel handsome today”. Guys night out remains undocumented. It’s like we’ve selectively airbrushed ourselves off the internet. Why?

Since we live in a patriarchy, we men tend to denigrate anything that women are into. See the backlash against the Twilight novels and the Netflix She-ra reboot. We also have traditional values against vanity and being focused on personal appearance, going all the way back to the Narcissus myth in Ancient Greece. Being too obsessed with anything is bad to be sure, but what’s wrong with simply regarding your own self-image? What is wrong with trying to control it, if only for a brief moment?

In 2014, the #365FeministSelfie campaign was launched by Veronica Arreolla. It challenged the media stereotypes surrounding selfies. It encouraged women to take control of their own self image, use these photographs as expressions of their authentic selves and their bodily autonomy. Now you’d think men, with all our exhortations about individualism and self-sufficiency would be all about that, but not so much!

I think what really puts men off of taking selfies is the vulnerability of it all. Not only are you putting up an image of yourself for all to see, critique, and photoshop into compromising positions, but you are admitting to an aspect of your humanity. You dared to regard yourself. We men are all about policing each other’s humanity. Ever since we are children, if you admit to loving people, having fears, even having things that make you angry, that one emotion patriarchy allows you to have, that information can be weaponized against you. You are a target for ridicule, isolation, and worse.

Why do we accept this? If we value our freedom, our autonomy, why do we put up with our own erasure? When you get right down to it, a lot of Patriarchy is made up of social scripts that we follow simply without thinking. When we break those scripts, the illusion breaks down and we have to consider our place in society. When we do that, we look back on the old script and realize what it cost us emotionally to maintain it. We feel the freedom. And if you want to feel that freedom too, post that outfit if you’re enjoying how you look today, capture that post-workout flush on your cheeks at the gym, or just find your good side.

James Buys A Vita


Sometimes I look at my video game collection, both real and virtual, and think that there is no possible way I’ll be able to play all of this in my lifetime. I spent well in my youth, and now the years of combing bargain bins at the local Electronics Boutique has left me a virtual playground to rival Inception, the Matrix, and the Holodeck combined.

It was around one of those times that one of my co-workers mentioned she had a spare Playstation Vita lying around. I chuckled to myself, thinking that even if I had it, it would be YEARS before I could play games on it. Still, the months wore on, and that Vita was still available for a very reasonable price. So I thought to myself, I work hard, I pay taxes, I pull back into the slow lane on my morning commute. I need a symbol of my diligence, tangible proof that I can hold in my hands and then say to myself, “I contribute to society”.
So I paid in cash, and now I have it! Even though it’s officially a legacy platform in Sony’s eyes, there are still a few games that I’m excited to play on it. Some of these are already out, and some of them will have to remain as japanese imports. I’m actually looking forward to putting down cash for some of these at a convention. So much more personal than online! Here are my top five:

5. Disgaea 3 & 4

I’m a strategy RPG fanatic, and the Disgaea series is one of the genre’s 800 pound gorillas. In any given entry to the series, you lead an army of adorable demons in a dastardly plot to take over the multiverse. The characters use attacks like 10 person suplexes with damage counts numbering in the millions of hit points. There are so many ways to grind and level up your army. Even the weapons all have rogue-like dungeons inside of them where you can improve your weapon and your warriors. I will probably finish these games and make it to Disgaea 5 some time around the heat death of the universe.

4. Attack on Titan

The Titans of Hajime Isayama’s manga are serious business. They are so tough, you would need an army of Ninjas- no an army of Spidermen-  no, Ninja-Spidermen! Luckily in you get to join this Ninja Spider-man army and defend Humanity from the ultimate in Fee-fi-fo-fum.

3. Berserk

When Koei Tecmo decided to make Dynasty Warriors, a game where you literally fight hundreds of enemies, it’s hard to believe they didn’t have Berserk in mind. There’s nothing like taking a huge sword to mow down entire armies to take your mind off a day in traffic.

2. Macross Delta Scramble

 

The Macross Scramble series absolutely ruled on the original PSP. Since Macross Delta is still on the air, I hope the campaign mode is a little more involved. It’s hard to get invested in the story if you are constantly reminded that it’s just a simulation.

1. Super Frickin’ Robot Wars

This game series is the my chocolate and peanut butter. You have every giant robot series banding together in a loosely plotted cross-over scenario to carry out the most ridiculous attacks in a scenario that is…well…a battle royale would not even begin to describe it. In this latest installment, Super Robot Wars Victory, Space Battleship Yamato is getting a special guest appearance, fighting alongside the Mobile Suits of Gundam, Macross’ Valkyries, and so, so, many others. It is pure madness, and it’s also getting an English translation! I’m freaking out here!

Are We Spamming You?

What is the etiquette on personal marketing? How many times to you have to post on Facebook or Twitter before people know you are doing a thing they might want to check out? At what point does it become annoying? These questions have been bothering me lately, not because I’ve got something to promote (yet), but it seems as though I’m the last to know when my friends are doing something creative, like a webcomic, a music album, or home business.

Of course, I could just ask people what they’re doing through private messaging, but that just sounds rude. You might catch them at the exact moment of their life when circumstance stands to rip away all of their artistic dreams and toss them into the ether. Or you might remind them that they haven’t worked on their thing in ages, and that their big chance might have slipped away.

Now, if you’ve already made a thing, how do you get the kind of feedback you need to get better? Your only option there is to solicit comments and criticism privately, but then, there is always that shadow of a doubt that you might be terrible and everyone is just too polite to say anything.

As someone with delusions of creativity, I want to see my internet feeds full of people trying new things. I want to see that first painting as much as I want to see that advanced cosplay prop photographed with a new lighting rig. Art is such a personal kind of communication. It increases our collective self-knowledge in a way that’s different from the kind of social media overshare that we’re all afraid of. There are some squicky aspects to it, but I’m just be generous with my likes and comments until we figure them out.