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Facebook Follies

When I became a computer operator (now referred to as a computer “technician”) at the Vancouver Public Library back in the early 80s, it was an enormous task to enter the name of every book and periodical, and every patron, into our new system. We hired a group of people for that task, and they literally spent months and months tucked away in a room, doing nothing but data entry.

It amused us at the time that a few of the patrons were worried about their information being put into a computer system. Who would see their names and addresses? Who would have access to their records? We rolled our eyes at their paranoia.

Little did we know that 40 years later, we’d be carrying devices in our pockets that knew almost everything about us even when we didn’t mean for them to. Not only that, but those little devices could also broadcast whatever they knew about us anywhere in the world, to whomever wanted that info.

Last year around this time, we were on what would be our last (sob) vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii, before this COVID thing hit. We were walking through a market when I spotted a t-shirt on a woman about my age, and it made me laugh. I can’t remember now exactly what it said, but it wasn’t anything I’d seen anywhere before, and I thought it was pretty funny.

So I giddily told my husband and my daughter about it after we had passed the woman.

Back at our condo that evening I was on my iPad perusing Facebook, when I saw that very t-shirt in my Facebook feed. It was a unique t-shirt, so I knew it wasn’t a fluke. That was the first time I realized just how little privacy I actually had. Suddenly, those long ago library patrons questioning where their info was going to be seen or accessed, weren’t so paranoid to me anymore. My phone was actually listening to me.

As we have all discovered, the technology and algorithms on our phones and other devices are mapping our routes, listening to us, and watching every Google search we make.

A lot of people have quit Facebook for many reasons, including that privacy issue. Facebook pretty much makes all of their revenue (in 2020, close to $86 billion US) from businesses, big and small, who want your dollars. Of course, that’s what advertising is for, and what would businesses and companies do if they couldn’t advertise?

What bothers me is the sneaky little way that technology is figuring out what you might want to spend your money on. It feels creepy. It’s like some sleazy guy followed you as you walked through the mall, and watched as you eyed that new red dress. Then he shows up in the parking lot with the red dress, trying to convince you to buy it from him as you’re attempting to get into your car. That kind of creepy. And so much more.

Because, now imagine thousands of sleazy guys following you through the mall, every one of them carefully watching to see which purchases you might be considering. That’s closer to reality.

What’s even worse is how we are targeted by political ads. The fallout from that has been witnessed in such a distressful way with our neighbours to the south. “Freedom of speech” the tech companies say. More like “freedom to spew bull poop”.

In spite of all of this, my 149 friends and I are still on Facebook. Oh, there have been a few who’ve left, especially after some of the negative publicity that Facebook has received. And others have un-friended me for reasons I cannot fathom. What did I do? What did I say? It feels like being dumped.

And why are the rest of us still scrolling our Facebook feeds? That’s a good question, which I am sure has many answers. For me, it’s about staying in touch with friends and family, especially during these difficult times. Sure, there are other ways to do that, but at this point, the convenience that Facebook offers is unparalleled, at least for me.

Many of us are are waiting for the day that these social media companies will be held more accountable for their content, and take greater responsibility for their massive influence. We can always hope?

Me, I’m just trying to keep my voice down, in case that creepy guy on my phone is still listening. Shhhh!

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The Company Christmas Party

Remember company Christmas parties? Ah, yes. Good times, good times.

My first work Christmas party was when I was employed at the Vancouver Public Library many years ago. I was pretty excited about it until I realized that it was not really a party at all. It was a tea. Well, they had cookies.

But tea.

A couple of years later, I realized where the REAL party was at the library every year. It was in the bindery department. The bindery was where books were repaired, fumigated, prepped for life on a library shelf, or anything else that books might need. The bindery was not a public place, which made it the perfect spot for a staff Christmas party. This is where the laughter sprung and the liquor flowed. Sshhhhh!!!

If you were lucky and worked on what was always a half day shift on Christmas Eve, you would take your break and spend it in the bindery. Needless to say, we took a lot of breaks. Some of us were soused by noon.

For lots of people, staff or company Christmas parties are a highlight of the year. For others, well, maybe not so much. The first Christmas party I attended with my husband at his new job was nothing like the library.

Instead of tea, there was plenty of wine and beer and whatever you wanted to drink. Instead of cookies, it was a full buffet dinner complete with amazing desserts. And they had PRIZES! Not just company prizes, but union prizes and staff association prizes. You could win a TV. I was dumbstruck.

They also had speeches. Lots of speeches. Well, many of those I could have lived without.

At that first company Christmas party, I noticed that as soon as the dinner was over with and the first few beats of canned music began, the “old” people left. The rest of us took to the dance floor all the rest of the night.

Now, almost 40 years later, we’re the “old” people. I refuse to leave right after dinner, however. I’ll dance as late into the night as my hips will let me. Just as long as we don’t have to dance to the music those damn kids want to play…

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about the company Christmas party. Here are my observations:

OUTFITS: It’s okay to wear the same thing two years in a row. It really is, ladies. I fretted and fussed so many times over the years, worrying that somebody was going to recognize the same dress from the year before. Truth is, nobody cares. They’re far more worried about how THEY look. I’m not sure the males care at all. Lucky them.

THE BAR: Get to it early. Don’t say hello to anyone, get to the bar immediately upon arriving. Just in case they run out of booze. It could happen.

MC’s: I know, I know. You’re trying to be funny, witty, amazing. And many times you are. But when you see the first head nodding off to sleep, it’s over. Get to the food part.

THE FOOD PART: At my husband’s company party, it’s usually the luck of the draw which table gets to the buffet first. But one year, the MC’s placed questions on pieces of paper on each table, and the first table to answer correctly got to go up. Okay, so that’s fine, but don’t leave the questions to those young whippersnappers. I don’t know what “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation” is. Do you? Just ask me the capital of Denmark!

THE SPEECHES PART: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

THE MUSIC PART: Over the years we had both live bands and canned music. There are great things about each of them, don’t get me wrong, but there’s nothing like a live band. I’m a musician, so of course I’ll say that. At any rate, there’s an energy and an aliveness that you just can’t get from canned music, although we’ve had some pretty good DJ’s over the years too.

There’s one year I remember well when it came to the music. Because of certain circumstances, we had neither a band or a DJ. One of the employees took her iPod and downloaded all of our requests, pairing the iPod up to the speaker system that was already in place. That was one of the best years we had because it was so spontaneous, and just about everyone got a song they wanted!

I’ve been to Christmas parties at hotels like the Empress and the Laurel Point, parties at restaurants, clubs, and at golf courses. Every one of them was so much fun. Sigh. But I’m thinking that the company Christmas party of 2021 is going to surpass them all, because we’ll appreciate being able to be together so much more. Let’s hope we’re able to.

Oh, by the way, an “element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation”, is a “meme”. I’m old…how was I supposed to know that word?

And Copenhagen. The capital of Denmark is Copenhagen.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Call Me, Maybe – How Phones Have Changed

Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s I worked at the Vancouver Public Library as a Library Assistant. Once, for a couple of months, I was asked to fill in for someone at the library’s main switchboard. Although smaller, the switchboard looked very much like the one my Aunt, Edith Jackson, worked on. That’s her, pictured here when she was a phone operator for the Vancouver Phone Company in the 1940s.

Most people called the library to ask questions. My job was to answer the phone, and then plug the caller into the line of whatever department could answer them.

Most of the time, the caller’s questions were pretty straight forward. When was Diefenbaker the Prime Minister of Canada? I put them through to the History Department. Who painted the Mona Lisa? Arts And Literature Department. Well I knew the answer to that one, but it wasn’t my job to say it. And every now and then, you’d get a question that you really had to think about. How do you waterproof a zipper? Yes, that was an actual question from a caller I got one day.

I took a wild guess and put them through to the Science and Technology Department. Whether or not they figured it out, I have no idea.

And then there was an elderly woman, a regular who would call and yell loudly “What time is it, dear?” I would just look at my watch and tell her.

Any questions you had about anything, you could count on getting an answer at the public library.

A few years later, around 1991, I was working at a Victoria radio station in the Promotions Department, when one day my boss handed me a contraption the size of a one litre carton of milk and told me to take it with me to the promotions van.

“What the heck is this?”

“It’s a mobile phone. I might need to call you.”

“What’s a mobile phone?”

Much to my delight, I found out that I could ACTUALLY CALL PEOPLE while sitting in the van! On a phone! A mobile phone!

The order given to me was to use it for business purposes only. Predictably, the first call I made was to my husband.

“I’m sitting in the promotions van! On a phone! A mobile phone!” It was so totally cool.

When cellphones started to become more widely available, I was the first one in my household to get one. It was still pretty clunky and had an antenna so it didn’t fit easily in my purse. But, of course, the first thing I did was drive to the local mall, sit down in the food court, and call my husband again.

“I’m in the food court! On my new cellphone!”

Fast forward to today, and we rarely use our cells as phones anymore. That is, unless a scammer is calling. We don’t even think of it as a phone, really. It’s a camera and a calendar, it’s a step counter, and it’s a computer linking us to the rest of the world. It’s also something that we absolutely can’t leave the house without.

Because, you know, we might miss something. Something important. Like a Facebook message or text, or a news alert. Beep! Blip! Boing! Ding! The thing goes off at all hours and we’ve got to look. Even if it’s utterly useless stuff, we’ve got to check. Just in case.

I do remember one time being in the grocery store before I realized I didn’t have my cell with me, and I almost panicked. What if someone is trying to reach me? How will I know how many steps I took and calories were burned? What if the world ended and I didn’t know about it?

Yeah, pretty ridiculous. But I really did feel panic.

Up until this pandemic hit us, most of us were probably texting or messaging or scrolling Twitter more than we were calling each other. But when you’re in isolation or cut off from your usual group of friends and family, a voice or video call is a lot more comforting. If you have a parent in a care facility, it has literally been a life line speaking with them on the phone. Come to think of it, I’ve seen a lot more people talking on their phones in the last few months.

When those in my generation were kids, if your family even had a home phone, you had to share the line with others in the neighbourhood. It was called a “party line”. You’d pick up the phone and listen first, just to make sure they weren’t using it, and then you dialed. Rotary dialed. I’ll admit, I listened in on a few neighbour’s private conversations longer than I should have back then. Hey, I was a little brat. But to be honest, the conversations I secretly listened to weren’t that interesting.

Today, every kid has their own phone. I mean, I do understand why parents would want their children to have one. You’d feel better knowing that you could reach them if you needed to. But for the kids, it’s different. They just want to have something to shoot their latest YouTube video or play their games.

Me, I like having so much information right at my fingertips. My phone is like a little pocket library, and the switchboard operator is now Google.

And I’ve turned into the old lady yelling “Hey Google! What time is it, dear?” Google doesn’t answer me unless I drop the “dear”. Little snot.

Hi Ted

One day, a few years ago, I was watching the local news on BCTV in Vancouver and they did a story on an AIDS Memorial that was being constructed on Sunset Beach, not very far from where I used to live in the West End in Vancouver.

I wouldn’t have paid much attention but for the fact that I used to live in the West End, and remembered how there was a growing gay community there at the time. This was the late 70’s, when homosexuality was only beginning to become a political and social issue. “Coming out” was not as common an expression as it is now. In the apartment block I lived in I knew several gay men, not by name, just in passing.

I worked at the Vancouver Public Library then, on the corner of Burrard and Robson. I was able to walk to work every day, three or four blocks from my apartment on Haro Street. It was a kind of lonely time for me, but I met so many wonderful and influential people at the library, people who literally changed my life. I wish I could tell them that now. And one of the most important things I learned is that libraries are not as dry and boring as you think!

The people I met there introduced me to the arts, fine wine, culture, and exotic cuisine…librarians are a lot wilder than you might imagine :-). It was an eye opening and mind expanding experience at the Vancouver Public Library and I still smile when I think about it.

And I fell in love there. Or in lust, I guess–with the security guard who worked there. He was tall, he wore a uniform and he was Swedish. What more could a person ask for? I lusted after him for four years, doing the stupidest, most juvenile things all in the hopes of getting him to notice me. Hell, I even followed him all the way to San Fransisco…

We talked a lot. I worked in the Sociology Department on the main floor of the old library, and he usually sat on his stool at the front entrance, carefully watching everyone as they checked their books out. I could see him sitting there from my desk and I spent many hours just watching him. Several times a day he would make his rounds on the other floors, ending with a sweep down the stairs of the mezzanine floor, right beside my desk. I waited and watched for that walk down the stairs, every day. Sometimes he would stop just to chat and I was in heaven.

I tried to take my coffee break around the same time he did. I didn’t always time it well, but on the days I did, I brazenly walked over and sat at his table. We chatted about a lot of things…but thinking back now, I suppose he was the one who did most of the talking. He talked about his travels to Australia, Europe, and India. He was about 16 years older than I was and everything about him seemed so mature and interesting and exotic. He talked about the music he liked (I followed him to a Harry Chapin concert once), and the books he liked (I never did get into The Hobbit the way he did, but I bought the books), and astrology and religion. One time, he revealed that he was a Tibetan Buddhist and then began to pull out a necklace from under his shirt…for some reason he had second thoughts about showing it to me and put it back. I just let the incident go because I was too polite to push him. But I was desperate to know everything about him.

I was so insanely in love (or in lust) that I would do the stupidest things…on several occasions I left notes in the pocket of his shirt down in the stacks where I knew he kept his street clothes. One time I convinced him to meet me at a local restaurant after work. I was so anxious to tell him how I felt. It was the most nerve-wracking experience I’d ever had, but I confessed. He told me that he was still holding a torch for a woman who couldn’t marry him because he wasn’t Jewish. I was crushed but it didn’t deter me for long. I was convinced I could get him to love me.

And then there was the time that I followed him to San Fransisco. He liked to go there often…he had good friends living in the city who he would stay with whenever he travelled there. The summer that I turned 21, I had vacation time around about the time that he did and I knew he was going there, so what did I do? I booked a flight to San Fransisco. All by myself. I told him I was going and where I was staying…all in the hopes that he would decide to call me and we would get together and ???

I was there for a week, staying in a motel in Palo Alto, which is quite a distance from San Fransisco as I found out. I would go out and do some kind of excursion every day, and then come back to my motel and check for messages. I never found one. I stayed in the motel at night because I didn’t feel too comfortable about the idea of going out by myself. Only a few months before I was there, a San Fransisco City supervisor, Dan White, shot and killed the mayor and another supervisor who was a gay rights activist. He was convicted of manslaughter rather than murder, and every night, the local news was full of images of riots called the “White Night Riots” in response to his sentence. It was a scary time to be there, but there I was.

I was booked to travel back home via the Amtrak to Vancouver. On that day,  I had to take the bus into San Fransisco to get to the train station, so I decided to go a little early and walk around the city a bit. Then I ran into the strangest event…a gay rights parade. In the late 70’s, San Fransisco was one of the first cities to hold such an event–and it was something I had never experienced before–kind of freaky, colourful, sort of wild and completely shocking to a naive goof like me. I stood at the corner of a street and stared at the outrageous show…at one point, I heard a very deep voice behind me saying “Hi”…I turned around to see a transvestite in sequins on roller skates. He handed me a pamphlet. I’m sure my jaw dropped right to the sidewalk. There were dozens of floats with wild men (women too, but not very many), dancing and gesturing and showing their oiled, tanned bodies in skimpy leather and lace and whatever else they could find to barely wear. Y.M.C.A. I had never seen anything like it. For years after, I held onto a coin that I caught when it was tossed from a float into the street–“Bulldog Massage Parlor”. Wish I still had it. My train trip back was quite an adventure too, but that’s for another story. I got home safe and sound, having never made any contact with the security guard.

Somehow or another he and I lost touch over the next couple of years. He left the library and moved on to other things. And then I left the library to move to Victoria to live with Michael, where I still am, of course.

I got a call one day from an old acquaintance from the library…she was trying to find me because of someone else who was looking for me. And then she told me that she had heard that the security guard had passed away.

Well, I was sad of course, but so many years had passed. I was happily married with my two little girls, and Ted seemed like a long time ago. Ted..that’s what I called him. But his real name was John Theodore Erickson. And that’s what I saw on that news story, a number of years later. I was watching as they told the story of the Aids Memorial being built in Vancouver. They showed footage of one of the first panels to be erected. And right in the middle of the frame, I saw his name.

I’m sure I did a double and a triple take. It was as if it jumped right off the screen, like a message from somewhere, telling me something. And then it was gone. My heart leaped. And then I started to put the pieces together. Ted was gay. And he died of AIDS. How dumb can a blonde be?

Lately, I’ve been listening to Steely Dan, to a song that I think I was listening to around the time that I had my mad crush on him. And I Googled him…and found the memorial, which is how I came across the photo I’ve attached above. If you look at it again, right about in the centre of the list, you’ll see his name.

I heard once that almost everyone in their lifetime will be touched by someone who has AIDS. I guess I’m now one of those.

Hi Ted.

IJ