Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Tag: facebook

Citizen Zuckerberg

 

For some reason there was a lot of hostility towards ‘The Social Network’, the movie about facebook inventor Mark Zuckerberg. I had at least two friends who balked at the overly dramatic trailer and declared “Won’t be seeing that!” Maybe it was because we felt like Hollywood was piggy-backing on a Gen-Y phenomenon, or that we couldn’t find exciting the story of an invention, like the telephone, which we use every day, take for granted and somewhat resent for its intrusion into our lives. The ubiquitous of facebook is what makes the history worth telling.

The film has not only received mostly positive reviews, but was quickly compared to ‘Citizen Kane’, a mixed blessing as the comparison immediately invites the kind of ‘who do you think you are’ derision that appeared after Obama was compared to Kennedy. But it’s not cinematic innovation that ‘The Social Network’ is linked with Orson Welles’s 1941 classic, but rather plot elements and themes. Both films are about outsiders who achieve riches and power by creating media empires (for Kane, it was newspapers) with a brilliant sense of timing. Although both men are helped by understanding the darker sides of human nature (Kane knows that people want to read about scandals, Zuckerberg, that people want to post about them) neither man is very good at friendship and the second half of both films focus on the alienating nature of success. ‘The Social Network’ even features its own “rosebud” ending!

Another wave of hostility hit the movie from another direction when people complained about screenwriter Aaron Sorkin playing around with the facts. As far as I can tell, the main criticism of the guys who are actually portrayed in the film is that none of it was that dramatic. The complaints would presumably been much worse if the movie was boring, which it definitely is not. While the movie makes a big deal of nerdy Zuckerberg wanting to impress girls and exclusive campus clubs, he claimed in an interview that these were never inspirations for creating, as it was called then, ‘The Facebook’. Truth be told, these ‘Great Gatsby’-esque motivations are a bit dusty and unbelievable: what would a computer genius, whose earlier computer program was coveted by Microsoft when he was 18 years old, care about fraternities?

Not as though there’s not still fun to be had at fraternities’ expense: the testosterone-y named Armie Hammer is perfectly cast as twin brothers Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, WASP princes who would go on to be Olympic rowers. The special effects are flawless (we’re a long way from Lisa Kudrow talking to herself in splitscreen on ‘Friends’), and with his Zack Morris-good looks and deep, aristocratic voice, Hammer proves a perfect foil.

A foil without a hero, though, as the movie doesn’t know what to make of Zuckerberg himself. “Every creation story needs a devil,” Rashida Jones, as one of his lawyers, tells him near the end, and she could be speaking of the film itself. With too many nasty stories to ignore, the movie still tries to justify Zuckerberg’s actions and at times, despite his screwing over his friends and horrendous way with women, you do feel sorry for the guy.

Some have said the movie is sexist, and it’s hard to argue it isn’t. Partly it comes from the unavoidable fact that the facebook team were all male, but that doesn’t excuse the portrayal of girlfriends as angry and irrational. The movie sets up some disheartening female archetypes, all seen through the eyes of men: brunettes are smart but complicated (like Zuckerberg’s first girlfriend, who speaks “in code”); Asian girls, slutty but crazy (one almost burns down an apartment). Blondes are ideal but aloof, like the first female facebook employee we ever see, strutting away in a tight mini skirt.

Actually, the whole movie is filled with archetypes, from anti-social computer geeks (who, ironically, invent social networking sites) to pompous varsity jocks.

I’m sounding really critical. Thing is, I enjoyed it and think everyone our age should see it, as there is much to discuss about one of the defining experiences of our generation.

Which leads me to my final critique: the movie spends so much time on the micro-dramas that the macro-story of how every university student (and eventually, 1 in 14 people in the world) ended up putting all their information on the internet. The facebook-ization of the population is seen mostly in off-hand comments (a girlfriend of a founder demands to know why he hasn’t changed his relationship status from ‘single’ yet). Perhaps the film makers thought, given that we experienced in first hand, audiences didn’t need to be caught up on how and why facebook spread from the dorm to the preschool to the old folks home. But years from now, either when social networking has disappeared or when it’s become so commonplace that no one even notices it, audiences will need to know why this ‘creation story’ is important at all.

Here’s one of infinite reasons: afterwards, my friend Jacob and I went for a pitcher of Strongbo at the pub in the Flatirons building. Every time facebook came up indirectly in the conversation (“I got a message from…”, “I found out on facebook that…”) I’d say “Cheers, Mark Zuckerberg!” and raise my glass. I did it over and over again.

The story is important, despite the inaccuracies, despite the sexism, because it changed the world.

And now I’m going to post this and link it on facebook.

Cheers!

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The End of Facebook

Max Mosher is no longer a fan of facebook.

Max Mosher ‘dislikes’ facebook.

Max Mosher has removed facebook from his interests.

The facebook era is over.

My last post was going to be about the clever profile of facebook-creator Mark Zuckerberg in The New Yorker. Jose Antonio Vargas begins his article on the elusive billionaire with what he extrapolates about him from his profile page. He likes Andy Samburg, Green Day and ‘The West Wing’, listed ‘Minimalism’ and ‘Eliminating Desire’ as interests, and has his parents as friends (it’s hard enough for the rest of us to dissuade our parents from joining; imagine the difficulty in keeping your profile secret from your mom if you invented the damn thing!).

While witty, it also serves to underline a paradox: that the man who enabled us to upload every aspect of our lives onto the internet, and who philosophically believes that we having less secrets and being more open would make a better world, is himself a reclusive figure who doesn’t much like giving talks, granting interviews and dreaded being the subject of the film ‘The Social Network’, which opened this weekend.  

Getting the tragic news about my friend two days ago (incidentally, on facebook) only served to crystallize how I was already feeling about the online world.

Simply put, I’m tired.

I’m tired of having around a hundred people regularly read this blog, and four times that amount as ‘friends’ on facebook, but feeling lonely a lot of the time. I’m tired of getting so many mass invites, to events in cities in which I no longer live, that I miss invitations to my friend’s house down the block. I’m tired of unanswered messages, of plans broken at the last minute, of our generation’s perpetual RSVP of ‘maybe attending’. I’m tired.

In Adam Gopnik’s book Through the Children’s Gate he has a story about his toddler daughter and her imaginary friend, who is too busy to play with her. Using a wooden block as a cell phone, his daughter gets exasperated as he tells her he doesn’t have time to meet up this week, maybe later. Gopnik and his wife were very concerned, wondering what kind of child invents an imaginary friend who is too busy to play. Then Gopnik realizes that she, like all children, is mimicking her parents, especially her mother on the telephone, where she is constantly telling  her friends that she is too busy to do lunch, maybe next week. Gopnik theorizes that, because so many forms of technology intrude into our lives all the time, that we have to say we’re perpetually busy so as to feel in control of our own lives.

I’m busy. You’re busy. We’re all busy, it’s true. But I refuse to believe we’re too busy for friends if we make them a priority. We all have that person who we know is on facebook all the time, commenting on pictures and posting funny videos from epicfail.com, but who never gets their act together enough to respond to emails or attend parties with real people.

The dream of facebook, that it would bring us closer together and make the World Wide Web feel like a village, has not come true. It may have done this in its undergraduate heyday, when it was primarily for posting embarrassing drunken pictures from the weekend. When you lived across the hall from your friends you were in no danger of replacing human interaction with emails and ‘pokes’. I owe some really good friendships to the fact that we found each other online soon after meeting, and it’s still the best way to keep in touch with people in other cities and overseas.

But now everybody’s on it, and I do mean everyone. It’s not so much individual users who are the problem (it’s estimated that at least 1 in 14 people in the world have a facebook profile) but groups and corporations who are killing it. When every cause, from a small-scale environmentalist group to Starbucks, Farmville and the White House, are bombarding users with ads and requests for information, it makes you want to express yourself less, not more. I have a friend who removed his ‘interest in men’ because he was sick to death of getting ads for gay cruises (did they really think enough facebook users could afford cruises, gay or not?).  Whereas facebook once felt like a secret club, now it’s a sensory-overloading mall.  

To be clear, I’m not going to delete my account or stop using my profile to share my blog. I am going to go see ‘The Social Network’ and will probably write a review of it.

But something needs to be done. I want real friends, not facebook ‘friends’. I admit, I’m no better than anyone else: I have flaked off from going to events or seeing people, all the while whining about the old friends who did the same to me.

It stops now. I’m going to change.

Here’s my Declaration of Co-Dependence

  • I promise to reply to emails. If someone took the time to write me, I respect them enough to answer.
  • I promise to make time to actually see people. Three-sentence emails, which only summarize a friend’s current life in the briefest of all ways, cannot compare with hearing their voice and seeing their face over a cup of coffee.
  • I promise to try my best to attend events, especially if they are important to a friend and especially if they’ve asked me directly. (Mass emails receive lazy responses, or none at all.)
  • I promise to not flake out on friends and to not cancel at the last minute, unless having a very good reason.  The universal owning of cell phones is not an excuse to be late.
  • Most importantly, I promise to remind myself daily that there is a whole big world out there, things I have yet to do and people I have yet to meet, and that the best way to experience this is to turn off the computer, call up a friend and walk out of the house, into the sunshine.

That’s where I’ll be. Hope to see you there.

Signed Max Mosher, October 1st 2010

Feel free to co-sign this Declaration and join the crusade.

Ode to Artz Haüs

The Gang outside Artz Haus

  

When we pulled up outside Artz Haüs at the University of Guelph that sunny, late summer day, a girl in a blue peacock costume greeted us. The Orientation Volunteers (OVs), all matching in blue t-shirts, were singing songs and screaming chants in-between lugging the boxes of the shy newcomers up flights of stairs. I had worn a crisp white shirt that day, a safe and uncontroversial choice which was a metaphor for this new era in my life: pristine and fresh and blank. That day, I didn’t know if going away for university, which I had been dreaming of since grade nine, would be a halcyon Golden Age or disappoint my high expectations.  

Artz Haüs (so named in the 1990’s because, according to one OV, “German was considered cool…?”) was in Maids Hall, a small three-story residence which had at one point housed domestics. For how important Artz Haüs would eventually become, I ironically ended up there because of a fluke: my first choice on my application had been to be in a history ‘cluster’. But because almost no boys applied for the residence vaguely dedicated to artsy students, they had placed me in at second choice. Thank God they did. As a result, I didn’t make any history friends until fourth year, but I lived with people I hope to know forever.  

I had been bullied a bit in high school, but was mostly just ignored. Artz Haüs proved to be different the minute I arrived.  

“You’re Maximilian?!” the OVs excitedly asked. “We’ve been waiting for Maximilian!”  

“…What?”  

I soon learned that all of our names were written on construction paper toads and water lilies tapped to our doors, and the OVs couldn’t believe that someone actually had my name. I was famous already.  

Another piece of fortuitous luck was that my roommate, Tristan, never showed up. Throughout the dizzying O-Week I half-expected to come back to my room (which was on the first floor, with an ivy-framed window looking out on the lawn and the slope towards the campus’s main walkway; one of the most beautiful residence rooms ever, my Dad claimed) and find a stranger with suitcases, angry at me for taking the right side bed. Then we heard that Tristan wasn’t coming, and my new friends and I sighed with relief: our late night conversations on my bed, snugly sleep-overs and occasional ‘capers’ (good natured pranks) would continue.  

A few of us went to a sex talk at the Wellness Centre at the end of O-Week and, on viewing a diagram of the diverse types of butt-plugs which was passed around, most of which had names which described their shapes (‘Arrow head’, ‘Pearl Necklace’), giggled uncontrollably when one was inexplicitly named ‘Tristan’.  

“So that’s why he never showed up!”  

Whereas I was never going to be comfortable with my sexuality at high school (or, I should say, my high school was never going to be comfortable with it), at Guelph it was like the world changed overnight. This was the Will and Grace/Queer Eye for the Straight Guy era and everyone seemed to think it was cool to know a gay guy. Sans roommate, my room, which eventually acquired a sofa, became the unofficial first floor lounge, and my identity splattered everywhere. Pages cut from Vogue, retro album covers and a shirtless poster of Justin Timberlake graced the walls and I weighted down the bookshelf with crap (so much so that it fell on my head; in hindsight, I should’ve sued).  

Being truly comfortable with my friends and my environment for the first time (as well as able to change outfits as often as I felt like), Max the Clotheshorse was born. I would return from pilgrimages to Value Village with heavy bags of tweed jackets, boy scout shirts and obscure Tee’s, having become, at least in my mind, an experimental and witty fashion-plate, a gay boy Carrie Bradshaw.  

I kept my door always open and my motley crew of friends (not dissimilar to the eccentric and eclectic Muppet gang) got in the habit of dropping by just to hang out all afternoon or evening. Our conversations on my bed were so involved that some nights I had to change into pyjamas, turn off the lights and crawl under the sheets in order to kick people out. We talked for hours and hours, about things serious and frivolous, inventing much-referenced inside jokes as we went. We were so green, what did we have so much to talk about? I wish I had kept notes.  

It was not a perfect year. Inevitably with fifty people living in close quarters, there was drama and some fights and events which seemed like the most important thing ever at the time, but in hindsight you wonder why you were upset at all. I remember being really sad sometimes, probably dwelling on not having a boyfriend (big surprise), but now I consider it the best year of my life. The Max you all know, either through friendship or just reading this blog, took shape in that little house at Guelph. Without it, I don’t know who I’d be.  

The spring when we moved out was very emotional. Although I was coming back for a second year at Artz Haüs, and planned to stay in touch with all my friends, we knew it would never be the same. But endings often help you see something clearly for the first time: it was only as we packed up our stuff in the mockingly cheerful sunshine, took down our posters, signed yearbooks and pretended to study for exams, that a lot of us recognized what a truly great year it had been. 

Although I’ve had many adventures in the years since, they some how feel a bit less real than the events of that formative time. Perhaps that’s just what our mind does with memory… 

We all love bashing social networking, but facebook at least makes it easier to keep in touch with people you used to see every day but now live provinces, sometimes countries,  away from. But emails are devilishly easy to ignore, and I’m scared to death of growing farther and farther apart from friends who shaped an amazing year and made me who I am.  

All things must end, but can (facebook) friends last forever?    

The Art History club. We ate dinners before class together, often Chinese food, which we, inspired by Team Girl Squad, called “MSG!”
Probably on a “Pit run” (there was always licking going on)
Me dressing like our Program Facilator Mark, Mark dressing like Me, feat. Tommy Mosher in background
Room 110 was the shit

 

Amanda and I
Dressed up as the Transgendered Queen of Hearts for an Alice in Wonderland themed formal, with Lauren and Jen

 

The Gang

 

Endless Summer

 

So the season that changed everything draws to a close.

After a rough emotional week in the city, I escaped up to the cottage. I was theoretically going to look for jobs, but I ended up writing two things for WORN, reading Through Black Spruce and starting the epic Infinite Jest, and going for quiet walks, retracing childhood paths on Snake Island. I tried to keep updating my blog, but my stats dropped dramatically as I assume my loyal readers (my Maxiles, if you will) were also en vacances. I think I was physically and mentally exhausted as, no matter how much rest I got at night, I kept randomly falling asleep in the middle of the day.

The events of that week might have sent me into a mini-depression. I would be fine during the day, listening to 1940’s music with my parents and Granda, watching Jane Austen movies and discussing the Bennet sisters after dinner, but late at night I would toss and turn in the darkness, unable to keep my mind from upsetting thoughts. I dwelled on disappointing dates, on drama with friends, on unsaid things to the Gentleman. One night it sunk in that I had quit my job and didn’t have another one lined up.

Being up at the cottage was an escape from the real world, dodging the pressures of adulthood being one of the defining characteristics of our generation (at least according to the recent cover stories of both The Walrus and The New York Times magazines).

As relaxing reading in the hammock and watching the sunsets was, how long could I keep summer going?

Dervla came up and joined us on the weekend, ridiculously excited to be invited to Snake Island. She came equipped with hardcore sunscreen, nonfiction about Africa, the DVD of Good Hair, and a six-pack of something called ‘Vex in the City’, a bottled carbonated Cosmopolitan. She relished all the standard cottage traditions: we cut our feet on zebra mussels, drank beer and ate chips while tearing apart Vanity Fair’s Best Dressed List, and tromped my parents in a drunken game of cribbage. Our good times were only interrupted by Dervla’s occasional sighs of “I don’t want to go back to the city!”

“We’re not talking about Sunday!” I kept reminding her.

No end of summer. No growing up.

Then I received word of two separate wedding engagements: one of two fabulous urban lesbians, which I learned through facebook, and the other of my more-conventional friend from university, who wrote me a breathless email asking me to call her as she was decidedly not going to inform people via facebook. I have not been to any weddings of close friends, nor to those of anyone my age. I have wanted to, because I fully intend on being the saucy one who misbehaves ala Four Weddings and a Funeral, but have not been given a chance. But I also took comfort in the absence of weddings. If my contemporaries were still not married, even those in long-term relationships and living together, then I could still think of us as being in our unorganized and experimental early twenties.

Not anymore. We are in our mid-twenties, a short, bull-shitty demographic which rapidly becomes late-twenties.

And just as we inevitably become grown-ups, Sunday, as it must, arrived. Dervla and I stood on the rickety dock waiting for the ferry (the dock being rickety because I participated in its putting in).

“What are you doing this week?” she asked me.

“Umm, I have no idea.” And I had an epiphany. “Maybe I’m so anxious right now because I have no idea what’s happening next in my life. I have no job. I have no boyfriend. I haven’t even pictured the autumn. My life hasn’t been this unclear since the winter and I got back from Ireland.”

“And look at all you’ve accomplished since then,” Dervla reminded me.

“Yeah, I know. It’s scary, but uncertainty holds great possibilities.”

I am back at the cottage now and, although I have the September Vogue, I swear I will start applying to jobs and get past page 250 (of about 1,000) of Infinite Jest. This summer has been one of the longest and most eventful of my life, and a good one, despite some set-backs. But, as they say in fashion, there’s always another season.

It’s a new month.

It’s a new world.

I’m ready.   

On Beauty, and the End of Dating

I thought the dating world would be different. Years of Friends and Sex and the City led me to believe that my twenties would be filled with meetings at coffee shops, exhilarating phone messages confirming second dates, Sunday afternoons spent laying in bed cuddling, devastating break-ups peppered with the occasional one night stand to spice things up. Most of all, I thought it would just happen naturally, that if you were an outgoing, cool, not hideous-looking young person dates would be all around you, like water in Canada. Turn on the tape and there’s some men! Rather, dating is like fetching water in sub-Saharan Africa: it takes time, patience, fortitude and, after spending all day walking back home with a jug on your head, you discover it’s filled with bits of grit, chemicals and other defects.

Other than the pot-smoking anarcho-lesbian music students, there were no other queer people at my high school. That’s a lie, there was Gerry. Gerry was beautiful, red-haired, a dancer. He led me on and then changed schools. Only after years dwelling on this first disappointment did I look him up on facebook and he told me our non-started relationship had nothing to do with me.

But I was promised sex in university: “Undergrad is all about sex!” I was told. Not so much. I didn’t date a soul in first year. When I look back on it, I’m kind of glad, because not having a boyfriend gave me the time to make a lot of friends and have an amazing, life-changing time. But it hurt my feelings when I saw those around me hooking up.

“Why do you need to be with someone?” my well-meaning friends asked last night over pints.

“I don’t need to be with someone. But don’t you like kissing? And cuddling? And sex? Isn’t that fun? Isn’t that life?”

“Can’t you be happy to be by yourself?”

‘We had all of our childhood, and most likely the majority of our dotage for that!’ I think. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

At Guelph, all the gay cliques were formed in first year, and they were sort of incestuous. Because there weren’t that many of us, you knew who they all were, but your attempt to meet new people and infiltrate another group was often met by awkward stares.

My first real boyfriend, my first love, was a friend of a friend, and I never thought it would end. But it did, because love is simply no match for the unavoidable fact that people change.

After a series of one-night make-out sessions, usually followed by them saying “let’s just be friends” and me having a fitful night of tears, I decided to try this internet dating thing, and I met a lot of people fast.

I always considered myself kind of cool, interesting and talkative, and, despite having the insecurities that we all do, I didn’t think I was unattractive. I thought, ‘Here are guys who have really put themselves out there, who admit that they want something more. And, look, he’s already sending me messages with little hearts! The question is, who will become my boyfriend first!’

Yeah, you can guess how that turned out.

I met a lot of nice guys, had a fun time with them, and never saw them again.

‘Maybe I’m not attractive…’ I wondered, sometimes aloud.

“No!” my friends chime in. “You are a handsome guy! There’s any number of reasons why you didn’t hear back from them; maybe they just wanted friends; maybe they had nothing in common with you; maybe they’re still getting over their ex…”

“Maybe,” my friend Dorrington whimsically suggested, “you remind them of their uncle.”

“Those are all possibilities,” I acknowledged. “But you can only meet so many guys, guys who have made the effort to meet new people and admit they want to date, who tell you they just want to be friends before it has an effect on your self-esteem.”

“But, Max, why is how you feel about your looks tied to other people?” Sandy asked.

“Because that’s the point of looks, to attract people,” I said, bewildered at the question.

“No. You need to be okay with the way you look for yourself. And eventually others will pick up on that.”

“I don’t know if I believe that…”

“Anyways,” she added. “Isn’t it a tad superficial to think that not being attracted to you was the reason you never heard from them again? I have never not called someone because I didn’t immediately find them hot. Who does that?”

“…Who doesn’t?”

“Okay,” Dorrington jumped in. “Say they don’t find you attractive. Why should that hurt your feelings?”

“Because, if they like your personality, and it’s just your looks that are holding you back, how does that not hurt? There’s nothing you can do about it!”

“Precisely,” Sandy said. “So why are you worrying about it? What use is that?”

(This is my truncated version of an incredibly long, enlightening conversation about dating and physical attractiveness)

Beyond my insecurities, what it finally came down to for me was that I always thought people went into dating with the same mindset I did: that if the other person seemed nice and interesting and you found them attractive, you would try to see them again. I’ve only gradually learned this is not the case.

I hear that some guys use internet dating sites to see where they are in the picking order, never being serious about dating someone in the first place. Others have crazy-high expectations that they have to immediately fall in love with someone on the first date. Still others really just want friends, boys to add to their extended group, maybe for a dance-floor snog at some point, but nothing serious. We are the facebook-RSVP generation, automatically clicking ‘maybe attending’ just to be safe.

So I’m going to be single for awhile, because I rarely meet gay guys in the organic, pre-internet way. It’s easy to blame Toronto: in Dublin every other night I went out I ended up talking with someone, and sometimes actually getting phone numbers. Toronto bars, like the queer culture of Guelph, are for those already with friends. But Toronto gets blamed for enough, so let’s leave that aside.

I guess I have to get over ‘blaming’ my looks as well: Dorrington and Sandy were relentless in their attempt to convince me I was being paranoid and uselessly hard on myself. I’m a rational, scientific person (don’t push me, because I will say ‘MacBeth’ in a theatre just to bug you) and I always thought you figured out your looks based on the evidence of other people’s attractions. The concept that one’s beauty is inherent, not based on another’s gaze (is it not in the eye of the beholder?), is something I’m still getting my head around. But, I agree, much less destructive to worry about.

What’s left to blame? I suppose I can blame the TV shows that taught me my twenties would be all about sexy fun dating. Chalk it all up to another lesson of what life is about: it sucks sometimes but there’s moments of pure beauty and joy, if you can get over what you thought it was going to be like. That’s what your twenties are actually about.

 

Generation $

Beavers, birch bark and transmission towers: oh, the visions of Canada. When Douglas Coupland, who christened a generation with his 1991 novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, sought motifs for his new product line, he threw out all traditional emblems of the true North, strong and free. “They all seemed kind of corny,” he told the Toronto Star’s David Livingstone. “Mounties and moose—we just can’t do that anymore. It’s over.”

Instead, his ‘Roots x Douglas Coupland’ collection focuses on the exciting Marshall McLuhan era of the 1960’s. In a pretentious video on the Roots website (advertised, naturally, on facebook, a phenomenon McLuhan would have loved), Coupland makes the dubious claim that the period was the “moment in Canadian history…when we were the only country that had electricity and communication systems… We didn’t have politics, there was no Communism, no Imperialism… everyone said, ‘Wow, look what this TV set can do!”

So, out with the nostalgic summer camp symbols beloved by Michael Budman and Don Green, the two Americans who created a luxury retail empire based on their fond memories of Algonquin Park, and in with colour bars, circuit boards and satellites. The famous beaver survived, but re-imagined as a 3D outline in neon green and black.

While Coupland’s call to take “the vision of the future forward” is intriguing, there is nothing particularly forward-thinking about the resulting items. We’ve seen T-shirts with colour bars and computer graphics since the 1990’s. An intricate motherboard pattern cannot rescue exhausted leggings or keffiyeh scarves, both trendy since 2005. Roots is a high-end store with matching prices, and one might hope that they would move beyond fashion’s lowest common denominator of T-shirts and sweat pants. “Summer isn’t really a silhouette-creating season,” Coupland says, by way of excuse.

Coupland has even allowed his curvy signature to be spattered across tops, pants and bracelets as a logo. The author, whose Generation X characters dismissed paid-for experiences as inauthentic, has literally turned his name into a brand.

He first “unveiled” (otherwise known as “promoted”) the line at ideaCity in June, while singing the praises of the Roots leather factory (“the cleanest, best factory I’ve ever been in”), essentially turning Moses Znaimer’s ‘Meeting of the Minds’ into an advertisement.

Despite making his reputation on his anti-commercialist writing, he now sees no conflict and argues that the new generation of artists uses retail as a “mode of creative expression.” One wonders what the Douglas Coupland of 1991 would say about that.

Let’s hope there’s more to Canada’s future than transmission towers and commercial cross-overs.

Famous on Facebook

I recently discovered an envelope of photographs from a grade seven birthday party of mine. The pictures are embarrassing not least because I was in my pre-growth-spurt chunky phase. My school friends, dressed in late 1990’s camouflage tee-shirts and jean overalls, are shown dancing, almost frolicking, around my living room, at times even lifting each other up. Obviously, these pictures will never see the light of day and will not be uploaded onto a certain social networking website.

The remind me of a pre-digital era when I borrowed my parents’ camera for special occasions and had to wait what seemed like an eternity to get the pictures developed. There is a good chance that my friends in the photographs never even saw them. It was a more innocent time when the picture you took were yours alone, to place in an album and show people only on your initiative.

Every generation has the event that can in hindsight be viewed as the watershed moment that ended one era and heralded the next. While it may in the past have been the First World War, the assassination of JFK or the death of Kurt Cobain, for people my age it occurred when we signed up for our first social networking website and began being the purveyors of our own self-image.

It was the spring of 2006 and many of my friends had already joined something called facebook. “What unlimited forms of self-presentation!” I thought as I uploaded my first profile pic. No event was too small to document with my new digital camera. My second album was of my friends and I watching Julie Andrews musicals and throwing balloons at each other.

During my black and white-themed birthday party a few weeks later, I was so impressed by the creativity and diversity of my friends’ outfits that I kept my camera clicking all night. Thanks to facebook, I could upload and ‘tag’ these pictures, sharing them with all my friends.

The two parties were separated by less than a decade but seem eons apart. My grade seven friends didn’t need to over-think their appearance because they knew that the pictures would most likely disappear into an envelope (only to be discovered by their embarrassed creator years later). In contrast, my university friend’s black and white costumes were almost instantaneously viewable for all my friends, many of their friends and anyone who adds me on facebook up to the present day. What an increased pressure to look good! And while my black and white party was early in the era of facebook and many of my guests may not have considered the long legacy of their outfits, they definitely know about it now.

When standing in front of my closet and deciding what to wear to a party or night out or any other event where a camera may be present (and that’s prey much anywhere nowadays), a series of new questions have crowded the traditional venn diagram of ‘What do I look good in?’ and ‘What’s clean?’ I’ll consider if I’ve worn a certain shirt before, and in front of whom. Was I photographed and were those pictures private or accessible to all my friends? And maybe I should wear that new one I bought because I might get a cool profile pic out of it. Any outfit that may prove controversial has to be balanced with the consideration that I now have uncles and former nannies on facebook (my parents are not allowed to join). Even before being photographed I subconsciously consider the potential fall-out of being tagged on facebook.

Social networking has turned us into celebrities. Just as Paris Hilton and Britney Spears must consider how they will look in photographs on the red carpet, we now must consider how we will look on our friends’ home pages. Is it any wonder that we no longer stand awkwardly and wave (as in traditional amateur photography of the past), but coo and pout for the cameras like actors showing off their borrowed designer duds to ‘Entertainment Tonight’?

You may be thinking that you certainly don’t put any more effort into your appearance because of facebook, and that may be true, but I have an inkling that there are more people in the other column. How else to explain the phenomenon of ‘un-tagging’, the process of removing one’s name from a photograph so it will no longer be viewable to one’s friends? Un-tagging is our best defence against looking goofy online. I recently had a friend un-tag herself due to a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ so minor that I hadn’t even noticed it: the tassels of her scarf were sticking out the bottom of her jacket creating the impression of a Muppet hand reaching down towards her crotch. Although I have as many unflattering pictures as anyone (and I’m certain some will prevent me from ever running for public office), I have taken a strict stand against ‘un-tagging’. Who am I to decide which of my friends’ pictures represents me? Un-tagging is where the metaphor of celebrity breaks down, as Britney Spears cannot scan all the tabloid shots of herself and decide which ones she be deleted (although I bet she wishes she could!)

As someone who loves fashion and enjoys putting thought into what he wears, I like that our generation may put more effort into their clothes than they might otherwise because of social networking. But with all things internet-based there is the potential that as fast as it rose, it can quickly fall. Just as we were convinced (or peer-pressured) into joining something because all of our friends were on it, everyone can abandon something in the reverse movement. While facebook tries one ham-fisted advertising strategy after another, other companies have adopted the aesthetics of social networking to attract the youth demographic. The current ads for Virgin mobile feature pictures that evoke the amateur, spur-of-the-moment look of facebook pics. When advertisers have caught on to something, it usually means it’s on the way out. And simultaneously, hipster artists have rediscovered Polaroid cameras, whose grainy quality suggests a nostalgic, pre-digital authenticity that we’ve lost in all our uploading. Facebook may eventually decline, but the lessons it taught us about self-presentation may stick. It’s not unbelievable to pictures us mooning glamorously for the cameras at the old folk’s home.