How to live with Big Brother


Understanding why privacy matters

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formally published in The Other Press. February 17, 2016

While it isn’t necessarily the government that is tracking all your activity, the combination of all the data accumulated in day-to-day life is enough for them to know you better than your parents do. We can almost be certain that, although there is nobody watching us on a screen, our every action is recorded, filed away, and capable of being pulled out and evaluated by those with the credentials to do so. Most often those people aren’t people at all, they are just marketing algorithms designed to match your queries and daily behaviours with advertisements.

Now, Google isn’t out to embarrass you by exposing your search queries. TransLink will not send a message to your girlfriend if you decide to make a mysterious trip out to Surrey. Bell is not going to let your boss know that you’ve been trash talking him with your friends. These things don’t benefit the company, so don’t be paranoid.

It’s hard to trust the motives of big corporations, but I always bring it back to one question: Does such and such action cause them to lose or gain money? If your behaviour continues to benefit the business you get the service from, you can keep going merrily by—as long as you are not committing any heinous crimes.

There is no way around it; we need to trust companies to use our information ethically. However, we need to also be conscious of what information we are haphazardly giving away. See, privacy matters. Without privacy, you’ll lose control of your own life. The companies will own it.

Any sort of meaningful self-development does not happen in a group, or with Sauron’s eye watching you. It happens independently, not on Facebook and not while Googling. I’m not talking about education or improving your business skills or finding online romance, I’m talking about the growth that occurs when you are allowed room to breathe. This is the type of growth that has no deadlines and no guidance. This in essence is the life you’ll live.

We have become so obsessed with sharing our experiences on social media, telling everything we do to Big Brother, that we are forgetting the real point of our pursuits: to create memories that aren’t saved on any hard drive, except the one between our ears. We are scared of people listening in on us, but we have stopped listening to ourselves.

The season is changing. It’ll be a warm summer, I predict. This is an opportunity to get away from the information highway and do something nobody on the Internet will know. Big companies are constantly collecting data, and so should you. The good thing is, you get to decide what information you want to store: what’s spat out to you by those online or what you discover yourself. It’s up to you.

We don’t elect governments; we elect scapegoats

Image via Thinkstock

How we love to blame one entity for everything

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. October 28, 2015

Isn’t it great when we can point a finger at someone and say it’s all his or her fault? It’s his fault our economy is in the sink. It’s her fault the ecosystem is dying. It’s his fault I can’t find love, a job, or a place to live. Yes, it’s always easier to blame someone rather than a group of people.

For the past few months, I’ve watched everyone on my predominantly left-wing Facebook news feed blame Stephen Harper for everything wrong with our country. What’s wrong with our country, or what’s wrong with them? So often, the government becomes the scapegoat for all our problems: our failing business, our disobedient child, and our inability to find work, romance, and better health. Instead of taking onus for our problems, we blame the government.

Guess what? The government is not looking out for you, regardless of what you think. The politician doesn’t give a hoot about all the crap you have going on in your life. If you think Justin Trudeau is going to solve all your problems—or even one of your problems—you need to face reality. If you are not taxed for this, you’ll be taxed for that. Nobody can fix what’s wrong with your life but you.

Blaming one sole entity, whether it’s your employer for holding you back, or your instructor for giving you poor grades is a self-destructive way of thinking. Pretty much what you are saying is: “I’m perfect, I don’t need to change, it’s the world around me needs to change. It’s that one person over there who needs to change.” You’ll grow old a bitter, resentful person if this is your way of thinking.

Pointing fingers and placing blame is a defensive mechanism designed to make someone else look worse than you. This is especially effective if the person is of higher rank or prestige. Remember how much Canucks fans enjoyed blaming Roberto Luongo for every hockey game lost? Whoever is at the top, we expect perfection from them, or else give them the noose. But ask yourself: can you stop more shots and win more games? Nope, but you’d like to think you can though.

Don’t think. Do. Stop identifying problems as something manifested by other people. Stop investing your emotional energy on things you cannot control. Can you be a better worker? Yes. Can you force your boss to increase your wage? No. Can you vote for the candidate you like? Yes. Are you able to force others to do the same? No. People will vote or not vote for whomever they want. They’ll cheer for whatever they want. They’ll fail, succeed, and live their life without a care for you. You can blame them, but why do they care? They don’t even know you.

Let taxes equal charities

Photo via Thinkstock

Is it really better to give?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 3, 2015

It’s hard to get excited about taxes. Like having someone reach into your pocket and take whatever they want, tax season often leaves us all feeling a little violated. But for as long as civilized living has existed, taxes have been constant and increasing. It’s clear today that if we want to continue living the Canadian life, we’ll need to pay taxes, and a lot of them.

After you wash away the tears, let’s take a look at all the benefits, because it is all about the benefits. Public safety and services are two popular reasons to pay taxes, and they’re good ones. I’ll be glad to pay taxes if the firefighters put out my burning house or if a policeman arrests the dude who just robbed me. I frequent the library, so I’m happy about the books my tax dollars bought. I drive, so I’m glad there is money left to fill potholes and extend the highway. Let’s call taxes a security for our future, insurance for our way of living, and a charity for the people in our society.

As I progress through life, I have noticed that I’m paying more taxes. I remember there was a time when I received money from the government for simply being alive. Now, I’m required to pay it back—it’s bullshit. But I’m not going to stop working; I’m not going to stop making money. My attitude toward taxes is different. I want to make more money so I can pay more taxes. Rich people get praised all the time for donating to charity, but they get pitied for having to pay significant taxes. No! Don’t pity them. They are rich. If needing to pay taxes is a deterrent for wealth, there is something wrong with your mentality, and that needs to change.

Money creates power and power begets money. Taxes break this pattern. They put responsibility on the wealthy to help provide for their less fortunate peers as they cope with the hardships of life.

We are all in this together, although we might not all agree on where the money should go. Some say the money should be dedicated to slums, others say it should go into renovating a public art gallery. Some want it to build a new transit infrastructure; others want to upgrade the healthcare system. We might never agree, but the thing is, we should be optimistic that wherever our money goes it’s going to good efforts. The same way we have little control once we donate to a charity, is the same way we should approach taxes.