Category Archives: Fall 2017

Letters from the editors

I’ve quickly discovered that writing a letter from the editor is hard. It’s challenging to sum up countless hours of editing, email-sending, and coffee-drinking into a mere couple hundred words. Nonetheless, here’s my two cents on the Futures Issue.

We’re living in an interesting time. We’re experiencing a shifting political climate, evolving social norms, and unprecedented technological innovation. Global customs are being questioned, and seemingly stable institutions are increasingly scrutinized. Our future is murky.

Alongside this, we as students are living in an interesting time. While school is comfortable, what happens post-grad can be foggy – I, for one, don’t know what I’ll be doing five years from now.

When creating this magazine, my goal was to showcase various representations of this uncertainty while simultaneously highlighting the exciting nature of the unknown.

The contributors of this magazine do just that. Teodora Pasca explores how our society is responding to technological advancements, Rachel Chen shares the stories of five students whose mental health struggles make it difficult to move forward, Nathan Chan photographs students and asks them to imagine what their future will entail, and Etiquette Squirrel (from the future) tells us the future of humankind.

Undoubtedly, the future comes in different shapes and sizes. When reading, I encourage you to  ponder the unknown and question what comes next. I know I certainly did.

—Kaitlyn Simpson

I wish I were funny enough to write an interesting letter.  I also wish I could have seen into the future about seven months ago to mentally prepare myself for the process of directing this magazine.

The designs featured through these pages are in response to their respective articles, much like how the future is shaped by the actions taken in the past. For instance, Sonali Gill’s piece on citizenship and immigration incorporates the implied borders of the topic with illustrations dividing the text, while Tom Yun’s article plays on the chance, uncertainty, and fragility that I’m sure many people feel is in store for the expensive fruit of our labour: the illustrious U of T degree.

The amalgamation of the magazine’s articles shape up the cover’s visual, which juxtaposes the journey of the missing key found in Rachel Chen’s piece on seeking help through hardship, except with some directional support provided by the inside pages.

If you were to ask me, the missing key looks like it’s got a great journey ahead.  Who knows? The future is up in the air, after all.

—Elham Numan

Tomorrow’s Toronto

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]uch of my life has been spent living in Caledon on the outskirts of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Consequently, my experiences have largely been relegated to that of a semi-rural town. I grew up with large housing and open spaces — a stark contrast to the city I now live and learn in.

Until recently, I did not find the downtown core welcoming. I was so intimidated by it that I was firmly opposed to attending the University of Toronto. I remember looking around at the tall, intimidating buildings during my first campus tour, feeling a sense of vertigo and questioning why anyone would ever want to live here.

Over time, that sentiment slowly started to change. I would tour the campus by myself, taking the time to explore the small shops and the friendly environment and exploring where the tour guides did not. Eventually, I fell in love with the city.

In the next decade, most current U of T undergraduates will graduate and establish careers. Many of us will choose to stay in Toronto. In anticipation of our futures, we should consider now what our city will hold for us.

What steps can we take in this moment to ensure the best possible future for our city? I interviewed three U of T faculty members to get insight.

Diversity: our strength

Toronto is the largest city in Canada and is well known for its multiculturalism. This diversity will only grow in the years to come, and Toronto needs to be proactive in learning how to evolve with its changing demographics. The research of Urban Studies Program Assistant Professor David Roberts — the first person I interviewed about this subject — focuses on “geographies of race and racialization, urban infrastructure planning, and the politics of public participation in urban knowledge production and policymaking.” His views on the future of Toronto focus on how, as residents and members of civil society, we will deal with oncoming population growth. “Toronto has people from every corner of the globe here, and is one of the most, if not the most, diverse cities in the world,” he told me.

When asked about the future of Toronto for people of colour and other marginalized groups, Roberts stated that “that kind of promise of multiculturalism is built into our motto: ‘diversity is our strength.’” Roberts urges conversations surrounding issues of racial inequality to be had sooner rather than later for Torontonians to improve our relationships with one another.

He praised grassroots groups such as Black Lives Matter TO for addressing topics of systemic racism and racial inequality in an influential manner in the city. However, he criticized city leaders for a lack of action, and stressed that “addressing the systemic forms of racial inequality that exist in the city” requires a greater commitment by City Council to deal with future problems that may emerge. He mentioned the uprisings on Yonge Street in 1992 after the Rodney King verdict — where four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted of using excessive force in beating King, a Black man — and said that although race relations are not currently at that level of tension, it should not deteriorate to this for people to pursue urban social justice.

The current state of Toronto is, admittedly, manageable. Toronto has a relatively low crime rate compared to other Canadian cities. While we do have plenty of issues of our own, relatively speaking, Toronto is safer than many other North American cities. This, ironically, is a problem of a different sort: it breeds a complacency that presupposes that any emergent issues will be somebody else’s problem.

“I think there’s a real role for young people, too, who may be a bit less complacent about the state of affairs in the city, and so will continue to have an increasingly large voice in the city,” Roberts said.

Moving forward, the role that young people will play in bringing issues to the forefront requires us all to realize that our obligation in helping one another involves a system of reciprocity — promote the equal treatment of all and, in return, the potential of all will benefit the city. People learning from one another without restriction increases dialogue and will drastically improve relationships. In a city that is increasingly unaffordable to live in, we need as many people working together as possible.

Fighting social inequality

Matti Siemiatycki, an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Planning, argues that the city needs to begin addressing current problems now should it continue to grow.

“It’s an exciting time. I see the city becoming even more lively, even more diverse, being a bigger player on the global stage. But I think if we’re going to get this right we need to start now, putting in place the foundations for the next 50 years.”

Siemiatycki  described other areas of the GTA, such as Milton and King City, as sites of rapid development in low-rise, single-use residential districts, which he said “is posing challenges on our infrastructure.”

He added that the congestion on our major highways in the region “is a drag on the economy.” While housing costs outside the downtown core are undeniably cheaper in comparison, the lifestyle can be taxing on commuters and especially taxing on the environment. If the cost is pollution and environmental degradation, are the percieved financial benefits truly worth it?

With regard to the role of young people in the future planning of the city, Siemiatycki has advocated for new, evidence-based planning strategies in outlets like the Toronto Star. He argues that “universities and our student organizations play a really important role in advocating for measures that are going to help youth.” Much of this advocacy work derives from our innate, perennial need to be social and centralized.

“It turns out that humans are a species that want to be around other people, that the idea of extreme isolation or being separated from others creates feelings of dislocation, and in some cases, can undermine efficiency.” The future of Toronto relies on the voices of those who will live with these changes the longest.

The problem of housing

It’s clear that the future of housing will be a problem for years to come; it’s already a serious problem we deal with today. Because of this, many people are focusing on planning and policy changes required for more affordable city living.

Shauna Brail, the Director of Urban Studies Program and the Presidential Advisor on Urban Engagement at U of T, recommends people adjust their expectations about living in Toronto in the future, particularly with the increasing unaffordability of single-family homes. She believes there will be more career opportunities than residence options for young people in the city. Brail emphasized the meaningful prospects that will emerge in the future will allow Toronto to continue as a hub of activity.

Concerning how we ought to adjust to increased growth in the city, Brail points to how Toronto could respond to it: “We know that we’ve approved tens of thousands of new residential units… [what] do we need in terms of ensuring that we have not just a city of people living in it, but a city of people who have access to jobs?”

Though some seek to address the issue of housing through increased redistribution, others question how to address the scarcity itself. Brail refuted the idea of opening the Greenbelt — a permanently protected area surrounding parts of the GTA — to housing development.

“There are many benefits to maintaining that Greenbelt as it is, and most of the recommendations suggest maintaining the Greenbelt… [because] it’s really important for people’s wellbeing, it’s important for air quality reasons, it’s important for reasons related to managing urban form, and trying to encourage higher density living.” Brail called the propositions of degrading the surrounding environment a “false trade-off” that would decrease air quality and increase health and congestion costs instead.

Nonetheless, the concerns of environmental advocates are that future policymakers might reverse the protections granted to the Greenbelt. The life of the Greenbelt relies upon advocates and academics like Brail.

Sustainability and urban planning in the future should rely upon the creation of jobs and the promotion of meaningful jobs outside of the city core. This would help reduce congestion and help with affordability issues, as well as increasing sustainability.

Planning for the future

Brail also recommended learning from other global cities to learn from their successes and determine how we can evaluate them. This includes projects like bike lanes, street vending, and other ways of creating more dynamic, lively cities.

According to Brail, the future of planning in Toronto “will be increasingly connected to partnerships… Our city is changing in ways… that really connect with people, with other organizations. The city can’t do everything themselves, the urban planners can’t do everything themselves. They really require partnerships and relationships.”

It seems evident that the problems and solutions of tomorrow begin today. Today’s issues are inextricably linked to what we will deal with, for better or worse, in the future. This includes how we treat our fellow residents, countering complacency, and interacting with our concrete and natural environments. We need to be more pragmatic about where we choose to live in the future and how we choose to learn from our global neighbours. Rallying young people in support of evidence-based policy measures is a start — since those policies will affect us more than any other demographic — however, we need to emphasize that even if we are not directly affected by these issues, our communities need to be defended by every incursion against our livelihood. If we refuse to prepare now, what will the future hold for the people of Toronto?

A look back at Back to the Future

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]here we’re going, we don’t need… roads.”

With those iconic words, Doc and Marty resume their time-traveling adventures in the sequel to the 1985 hit Back to the Future.

The Back to the Future franchise is now a classic time-travel film trilogy that follows Michael J. Fox as 17-year-old Marty McFly. In the original film, Marty accidentally travels 30 years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his friend Emmett ‘Doc’ Brown, played by Christopher Lloyd.

Marty has musical ambitions, a girlfriend who loves him, and a nice house in the suburbs of Hill Valley, California. Yet his life still leaves a lot to be desired: his father’s supervisor is a bully, his mother has a drinking problem, and his school principal labels him a “slacker.”

Upon travelling to the year 1955, Marty accidentally interrupts his parents’ love story and must right it so he can return to a future where he still exists. Marty astutely reunites his parents in such a way that when he returns to the future, he finds things have changed for the better. He has little time to enjoy it, however, as Doc immediately beseeches Marty to travel to 2015 with him because “something has gotta be done” about Marty’s kids.

Living in 2017, two years past the ‘future’ in Back to the Future Part II, I was curious to see how accurate creators Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis’ predictions of the future were and how the movie connected to my life. I also wanted an excuse to marathon the entire Back to the Future trilogy during midterm season without judgement from my family.

I was pleasantly surprised that the future Back to the Future Part II’s $40 million budget brought to life mirrored the actual future — my present — quite well. Though we have not been subjected to any more Jaws sequels after 1987’s Jaws: The Revenge, its hologram poster in the film brings to mind Tupac Shakur’s 2012 posthumous hologram performance at Coachella and the trend of virtual concerts and virtually created popstars.

Marty’s self-lacing Nike shoes exist, too, though they aren’t the most affordable choice of footwear. There is even a Kickstarter to make Marty’s self-drying jacket a reality, though the jacket’s speaking abilities remain to be seen.

The glasses Marty’s children wear at the dinner table are reminiscent of Google Glass — which admittedly failed to take hold — and virtual reality headsets. Marty’s video call with his boss on his TV is possible thanks to smart TVs and apps like Tellybean and Chromecast.

As the movie predicted, using thumbprints to pay for things is common today with touch identification phones. Using thumbprints to enter your house is less common, as is having a smart home, but both are realities. Hands-free gaming, flat-screen TVs, and tablets are also widespread. Hoverboards are real, too — they don’t actually hover, though companies like Lexus and Arx Pax are in the midst of fixing that. Drones that walk dogs seem more unaffordable than far-fetched, as do automated gas stations. A few misses aside, Back to the Future Part II predicted the future with jaw-dropping accuracy.

The only thing more fascinating than the series’ predictions is its plot: changing one’s past to create a nicer future, thanks to a time machine.

If only I had a time machine.

This thought crossed my mind as I took in the movie, following me throughout the entirety of the next day. The idea of going back to create change has an immense appeal to me. This is primarily because I despise the feeling of regret washing over me even more than I loathe wearing wet socks.

I can’t help but think about all the things that I would change if I had a time-travelling DeLorean. Hell, I’d settle for a time-travelling Ford Pinto if it meant I could change my past.

I’d exercise more in the past, so I wouldn’t run out of breath after climbing one flight of stairs. I’d study better, so the soundtrack of a horror movie wouldn’t accompany me every time I opened the grades section on Portal. I’d learn how to stand up for myself rather than meekly accepting whatever mark a TA felt I deserved. I’d probably give my past self a sports almanac so I wouldn’t have to worry about the increasing numbers on my ACORN account or dread opening my bank statements. I’d voice all the things I left unsaid to my crushes, my friends, my family members, my teachers, and my enemies. I’d try everything I wanted to, unburdened by the weight of consequences, so I wouldn’t imagine all the ‘what-ifs’ whenever I couldn’t sleep.

Everyone, I think, must imagine things they would do differently in the past if were they given the chance. The idea of changing the past is exciting, but a continued obsession with it can be toxic and lead into the quicksand of self-pity.

As hard as it is to do, it would be better to make the most of today than live in the past or constantly fret about the future and how every decision might affect it. This is by no means an excuse to marathon movies or binge-watch a new TV series during midterm season. It is meant to serve as a reminder of sorts that it is okay to breathe once a while and not worry about the ripple effect of every single decision you make. It is also meant to prompt you to stop obsessing over mistakes made in the past and long to change them.

Like Doc says, “Time-traveling is just too dangerous! Better that I devote myself to study the other great mystery of the universe.” While in Doc’s case this mystery is women, in my version of the present, it’s probably how to use the printer-photocopier-scanner machines at U of T’s libraries.

Doused darts

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]igarettes have always intrigued me. There’s a certain feeling that comes with holding one between your fingers, inhaling it softly and smoothly, and exhaling that striking, hazy cloud of smoke. It’s a habitual break that comes from a foregone necessity, a mid-day momentary high — all very romantic.

Of course, there’s much more than romance: health defects, a lasting stench, and a leaking bank account are just a few of the repercussions. Yet cigarettes remain such an omnipresent facet of our lives, seemingly unavoidable and unforgettable.

The presence of cigarettes in the lives of students may be poised for a decline, though. The University of Toronto has recently announced it plans to eliminate smoking on campus. Although the specifics of the policy remain unclear, this is a major move for the university. I believe it presents an important opportunity to re-examine how we see student smokers — to understand what smoking means to them, how it has impacted them, and how they see cigarettes in their lives moving forward.

Smoking is unavoidable in many social settings. Chances are you have at least one friend who smokes; you have probably had a cigarette offered to you as well. Maybe you tried it, maybe you didn’t. Most likely, you’ve made up your mind about cigarettes: yes, no, or every so often.

Many of those who seriously catch on to this epidemic speak fondly of smoking. The way some smokers tell the story of their first cigarette is akin to an artist’s story of their first brush stroke or a basketball player’s first jump shot. Stories range from the mundane to the sensational, from sharing a smoke at a high school party to an eighth-grader trying a cigarette with a cab driver in Beijing.

Smoking has established friendships and bonds between family members — something that someone who hasn’t partaken in it couldn’t understand. There is a subtle humour deeply embedded in the act of sharing a dart, an acknowledgement from all parties that they’re actively betraying a common knowledge of health consequences.

Students have also turned to cigarettes for relief in times of stress. Smoking is not always a consistent habit, and in tumultuous times it can offer a highly needed escape. It isn’t a solution, but when exam season hits, when family troubles are mounting, or when a thread of difficulties strikes, everyone has a way to seek solace.

 
 
 
 

Yet the advantages of smoking will only stretch as thin as the head rush they provide. The countless detrimental health implications and more than six million tobacco deaths by direct use per year globally, according to the World Health Organization, are very clear consequences. Despite this, many students still indulge. From the conversations I’ve had, stereotypes about academic procrastination extend to health as well.

A conscious theme of invincible youth plays a large part in the perspectives of many people I’ve spoken to. “Other people will get addicted,” they argue, “but I’ll be able to quit when I graduate.” This thought thread is far from uncommon, but I don’t think everyone who says it truly believes it. For most student smokers, a ban will not cause strife but marginal inconvenience. Some may have a hard time believing a policy change like this could be enforced well.

Nevertheless, others seem to be optimistic that the ban will dissuade the next wave of students from partaking in smoking.

Change by design

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s much as I love my parents, I cannot fathom why they continue to pay for cable. Coming from a generation whose pop culture preferences were at least partially facilitated by the rise and fall of LimeWire, I grew up surrounded by kids who knew how to torrent without incurring so much as a pop-up.

As of 2016, Netflix had accumulated more than 5.2 million consumers in Canada and was well on its way to infiltrating 50 per cent of households in the country. Today, alternative streaming services like HBO NOW and Amazon Prime continue to compete with Netflix on the Canadian market. Meanwhile, I don’t have a TV, and my father continues to step outside after thunderstorms to adjust the satellite on the roof.

Technology is fascinatingly context-sensitive. What one person might consider useful, like paying $8.99 per month to watch Stranger Things on a smartphone, could be totally lost in the eyes of another. There are clear generational and cultural divisions between my preferred medium for consuming entertainment and the way my family is used to doing things. And it’s not difficult to imagine someone 10 years younger saying something similar about me.

More importantly, the ways in which people respond to technological innovation matter a great deal. While some might jump at the chance to test-drive the latest products, others are reluctant to embrace new innovation into their daily lives. Often, that reluctance is wholly justified in light of the associated risks.

On October 17, it was announced that Sidewalk Labs, a sister company to Google, would launch a project to completely redesign the eastern part of Toronto’s waterfront. This project will intertwine digital technologies with urban development to the point where the community will be considered a “city of the future.”

Simultaneously, tech hopefuls are banking on the belief that Toronto will soon become an artificial intelligence hub for Canada, leading the country toward greener pastures. The University of Toronto’s research expertise will no doubt play a role in this process, meaning any developments that come about will likely affect students and staff as well as the community at large.

In light of the planned changes for the city, I wanted to explore the institutional frameworks and processes that facilitate technological developments, as well as the social responses associated with the emergence of new innovations.

The innovation landscape

U of T is renowned for its contributions to the technology industry in Canada and its excellence in this area of pedagogy. Aside from the impressive credentials associated with its various tech-focused faculties, numerous laboratories for technological innovation are located right on campus and contribute to spurring technological change in the city and beyond.

One such hub is the Entrepreneurship Hatchery, or ‘the Hatchery’ for short. Hosted in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, the centre provides teams of students with tools and resources geared toward helping them establish successful startups. I went to 222 College Street to speak with Joseph Orozco, Co-founder and Executive Director; Mimi Hao, Operations Lead; and Naveed Ahmed, Community Engagement Officer.

“The Hatchery is solely agnostic,” explains Orozco. “We believe that the tools we provide are needed by any type of startup that wants to [get into] business.”

The Hatchery caters to teams of three to four students, with at least one student required to have an understanding of technology or engineering. Examples of projects that have come out of the Hatchery include TeleHex, the world’s lightest Allen key set for bicycles; PhysioPhriend, an app built to provide accessible physiotherapy data; and Kepler Communications, a satellite communications company.

Over the years, while engaging in community outreach, the number of entrepreneurship applications to the Hatchery has surged. The Hatchery has hosted a “Young Innovator Boot Camp” at Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy, where high school students were tasked with developing ideas for products to solve problems a thousand years into the future. The winning idea in 2015 was a ‘permanent doctor’ — a microchip that, when inserted into the patient’s body, could monitor their physical health, detect evidence of illness, and administer appropriate medicine.

Conversely, some other educational settings at U of T have opted to steer clear of digital technologies altogether. A number of instructors have imposed technology bans in classroom settings, often based on studies positing that students learn better without the distractions posed by computers; the bans have prompted some students to voice concerns about accessibility in the classroom.

Thomas Gendron, a second-year Criminology and Ethics, Society and Law student, and Estée Katz, a third-year Ethics, Society and Law and Bioethics student, have both experienced tech bans in classrooms.

“I’ve had a couple profs that have tried to prevent the use of laptops or technology entirely,” Gendron tells me, “which is pretty laughable in situations like Convocation Hall, where class is like 1,500 [students] and they’re trying to implement a full cell phone ban.”

When instructors attempted to implement an electronics ban in Gendron’s first-year politics course, for example, students largely ignored it. Gendron refers to the policy as “extremely backwards,” alluding to the fact that many people could otherwise have made good use of the technology for educational purposes.

In one of Katz’s classes, students using laptops were asked to sit on a specific side of the class so as not to distract others. Though Katz believes this was a better solution than a full-on ban, she also feels there is a strange logic associated with attempting to regulate students’ behaviour in this way.

“At that point, I feel like you’re an adult, so if you feel like you’re going to learn better using your computer, then use your computer,” says Katz. “You should know how you learn best and if you’re going to spend the class online shopping, then that’s your deal.”

Gendron has been frustrated with slow rates of digitization in educational settings since he was younger. As a child who grew up with computing technologies, his experience apparently surpassed that of all the staff members at his elementary school.

“The moment anything went wrong they would call me, the sixth grader, in to try and fix the issue,” says Gendron. I laugh uneasily when he tells me that adopting this de facto IT role meant being granted access to a wide range of sensitive information, from students’ grades to a teacher’s PayPal account.

It would be absurd to compare U of T to Gendron’s elementary school. The university is home to one of the most reputable computer science departments in the world, and students have access to a wide range of technological resources. Libraries are well equipped with computer labs and rentable laptops. Gerstein Library even has a 3D printer and scanner.

At the same time, the persistence of tech bans reveals a tension between the traditional and the digital, which is unsurprising in light of its context. History and pop culture are rife with images of institutions like U of T as places steeped in institutional memory, full of gothic architecture and curmudgeonly instructors.

In light of advancements in computing technologies and mathematical softwares, the chalkboard theorems in films like Good Will Hunting and A Beautiful Mind might now be perceived as anachronistic within certain modern educational settings.

It won’t be long before today’s ways of learning fall out of favour; anticipating what will take their place, and what rules will arise to regulate them, is easier said than done.

Changes on the books

Giuseppina D’Agostino is a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and Founder and Director of IP Osgoode, the school’s intellectual property and technology program. Evocative of the situation at U of T, D’Agostino refers to technology both as a “disruptor” and as a driver of change.

“The law always, immemorial, has reacted to new technologies: from the typewriter to the printing press before that,” says D’Agostino. “Every time there’s new technologies, there are disruptions in the market, new ways of dealing with change, and the law has to change.”

Part of this involves crafting the legal infrastructure in a way that accommodates technological innovations, which involves looking to areas of law such as copyright and patent. Much of the protection available for new inventions, D’Agostino tells me, depends on access to justice, which can be highly limited for parties like creators and law students.

“I can tell you that the innovators on the ground, the students, don’t have those resources,” says D’Agostino. One of the reasons why D’Agostino founded IP Osgoode was because students had ideas for change but lacked the resources with which to see them through.

Slowly but surely, the legal profession has undergone substantial changes in the way of technological advancement. Legal research databases such as LexisNexis and Westlaw, as well as various forms of legal software, are automating work formerly completed through more traditional means.

Completely new innovations have also emerged. Avi Brudner is the Head of Strategy & Operations at Blue J Legal, a Toronto-based company that employs artificial intelligence strategies to predict legal outcomes. “We predict case outcomes by using data from previous cases, leveraging machine learning to do that accurately,” says Brudner.

Having officially gone to market as of January 2017, Blue J Legal’s venture into the world of predictive legal technology began with tax law.

At the same time, the persistence of tech bans reveals a tension between the traditional and the digital, which is unsurprising in light of its context. History and pop culture are rife with images of institutions like U of T as places steeped in institutional memory, full of gothic architecture and curmudgeonly instructors.

The company’s first product, Tax Foresight, is designed to maximize the quality of legal advice professionals provide to their clients by making use of technology that can detect patterns in case databases.

“It’s just not realistic for a tax professional to go back and read all 500 cases in a given area of law, understand how all the factors in those 500 cases are related to each other, and then use that information to make a prediction about a new case,” explains Brudner. In his view, Blue J Legal is granting tax professionals that very ability, allowing them to gain insights that would otherwise be impossible to reach.

The “superpowers” that come with products like Tax Foresight, as Brudner puts it, exemplify some of the benefits associated with innovation. Moves toward digitization and incorporation of machine learning can free up time and cut costs for clients — something that could be especially useful in a profession often considered notoriously resistant to technological change.

D’Agostino refers to the legal profession as “one of the dinosaurs” in tech-related conversations. “The Copyright Board is now dealing with tariffs about technology that is probably 10 years old,” says D’Agostino. “They’re going to come up with decisions that are dated already and that really have no resonance to current market practices and user behaviour.”

I see her point. Trials and appeals can take exorbitant amounts of time to resolve, and court systems in Ontario remain largely paper-based. More fundamentally, the law in Canada is grounded in the rule of precedent, which requires the outcomes of future decisions to be consistent with those in previous cases so long as their circumstances are sufficiently similar. That inherent reliance on the past could throw a wrench into things when rapidly evolving technologies are at stake.

The impression I get from Brudner, however, is that Blue J Legal hasn’t suffered. He tells me that once professionals see the product, they appreciate how it can be integrated into their own practices. “We’ve been really excited by the uptake from the legal profession,” says Brudner. Maybe there is hope.

Given that technologically innovative strategies can be harnessed to address a wide variety of social issues, it is arguably in our best interest to not only figure out how to facilitate these solutions, but also how to do so responsibly.

Reason for restraint

When discussing the feasibility of innovations, it is crucial to consider the ways in which they might be received by the society that adopts them. Dr. Rebecca Woods is an assistant professor in the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at U of T and a cultural historian of technology. She considers any type of technology “to be deeply embedded in the society and culture in which it operates.”

Accordingly, Woods believes that what might be perceived as “resistance to an innovation” may actually have to do with how compatible it is with a society’s culture. She uses the example of Uber, which, despite having become a ubiquitous method of transportation in cities like Toronto, has come up short when trying to appeal to consumers in other regions. Residents in Frankfurt, Germany, for instance, perceived Uber’s tactics as aggressive instead of innovative. The company eventually withdrew from the city after 18 months of operation.

I ask Woods to comment on attitudes toward technological innovation in the present day. “What I notice is a lot of hubris, frankly,” she replies. “A lot of rhetoric out there is public discourse that assumes that technological change is inherently for the good, that it is progressive in the sense that it is bringing us closer and closer to some sort of better society, better future.”

Part of the problem, of course, is that innovations almost always have unintended consequences. Despite it being launched as a peer-to-peer housing share system, for instance, much of the market on Airbnb has been taken over by third-party actors in the hospitality industry. A report from the Urban Politics and Governance Lab at McGill University found that Airbnb has now removed 14,000 rental units from housing markets in Montréal, Toronto, and Vancouver. Housing prices in the latter two cities have continued to rise, much to the alarm of tenants.

“A technological solution… might solve the immediate problem,” says Woods, “but it’s almost always bound to produce new problems of its own.”

Not everyone I speak to shares Woods’ concerns. When I ask about drawbacks associated with Blue J Legal’s technology, Brudner says they have found none. In response to a similar question about the projects that come out of the Hatchery, Hao states it is important “to have the mindset of moving forward and not being afraid of all the complications things may cause.”

While Orozco acknowledges the importance of evaluating solutions for potential harm to others and to the environment, he feels technological innovation is fundamentally a good thing — something in our evolutionary nature that “we owe to ourselves” to continue pursuing.

Yet, as I speak with Woods, I find myself struggling to repress memories of various tech-related horror stories. Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram have been linked to deteriorating mental health states in teens and young adults, which have included multiple reports of suicides. Further, hackers routinely find ways to use their skills for sexually exploitative purposes; one of the most infamous naked photo leaks occurred in 2014, when nudes of over 100 A-list celebrities were distributed online.

Recently, in a turn of events I expect will be parodied in the upcoming season of Black Mirror, a Wisconsin tech corporation threw a party for employees willing to have company-owned microchips implanted in their hands. The technology is made possible through the Swedish corporation Biohax International, which is scheduled to take a ‘chipping tour’ throughout Sweden in the near future. Thinking back to the ‘permanent doctor’ at Scarlett Heights, this makes me uneasy.

“There may be something to a little bit of hesitance or restraint when it comes to adopting innovations merely because they’re innovations,” advises Woods. It’s easy to understand where she’s coming from. Innovations like Uber and the smartphone have radically changed the societies that have adopted them, and many of their consequences have yet to be seen. How could we possibly anticipate them all?

One might also wonder how things will play out with what D’Agostino identifies as the next big “disruptor” — artificial intelligence (AI). AI technologies often seek to modify how we conceptualize human capital, or even to replace it altogether. As such, its increasing prevalence in society will have colossal effects for the nature of the workforce.

McKinsey Global Institute estimates that about half of all the activities that people are currently paid to do will be automated by 2055. Even more dramatically, Taiwanese venture capitalist and technology executive Kai-Fu Lee believes AI will replace half of all jobs within the next decade.

According to D’Agostino, repetitive jobs will be the first to go. Speaking to the legal profession, she says, “If you’re just drafting contracts, drafting patents, then you may have to change your skillset, diversify because just doing one thing is going to make you dispensable through technology.” Given the current economic climate, students and recent graduates of all disciplines might be forced to stomach that advice.

“A technological solution… might solve the immediate problem,” says Woods, “but it’s almost always bound to produce new problems of its own.”

And if technology is a social phenomenon, it undoubtedly affects how we interact with one another. The smartphone, for instance, has fundamentally changed the way we communicate with others. Woods points out that we now text in advance to make sure people are available for phone conversations, which is substantially different from just calling someone up to chew the fat.

In general, communications technologies have facilitated radical shifts in the ways people relate to one another. The last time I had a conversation without referencing an internet meme was probably around the time LimeWire called it quits.

“Even if you feel like something is an innovation, you feel the loss of what it’s replacing,” says Woods.

Preparing for the next big thing

I ask D’Agostino whether there is an issue in the legal profession today that could be alleviated through the use of new technology. She responds that the answer will be the next legal tech startup — the next big thing. “That’s what we ask our students,” she says. “Where’s the problem, what’s the problem?… And that’s a company.”

I also ask representatives at the Hatchery to speak to problems in the community they would personally want to prioritize in future projects. Orozco suggested that entrepreneurship tools could be used to address ‘us-and-them’ political divides currently taking place in countries around the world, including to a certain extent in Canada.

Ahmed wants to tackle the gender gap that exists in the world of entrepreneurship, especially with respect to small businesses and startups. The first- and second-place teams at this year’s Hatchery pitch competition were both led by women, and it would certainly be encouraging to see similar representation in the future.

Given that technologically innovative strategies can be harnessed to address a wide variety of social issues, it is arguably in our best interest to not only figure out how to facilitate these solutions, but also how to do so responsibly.

More importantly, the ways in which people respond to technological innovation matter a great deal. 

In this vein, D’Agostino identifies the need for long-term commitment to resource investment. “If we want Canada to be an innovative country and want to innovate our industries, then we need to be able to support them,” she says. That includes paying attention to what she refers to as the “bedrock” components: namely, ensuring that our internet infrastructures are stable and secure.

At the same time, keeping in mind the situations currently unfolding within courtrooms, D’Agostino says it can be a good thing that the law is moving at its own pace. Harkening to the way she teaches her curriculum at Osgoode, “You also have to ensure you don’t jump, because you want to make sure everybody’s with you as you’re doing it so you can carry people along.”

Recalling Woods’ words of caution, part of that strategy should require sensitivity to how technological innovation will change us. As we’ve seen, anticipating these consequences can be analogous to trying to predict the future — absurdly difficult and sorely necessary at once.

“There’s a quote that we always overestimate the change in two years and underestimate the change in 10,” says Brudner. In light of the rate of change, he can’t tell me what law firms or legal technologies will look like years into the future, however he appears confident that whatever tools are developed will continue to improve.

I am confident too. It pays to be forward-thinking, so long as we are also careful to heed the lessons of the past. As students at the university, as members of a generation in which digital technologies shape our presents and our futures, it is easy to be frightened of the uncertainty that lies in wait. More exciting than fear, however, are the opportunities that might come hand in hand with the unknown.

The web: a museum of our everyday lives

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]henever I make a post on social media, I wonder who it will reach — not just in the present, but in the future. Hundreds of years from now, will a researcher studying a hashtag on Instagram labelled ‘dog’ meticulously analyze the editing choices I made for a photo of my dog? Will historians piecing together the lives of millennial university students investigate my tweets? Will my social media accounts exist at all?

I learned while writing this piece that my curiosity might not be as weird or narcissistic as it sounds: archives of our generation’s social media and web pages are currently being compiled, investigated, and utilized across U of T and the world.

Like cave paintings in France or clay tablets from Mesopotamia, our social media posts are artifacts that will offer future historians insights into our daily lives, our society, and our politics. Our social media accounts are museums of our everyday lives, self-curated time capsules for future researchers. Such a large — and constantly expanding — collection of the thoughts and behaviours of ordinary people has never been available to researchers before. While this wealth of data will be invaluable to future researchers and historians, it also presents unique problems that don’t have conclusive solutions. 

Preserving our digital data

Last December, volunteers gathered at U of T to archive climate change and environmental data that was at “high risk” of being deleted or of being made unavailable to the public under Donald Trump’s then-incoming presidency.

This “Guerrilla Archiving” event was done in collaboration with the Internet Archive’s “End of Term 2016” project. The Internet Archive is an online non-profit library that has recorded around 279 billion web pages for future historians to use. Its Canadian headquarters are located on the seventh floor of Robarts Library at UTSG. 

Matt Price, a sessional lecturer at U of T’s Department of History, was one of the organizers of the event. Price explained it was important to copy these pages not just for historical reasons, but for the sake of documenting the truth: our understanding of climate and its relation to human health comes from these long stretches of data, which is why it’s imperative for them to stay publicly accessible.

Sam-chin Li is the Reference/Government Publications Librarian at Robarts Library who assisted volunteers at the archiving event. According to Li and Nich Worby, a Government Information and Statistics Librarian at Robarts Library, government information is now only available digitally and only on government websites. Without strong enforcement, this digital content could be at risk of being edited or deleted.

“That is why preserving government websites is not only essential for researchers, historians and scientists to do their work in the future, it is also critical for the opposition and public to keep government accountable,” wrote Li and Worby in an email.

According to Li and Worby, future historians and researchers can use archived web content to grasp a better understanding of our “history and heritage.” Platforms like Twitter reveal valuable information about the lives of ordinary people and contains relevant interactions between governments and citizens.

Wendy Duff, a professor and dean in the Faculty of Information at U of T, thinks our social media archives will be “incredibly valuable” to future researchers trying to understand our societies, and that they will be able to exclusively provide information about certain demographics. Primary sources from the past, like letters and diaries, came from a small, specific group of people: those who were literate and had the free time to write. Now, tons of different groups have access to the internet — and the ability to inadvertently share glimpses of their daily lives with future historians.

Piecing together our lives

Back in April 2010, the Library of Congress announced that it would preserve all public tweets — excluding private account information or deleted tweets, as well as pictures and links — for future generations and historians. In addition to tweets, the Library of Congress is also collecting online information about American and select international election candidates, select Facebook pages and news sites, and websites related to important historical events.

Price underscored that an archive of the lives of ordinary people has never been available to historians before. Historians of earlier centuries have a “scarcity of sources,” while historians of the early 21st century will be overwhelmed by sources. “Their problem is going to be that there’s so many documents that it’s going to be very difficult to sort them,” said Price.

“There will be a massive amount of records, and you will not be able to read them all,” agreed Duff.

For example, a researcher studying a president from the 1800s might have the ability to read every letter sent from the president’s office, but a researcher studying a president from the 21st century almost certainly could not read all the relevant emails and tweets sent out, Duff explained.

“So you will have to have electronic tools to be able to understand certain patterns.”

To sort through these sources, historians of the early 21st century will need to use computational methods — such as searching for keywords or more complex queries — as well as physical analyses of outside texts or sources, explained Price. For some media, like tweets, statistical analysis is the only way to interact with them. One tweet doesn’t reveal enough; historians would have to examine an aggregation of tweets and consult relevant Twitter threads in order to gauge enough context.

‘Fake news’ and self-curation

Our social media accounts are near-shrines of our idealized versions of ourselves: we only post edited photos, we only tweet our wittiest thoughts, and we only share our most ‘likeable’ life events.

A more insidious issue is the spread of misinformation — popularly known as ‘fake news’ — on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The proliferation of false news stories and even fake first-hand accounts has been a pressing concern, especially over the past year. How will researchers hundreds of years from now be able to navigate our social media posts, all of which have varying degrees of reliability and bias?

Fiorella Foscarini, an associate professor and Director of Concurrent Registration Option at U of T’s Faculty of Information, says that fake news, forged records, and unreliable information has always been around, especially in the personal sphere or other environments with little outside control.

“What we are experiencing with social media, with the current proliferation of partial accounts or completely fabricated facts, is an interesting cultural phenomenon,” said Foscarini. “But it is also worrisome, because many people do not seem to have the critical instruments necessary to evaluate their sources.”

Archivists can prevent the spread of unreliable information by verifying the identity of the data at hand, providing resources for cross-examination, and monitoring the use of information to detect any modifications, Foscarini explained. However, outside of official archival spaces, these best practices might not be implemented.

Price explained that, regardless of genre, every source historians deal with has an “agenda,” and that historians have to learn to “read between the lines” of people’s self-presentations. 

“Social media today are different in genre from the kinds of texts produced 100 or 200 years ago, in part because they offer a very strange hybrid of public and private with highly curated visions of oneself,” said Price.

Instead of looking for answers about what people were “really like,” future researchers should turn to social media to see how people curated themselves and the conventions for this self-curation — or, in Price’s words, what “kind of cultural representations were dominant in a particular moment.”

Price also said it would be a good idea to use tweets as ways to learn about how events or ideas “travelled and became meaningful to the historical actors,” rather than to learn what was really happening during an event or crisis.

Archiving social media

While trying to capture tweets about the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement as part of a school project, Alexander Herd and his fellow group members ran into a problem: some of these Twitter accounts were being blocked or shut down by authorities trying to censor the information and ideas being shared.

In order to prevent these deleted tweets from being lost forever, Herd — who completed a master’s degree in Library and Information Science at U of T in 2016 — and his group members placed them in a “dark archive.” Dark archives usually contain “sensitive information” about an ongoing event and can hold political tweets for 25–50 years.

Copyright was another issue for Herd’s group. Despite tweets being public record, “many users are not comfortable with their tweets being archived for eternity.”

“By extension, there has been discussion over who owns copyright of a tweet,” said Herd. According to Herd, there isn’t a clear resolution yet, but dark archiving tweets for a long period of time is a possible solution.

Herd and his group also consulted U of T librarians for their project, including Li and Worby.

According to Li and Worby, permanently sharing archived tweets is currently prohibited according to Twitter’s Developer Agreement. Researchers can only share ‘Tweet IDs’ with the public. Tweet IDs are unique, unsigned integers that contain a timestamp, worker number, and sequence number to help researchers gain the full content of tweets. However, deleted tweets are not available, which spurs yet another ethical issue when it comes to public figures and their ability to delete their tweets.

A ‘digital dark age’

In grad school, Price was part of a digital preservation effort at Stanford University that involved lucrative restriction enzyme patents. The archives at the library were given a collection of all the emails sent between the researchers working on this project in the 1970s.

However, the data was on eight-inch floppy disks. Price watched as the researchers moved the data to 5.25-inch floppy disks, and then to 3.5-inch floppy disks, and then to disk drives, and then to small hard drives before printing out the emails.

It’s inevitable that researchers hundreds of years from now will run into the same technological problems. It’s possible that the technology of the future may not be able to support our current technology or read our files — and leave future researchers in a ‘digital dark age.’

Duff said it would be a “huge detriment” if we were to lose all records of our digital data. Data loss is already happening every time someone accidentally deletes a file or breaks a phone full of pictures, Duff pointed out.

Price said that there could be some “massive social upheavals” in the future, especially in the wake of global climate change, which might compromise digital sources — which are currently stored in large buildings that depend on electricity to stay online.

“We know that paper can survive, sometimes for thousands of years, but there’s no evidence that digital data can survive in that way,” said Price.

Preserving digital data

Unlike books, web pages change “unpredictably and continuously,” explained Price, which means that archivists need to frequently make copies of these pages in order to truly capture our history.

“Archiving dynamic, interactive, ubiquitous digital information is much more challenging than archiving stable, almost unchanging analog records,” said Foscarini.

Despite the difficulties posed by technological obsolescence, Foscarini said that preserving websites and social media is no longer perceived as completely “unsurmountable.” The problem lies in ensuring these digital materials will still “make sense” hundreds of years from now.

“What kind of metadata do we need to retain, or to add, in order to provide enough context that would allow future generations to understand what that tweet or that meme meant to communicate?” said Foscarini.

Emily Maemura is a fourth-year PhD candidate at U of T’s Faculty of Information whose research centres on archiving and preserving the web.

“Long-term preservation of digital media is perhaps less like letters or newspapers, and more like audio-visual collections, which requires monitoring and attention since software and hardware become obsolete over time,” said Maemura.

Maemura is researching another challenge web archivers must face: deciding which social media posts to actually keep, since archiving the web takes time, money, and resources.

“I think there’s an assumption that it’s possible to capture ‘everything’ that’s out there,” said Maemura.

Maemura explained that this is an “impossible goal” because there is a finite amount of data that can be sustained and because technological limits make it difficult to capture certain kinds of dynamic data.

“So it’s important to be aware of, and be critical of, the kinds of selection processes that happen, who decides what is preserved, and who is responsible for the ongoing access and maintenance,” said Maemura.

So, next time you retweet a viral meme or make an online post, consider the possibility of researchers and archivists centuries from now studying it. What will it say about who we are today?

Chasing cheesecakes

The scene was Bloor Street,

The sitch: “Escape from Robarts.”

I, walking briskly.

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]verwhelmed with five papers, four midterms, and 472 pages of readings, I bolted from the 13th floor of Robarts. My seat on the far-right corner was taken, meaning I couldn’t possibly sentence myself to this brutalist concrete prison to work. The universe had already let me down, and it was only 10:28 am on a Friday. Rattled, I ran. I ran away from my present and toward my future.

After a seven-minute near-sprint on the flat laneway that is Bloor Street, I felt my feet slow and the sun increase its glow as I ascended to the heavenly doors of Future Bistro.

To my left, an older grandmotherly type was scrolling away on the latest MacBook Pro, and in front of me was a younger couple making the most of their 20-per-cent-off student breakfast, soaking up every bit of hollandaise sauce with their last home fry. To my right sat an unassuming and empty far-right corner seat.

At 10:49 am, I ordered myself a large coffee — for here. As I pulled out my credit card for its first tap of the day, I saw them: the cheesecakes.

The heavenly glow peeked out again. Three rows of five cheesecakes on one side, two rows of six on the other, each a different flavour. My view of the cakes was then abruptly clouded by a waiter who swooped in to take a slice of butter tart cheesecake, snapping me out of this daze and reminding me to return to my seat.

At my table, in two swift motions, as if I was Neo preparing to battle Morpheus, I pulled out and opened my laptop. The first thing to greet me was Cheryl Blossom’s face right after she announced she was in the mood for chaos. Reluctantly, I closed the tab.

What greeted me next was nothing short of Morpheus himself: graduate school applications. Why not? Anything to procrastinate an essay that was due yesterday — why not start filling out my grad school apps due Monday instead?

Please attach your statement of intent and answer the following questions:

1. Why do you want to go to graduate school? Jeez, I guess because I can’t afford to live away from home and, after an hour-and-a-half commute, this is the best I can get.

2. Why should we pick you? I have been asking myself the same question for 21 years, my dude.

3. Which cheesecake would you pick if you could pick any cheesecake off this shelf? Aha! Finally, a question I full-heartedly know the answer to! Mango raspberry cheesecake, of course. My favourite Yogen Früz combo on my favourite slice of cake — the best of both worlds, beyond what Hannah Montana could have even imagined. That activation of enzymes and burst of raspberry sweetness when you bite into — my view was interrupted once again, this time by a short girl with pink hair coming to pick up a slice for herself.

It was hard to work on my future in Future, distracted by all these slices of cake and types of people. And man, people in here come in as many varieties as the cheesecakes. At 3:53 pm, I noticed two men beside me, armed with Steam Whistles, discussing robots taking over the world; I saw another student diagonal from me, engrossed in the latest Zadie Smith novel while slowly sipping their third cup of coffee; and I watched as a mother set down her groceries while her children ran to find forks for their own cakes.

Maybe the answers to questions one and two were right here in this moment. I am to attend graduate school because I want my future to be as vibrant as the beanie of the kid two seats down. Perhaps they ought to pick me because, out of the many chances I had to give in to my temptation, I knew my priorities and they included my desire to take the best of the present and maintain it in the future. And the best was right here, in the everyday interactions of grown-ups, children, families, and loners all running away from their own brutalist prisons to unite in a space where you could see everyone, and everyone could see you. In unison, we all raise a fork and dip into that first bite.

At 6:02 pm, I had a realization: I don’t know if I will be in grad school or not in the future — but I do know that Future will be here, and with it, its people.

Etiquette Squirrel

Dear Etiquette Squirrel (from the future),

It has come to my attention that D does not stand for ‘degree.’ I thought I was doing well, but now I’m not too sure. Is it too late for me? Will I pass school? Please help.

— Failing?

Dear Failing?,

Think about school like a game of Monopoly: you roll the dice, make a good go at it, and sometimes you win. What I’m trying to say is, you’re not going to pass ‘Go’ anytime soon. But no worries, you’ll eventually discover a love for board games, win the International Monopoly Championship, and gain a small fortune for yourself. Unfortunately, Monopoly money has no value. But hey, you can always join me up in a tree.


Hello Etiquette Squirrel (from the future),

Will my mom ever love me?

— Neglected Child

Dear Neglected Child,

I would like to say that in the future, your mother will realize that you were the greatest thing that ever happened to her and she’ll stop criticizing your grades. But let’s just say that a little squirrely told me it’s in your best interest to remember her birthday next year — and maybe don’t say that you liked Brenda’s pie better than your mom’s. Otherwise, she’ll always love your brother more than you.


Yo Future,

When is your album dropping? What’s up with your new name? I don’t really dig this squirrel thing.

— Future’s Biggest Fan

Dear My Biggest Fan,

You’ll have to talk to my manager about that.


Dear Etiquette Squirrel (from the future),

What’s life like for squirrels in the future? I read on a conspiracy site that the world will end with squirrels destroying the human race. Is it true?

— Doomsday Now

Dear Doomsday Now,

I wouldn’t call it destroying the human race so much as improving it. You cut down our homes, so we cut down your population. But don’t worry, life is pretty great, or at least it is for us squirrels.


Hey Etiquette Squirrel (from the future),

I’ve been having a rough time balancing school, work, and sports recently and don’t know what to do. Will my future get better?

— Rough Time

Dear Rough Time,

Like I always say: the world is your acorn. Work your tail off, kiddo. It’s going to be okay.


Hi Etiquette Squirrel (from the future),

Have you heard about the freshman fifteen? I’ve been so unhealthy since university started and want to get back in shape — my doctor gave me supplements to help, but I don’t think they’re working. What should I do?

— Health Nut

Dear Health Nut,

Have you been drinking your almond milk? You know what they say: ‘an almond a day keeps the doctor away.’ This is probably a good thing since your doctor is not properly licensed and is trying to rope you into a pyramid scheme. Those weren’t real nutritional supplements, Health Nut. Always check your doctor’s credentials.


‘Sup Etiquette Squirrel (from the future),

Help! I have a paper due tomorrow night and no motivation to finish. Can you help me find some motivation — and also a topic?

— No Motivation, Mo’ Problems

Dear No Motivation, Mo’ Problems,

I can tell you that you end up writing about Plato’s view on the form and beauty of squirrels.


Hiya Etiquette Squirrel (from the future),

I’ve been trying to cut down on my coffee intake. Could you suggest some alternatives?

— 2 Decaffeinated 2 Function

Dear 2 Decaffeinated 2 Function,

I’m personally a fan of a nice 1987 Margaux Red, or some 1963 Cheval Blanc. If you’re looking for a low-budget option, I suppose you could go for a 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, but why would you do that to yourself? I would avoid any 2023 Piedmont Reds though.  They really doesn’t compare to the 2023 Pomeral Reds.


Bonjour Etiquette Squirrel (from the future),

When will I marry a millionaire?

— Too Much Tuition

Dear Too Much Tuition,

July 17, 2028. You’ll have a nice destination wedding in Honolulu because although you are rich, you are still basic. You offer to fly in all your friends and family, which doesn’t really work out since your friend Michael decides to bring that girl from high school who always made fun of your eyebrows. But what do you care — you’re a millionaire.


Bonjour Etiquette Squirrel (from the future),

When do I marry a billionaire?

— Too Much Tuition (again)

Dear Too Much Tuition (again),

February 14, 2053, after you divorce the millionaire.


Dear Etiquette Squirrel (from the future),

If a tree falls in a forest and nobody’s there to hear it, does it make a sound?

— Not a Lumberjack

Dear Not a Lumberjack,

Of course, silly human. Remember what I said would happen when you cut down our homes? The sound that is made when a tree is cut down is the scream of a mother squirrel watching her three children getting crushed under the weight of an oak branch and human folly.


Hi Etiquette Squirrel (from the future),

Do we ever figure out the answer to life?

— PHL100 Student

Dear PHL100 Student,

It’s 42 nuts.


Hi Etiquette Squirrel (from the future),

Does Bernie Sanders ever become US President?

— Berned Out

Dear Berned Out,

YES, BERNIE 2020, GET OUT THE VOTE.*

*Etiquette Squirrel (from the future) does not endorse any candidate


Howdy Etiquette Squirrel (from the future),

Will squirrels ever get equal rights? I’m rooting for you guys.

— Squirrel Whisperer

Dear Squirrel Whisperer,

Thank you for the support. Unfortunately, we don’t get equal rights until all humans do.


RAPID FIRE

Will I ever find love???

I will always love you.

Will I ever get a dog?

Yes.

Will I become Prime Minister?

Yes.

Will I ever own a house?

In this market? Please.

Will Brangelina ever get back together?

No.

Life after student politics

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]very year, the student population — or at least enough of us to reach quorum — come together to exercise our collective power by electing representatives upon whom we place our dreams for lower tuition and free spaghetti. Those mysterious beings we call ‘student politicians’ are in the spotlight for a year — or two, or three — before falling off our radar forever, leaving behind only new bylaws and old Varsity articles.

What happens to these student politicians after they leave? Do they fade back into the general populace, or are they so irreversibly consumed by their stint in the spotlight that they choose it as a career path?

Unsurprisingly, many of them do end up having careers in similar areas. Former University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) President Nour Alideeb is now the Chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O). Many former University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) presidents have also found themselves in relevant career paths after their tenures: 2013–2014 president Munib Sajjad is now the Executive Director at the UTMSU, 2008–2010 president Sandra Hudson was hired as the union’s Executive Director following her presidency, and 2006–2007 president Jen Hassum worked for the Ontario New Democratic Party before moving onto the United Steelworkers, where she currently works.

While there appears to be a trend among previous high-profile student politicians continuing to work within unions or student organizations post-U of T, there are also those who move far away from it. A stint in student politics, like a stint in any career, doesn’t steer a person’s life so much as guide it; while researching the successes of four previous student politicians, this became increasingly clear.

Ben Coleman. MIN HO LEE/THE VARSITY

Former UTSU President Ben Coleman left the world of student politics behind and now works in the Government Relations & Philanthropy department of the Toronto International Film Festival. While his line of work now has little to do with student unions, he credits his time in politics as opening him up to new career possibilities.

“It taught me that I like doing things that are exciting. Doing the UTSU… [and] finding so much enjoyment doing things that are difficult and complicated and high-stress and exciting, I think I realized I wanted to do things that were more ambitious.”

A stint in student politics, like a stint in any career, doesn’t steer a person’s life so much as guide it; while researching the successes of four previous student politicians, this became increasingly clear.

Last year’s UTSU President Jasmine Wong Denike has also left student politics and currently works as the Operations Manager of Dropbike, a startup specializing in bike-sharing technology.

When asked whether she would consider getting involved in politics outside of university, Denike said, “I’m never getting into politics [again]. Ever.”

Jasmine Wong Denike. MIN HO LEE/THE VARSITY

She said that her two years spent in student politics took a toll on her mental health. But despite what Denike described as the “toxicity” of student politics, she does not regret getting involved. “I learned so much and I got to experience so much. The opportunity was fantastic and I would not trade that for a lot of things,” she said. 

Coleman’s thoughts were similar: “To say I enjoyed my experience is the wrong word,” he said. “It wasn’t a vacation [but] it was a worthwhile experience.”

Coleman and Denike are not alone in that sentiment. Ryan Gomes, who served as  the UTSU’s 2015–2016 Vice-President Internal & Services and as Vice-President Professional Faculties the following year, echoed their statements.

While Gomes has also left the realm of student politics and is now working as a consultant at Deloitte Canada, he is thankful for what he got to do, albeit happy he is no longer involved with student politics.

“I definitely don’t ever regret going into student politics. It gave me a lot of wonderful things in my life… but god I’m glad I’m done with it now. It’s such a toxic headspace. It’s 24/7 toxicity. My life is much better now.”

Ryan Gomes. MIN HO LEE/THE VARSITY

Indeed, being involved in student politics is not calm, to say the least. Each student who decides to take the job of representing students will invariably experience some hardships, whether those are issues that pop up during the year or are inherited.

Coleman’s year as UTSU President had the latter problem. Before his slate won the 2015 election, he described the UTSU as being stuck in a trend of incumbent slates running unopposed. Gomes, who was a part of Coleman’s slate, portrayed it bluntly as “a students’ union that was essentially on fire.”

“That was the year they spent a lot of time fixing little things that weren’t as flashy or visible,” explained Denike. “I guess you could call it a foundational fixing year because the UTSU’s foundation wasn’t super solid [before that].”

During their time on the UTSU, the three of them worked alongside their team to update the proxy system, run surpluses, and reform the electoral system. Looking back on his time in the union, Coleman is proudest of the “little things, like the fact that after my year clubs could submit funding applications online.” Yet victories, even the small ones, are rarely achieved without some hardships.

Getting involved with the UTSU certainly immersed the three former executives deep into student politics. However, there is no single route for anything in life — other student politicians, like former Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) President Abdullah Shihipar, have had very different experiences. Unlike Denike, Coleman, and Gomes, Shihipar did not get involved in student politics through the UTSU; he served as ASSU President from 2014–2016.

Abdullah Shihipar. MIN HO LEE/THE VARSITY

“I think that ASSU’s unique in the sense that it kind of does something that no other student union does on campus,” said Shihipar. “It does academic advocacy… but it’s also very political and provides services just like the UTSU does.”

Shihipar now does communications work for a non-governmental organization and is a freelance writer. When he looks back on his tenure, he describes it in exceedingly positive terms compared to how the UTSU executives described their time in the spotlight. Implementing a fall reading week, advocating for student rights, and changing the university’s syllabus policies were all things that Shihipar looks back on as proud accomplishments. However, it was not all smooth sailing. Shihipar noted some disagreements with his team and circumstances he wishes he had handled differently.

But for the most part, he is satisfied with what he achieved and sees his experience as having a great impact on his life: “Your impact on an organization is minimal within that organization’s history,” he said. “My two years of being president, my four years of being an exec… is like a drop in the bucket. But ASSU’s effect on me as a person is much larger than my effect on it.”

Perhaps this is a truth that can be derived from a student’s time in politics; while their period in the public eye may be over for now, the time they spent working on behalf of students has opened them up to new ideas, experiences, and possibilities.