• Carmen Marie Fabio

Tech off


“Carmen, you buried the lede in this story!” read the comment angrily jotted at the bottom of my assignment and double underlined. “Can we talk?” I winced, not so much at the B-, but by the fact that I hadn’t met the expectations of one of my favourite teachers in the Journalism Program at Concordia, a person who was usually calm and patient but without ever suffering fools.

Linda Kay died last week at the age of 66 after a battle with cancer and as I read her online obituary, I was reminded of someone who was a consummate old-school professional who was genuinely invested in her students’ success and was firm about instilling the correct writing structure, punctuation, grammar, and accuracy. You could not bend the writing rules with Professor Kay – she’d call you out on it. She provided honest feedback on your work – sometimes brutally honest – but it was always coupled with tangible suggestions for improvement and a reminder to persevere without ever taking ‘no’ for an answer.

She was the teacher who went beyond the classroom to help you out, whether it was for bursary applications, recommendations on workshops, or letters of reference for academia or employment opportunities.

Her love of the writing craft was perhaps matched by an equal disdain for intrusive technology that was then still only at the comparative infancy of permeating every aspect of our lives. Heaven help you if your cell phone went off in her classroom.

“Someone’s tweeting or chirping or something,” she snapped one evening as a classmate frantically and surreptitiously kicked his knapsack under the desk to hush the beeping of his phone. “Shut it off!”

I now think that’s the healthiest mindset to take when dealing with the sheer amount of today’s technology. For our own mental health, we need to establish parameters in just how much we’re willing to let tech suck out our souls.

It’s not unusual to hear about people who’ve taken a break from social media and the sense of relief that comes along with it. My son recently installed an ad-blocker program on my home computer so that I could actually look at an article or a recipe without some flashing animation or film clip jumping onto the screen. My brother still refuses to buy a cell phone, making do by conducting his business, quite successfully, on a mini iPad.

We build our mousetraps in life and the mice always try to figure out new ways to try and get in. Like the Facebook message we received this week at the office from someone in India sending us photos of home-forged surgical tools for sale. Or the email I got insisting my system was infected by a virus that caught me going to a porn webpage and doing unprintable things to myself. But for a mere $400 in bitcoin, I could redeem my soul.

“All the best,” the sender signed off without a trace of irony. “Don’t forget about the ignominy.”

But the final straw was when I read Linda’s online obituary and saw the spammers had used the comments section to advertise bogus jobs, proclaiming, “Earn up to $5000 dollars a day!”

It took two attempts at going through the automated switchboard of the Montreal Gazette before I was finally able to reach a real person in the classified department, a nice lady who told me that it was pointless to try and get anything modified there and directed me to Post Media head office in Calgary.

I’m happy to report that after another two attempts, Cindy in Calgary agreed that someone should be vetting the comments section of the obits and within a few hours, the spammers were gone.

I wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer. I’d been taught well.

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