Friday, March 18, 2022

The Dark Side of the Web

As we discuss the early years of the Internet, we will discover how, as with many things, it can be both good and bad, having both a bright side and a dark side. Many of its elements can belong to both sides, depending on their use.

In 1993, Peter Steiner captured the spirit of the Internet at the time with his cartoon in the New Yorker: "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." 

People were realizing that the Internet could be used as a tool of liberation, allowing them to reinvent themselves and leave their bodies behind. At first, they made small changes, such as making themselves ten to thirty years younger when talking with others on chat. But they soon began experimenting with many more changes to their profile and soon realized that they could become a different persona, altogether. This raised many criticisms, regarding moral and security issues, thus sending this element to the dark side.

But others saw the situation much differently. Sure it raised negative possibilities but it offered some ground breaking positive possibilities as well. Take "school" for example. The school environment can be both harsh and psychologically damaging. The school society is divided into cliques. The head of the cliques are cool, popular kids: kids that look right. And grouped around them are kids who are physically pleasing enough for now.

So, where does this leave the kids that don't quite fit in: kids that stutter, for example, or are not physically pleasing enough? They are usually shut out, laughed at, bullied - all because of their physical appearance. 

And this is where the Internet comes in. In 1991, we ran a program where a number of schools from different socio-economic areas were involved. Each student was paired with students from two different schools. They started out by introducing themselve through email. After they became fairly well acquainted, they discussed issues which were brought up. We soon discovered that the social framework of the class greatly changed as the kids related only to the writing without knowing anything about their physical appearance. As such, kids who were usuallly at the bottom of the social ladder often appeared now at the top because of their writing skills. What made it even more interesting was the day when the students from all of the participating schools got onto buses and travelled to a common meeting point. There was an awkward point when it was discovered that a girl student who was writing to two girls had pretended that she was a boy and the girls were apparently quite infatuated with her through her writing. But that won't stop us from sending this experience to the bright side.

In my first novel - "As I Died Laughing" - I took this one step further, where a husband invents a virtual character to seduce his wife. Why did he do it? We won't go into that here. Let's just say that things worked out much differently than he had expected. His wife fell in love with this virtual character that he invented and he discovered that he could now only find true intimacy with his wife through the eyes of his virtual character.

Do you have similar experiences that you want to share with us? You can write about them in the "comments section" down below or send me the description for a guest posting.

Back to the Future

In the early days of the Internet (early 1990's) there was a group of visionary educators from around the world who realized that we were on the brink of a digital revolution. In those days, almost all of the K12 (kindergarten until grade 12) educators online either knew each other or knew of each other. All you needed was at least one Internet connection in the school and you could take off. 

Many exciting international, educational projects were initiated by teachers in the field during this time. Ministries of Education from around the world still had no idea what the Internet was all about and Bill Gates hadn't yet realized that the Internet was the next big thing. By the time he did, the Internet was already firmly entrenched as a grassroot phenomenon and noone was going to take it away. It was for the people, by the people and belonged to the people - where teachers were empowered in ways never thought possible before. They were no longer dependent only on those things dictated from above. It was an exciting time to be a teacher.

I will try to recreate some of the excitement from these years in posts to come. I know that many of my old virtual colleagues are still out there - whether still teaching or retired. You are warmly invited to tell us something about your own initiatives during these years, either in the "comments section" below this post or by sending me a posting which I will post as a "guest posting".
Looking forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Dark Side of the Moon

It's been a little over a year since I wrote my last blog post. Since then, the well has dried up. Is this connected to my slipping out of the workforce and into the dark side of retirement? 

To truly answer that question, I suppose I should first ask myself why I am writing a blog at all. In Where Ketchup Will Travel, my first blog post written ten years ago, I described my original motivation as follows:

"For all of you Canadians still out there in the mother country, and you Israelis who are still wondering how all of these immigrants made it in here, I offer you a slightly different look at identity mislaid, sometimes lost, and occasionally gained - here, and in further entries to come."

Most people who knew me were surprised at how someone as socially autistic as myself could open himself up in that way. What they didn't realize was that I had found the perfect medium for doing so.

So, eighty-eight blog posts and ten years later, I ask myself where do I go from here. The emphasis, until now, has been on sharing. By sharing, we shed light on ideas and they become real. But these two last years, a worldwide epidemic has changed the world greatly, forcing us to adapt. And now we have seen how a despot can hold the world captive, turning millions of people into refugees, threatening world order, and perhaps leading to World War Three.

That's the world. And we also have our own personal trials and tribulations where we can exchange notes,

Until now, we have been travelling under the light of the moon. Now is the time to also visit the dark side. You are welcome to join me on the journey.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Last stop - Beer Sheva

"So, this is it, then - the end of the line."

"Really? Can't I take a transfer? I hear that they are talking about setting up a separate line to Eilat." 

"Not in your lifetime. Chin up, old man. You've had a good, long life (more or less) and there is still time for you to do more."

"In Beer Sheva?"

"What's wrong with Beer Sheva?"

"I don't know, it's..."

"It's come a long way since you called it a cow town."

"Shh! They may hear you. I have to live here now. I don't want to get off on the wrong foot even before I get going."

"So what are your plans?"

"For retirement?"

"Yes, for retirement in Beer Sheva."

"I'll play it by ear. I have started to explore Beer Sheva by foot, which should also make my neurologist happy as she claims that walking is the best exercise the body and mind can share."

"So, everything is coming up smelling of roses."

"Are you making fun of me?"

"No, of course not. Well, maybe just a little."

"Anyhow, watch this space. Beer Sheva will soon take its rightful place beside the others... Toronto, Scarborough, Kibbutz Palmachim, Midreshet Ben Gurion - from Lake to Sea to Desert to City"

I welcome tips from those of you who know Beer Sheva well or are just starting out like me. 


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Is it ever too late to write love letters?

Is this you?

         *  *  *  *  *

Noises circling above us
faces behind bars of fear
waiting to cry, laugh, scream
looking any way
only not straight ahead

Pushing our way through the crowd
one of many
too much the same
trying to breathe
find a rock untouched to sit upon

Afraid that this is what matters
noises about us
waiting to take life away

Listen to the silence
unsaid, unseen
and taste
bitter sweet

Search for the unknown
beyond the noise and faces
below the fear and dry tears
where hidden secrets lie and beckon
for those who dare live among the living

Pay homage to your restless self
never lose sight of your beauty
and keep me close
if only deep within

Monday, November 23, 2020

You want it darker

So, where were we? Oh yes - The beginning of the end. No, don't look at me like that. We all know what the end will be. Is it time now for an intervention, you ask. Not for me. I am minding my own business. That is the difference between now and then. I am not writing for anyone else - just me. You may have stumbled by here. And you are welcome. Why publish as public, if at all? Let's just call it a whim.

I am listening to Leonard Cohen's last album - You want it darker. Leonard didn't wait for me. We shared so much throughout the years, but in the end, you left me behind. I have a lot of catching up to do. Meanwhile, you have left a trail of bread crumbs in your last album for me to follow. How long do I have before the pigeons eat them up?

"That's not an album you'd want to listen to more than once," my wife said. Meaning, that there is nothing there that you would hum to incessantly. Yet, I have listened to it countless times and I mark off the numbers one by one. The songs are no longer meant to be sung - two guitarists - running down through the sand dunes into the Mediterranean at the stroke at midnight. They are most profound when they are not sung at all.

I still have some words left. Maybe they are meant for my ears alone - secrets whispered into the silence - only echoes, if anything heard at all.

Many of you have already written me off. A disturbed mind, you say. Especially after reading my last book: When Winter Wind Wears Desert Boots. I wouldn't say disturbed. Tortured, maybe. We have reached The Winter in our lives. I once wandered into the desert and explored the hidden crevices, until my boots would carry me no more.

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Windmills of My Mind

I feel that I am surrounded. Surrounded by silence where even my voice is not heard.

I have never excelled at verbal skills, whether this be the reason for my being an introvert or the result of being one. And the more my verbal skills deteriorated, so did my social skills, until they became almost totally non-existent.

But there has always been my writing. There can be found my love for words and the key to opening up the hidden secrets of my mind. My writing has enabled me to live in a world which is bearable and allow me to express myself, for better or for worse.

But things have changed. A few years back, I started my second book - When Winter Wind Wears Desert Boots - on a low flame but it soon became all-consuming. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. My body and mind both told me this, but not in unison. They had gone renegade on me and this lack of coordination between the two would become my greatest enemy.

I became a man with a mission. I was now writing a confession. Not a confession of things past, or things that still hadn't happened, but rather a confession of what it was to be human. And to finish it, I only had until the end of time.

It was with a sense of release, then, that I finished the book. It was out there now and no longer haunted me from the inside. I know that many who read it, especially those who know me, found it difficult to read. For they couldn't detach their knowledge of me from the main character in the book and it didn't make any difference to them that the events had never really happened. One close friend who read the first draft of the book told me to never have it published. "It will be your ruin," he said. Another reader - an English teacher - said that the whole book was just smut.

Do I regret the graphic portrayal of desire and search for intimacy? No, I don't. The book was not meant to make you feel comfortable.

For better and for worse, I am leaving this part of me behind. Call it a legacy, if you must.

It was not long after the book was published that I was diagnosed with Parkinson's. It was as if I had been working in the dark and somebody had suddenly turned on the light. The good news was that they knew what was wrong with me. The bad news was that it was only going to get worse with no chance of a cure. One of the many things that I was warned about was increasing speech abnormalities and I felt myself going full circle.

A year has passed since I wrote my last blog entry. I must do better. For if I lose my ability to write, then I have lost all. Right now I am working on my third book - a work of dystopian fiction which mirrors the type of world we live in today. And no, you will find it difficult to find a character who strongly resembles me. How close am I to finishing? Let's say that I am rounding third base and am on my way home.

It is a journey. You are welcome to travel it with me. Maybe at times, I will cause you to smile or even shed a tear. I will be happy to have you as a travelling companion.

And one day, in the distant future, a grandchild of mine may pick up my second book and try to attach the written voice to a vague memory of an ageing man with kind eyes but a stern expression.