Unfollowing the downtown eastside

“We’re living at a time when attention is the new currency. Those who insert themselves into as many channels as possible look set to capture the most value.”
-Pete Cashmore, Founder of Mashable.com

Every notable corporation, public entity, and public person in Canada uses social media to some extent. Even my mother uses Facebook (relentlessly). Most people who do not engage in social media, it seems, do so out of protest or privacy concerns; we take it for granted that those who don’t use social media avoid it on purpose. Why shouldn’t we? The United Nations declared Internet access to be a basic human right two years ago, and as a G8 country, Canada can afford to provide it.

Not everyone has access, though, and if attention really is the new currency, we may be further impoverishing our poorest citizens.

Most of us have data available on our smartphones, so we can check in any time we like with Facebook, Twitter, or news apps. These are basic acts that we do sporadically all day, every day. Are people without smartphones or readily available computer terminals really missing out?

For the uses most people get from social media, the answer is probably no – the ability to chuckle at a cat meme is a low-priority accomplishment, in evolutionary terms, anyway. But when it comes to larger social issues, social media is more and more becoming the measure we use to tell who is switched on, and who doesn’t care.

Take Idle No More, for example. The First Nations-driven movement started with a hashtag, yet in a community with a massive Aboriginal representation, many people in the Downtown Eastside likely don’t know anything about it. The goals of the movement likely directly affect them, but their voices are silenced through a disconnection from the medium in which the movement lives. For most of us, social media is a luxury, but as it becomes central to our identity as citizens we need to make sure it is open to everyone.

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