On the seventh floor of Robarts Library a new generation of digital scribes flip the pages of old books under glass enclosures, while Canon 5Ds mounted with powerful, sharp macro lenses click every four seconds, feeding images of text into a computer that churns them out as full-text searchable PDFs available for download at Archive.org. This is the Internet Archive—well, U of T’s contribution to the Internet Archive, an international, multilingual catalogue that is the great alternative to Google for the digitization of books. The IA presents far fewer legal dilemmas than Google, as it digitizing only those books already out of copyright. You might not think that a Farmers’ Almanac from 1884 or a book on ornamental street lighting from 1912 would be that interesting to read, but this project is providing scholars with research opportunities that were unimaginable just a few years ago. The archive contains material from libraries and collections worldwide that used to be under strict lock and key. A photo series, headed “One more reason to go digital,” posted on the wall of the Robarts facility, depicts rows of library shelves fallen all over one another, the result of some accident. There’s the incentive for libraries to digitize their material, and the IA offers the framework for them to do just that.
Slideshow: Out of Copyright
The last flight of your life
It’s a small world, right? If you want to visit the world’s great offerings—the Taj Mahal, the Great Barrier Reef, or Machu Picchu—all you would need is a few weeks and the money for your flight. A few hours of cramped sleep, and, alternatively, you’re in Vancouver, seeing your relatives.Here’s a scary thought, though—if the price of jet fuel were to go up dramatically, flights could become little more accessible than space travel. And with a potential oil crisis looming in the future, you just might have already taken the last flight of your life. But how far away is the threat of having to spend spring break in Niagara instead of the Bahamas?From the perspective of only a few decades ago, the ease of air travel that we know today was akin to the idea of a hover car—the whimsical imaginings of an improbable future. To your grandparents, aviation was the exclusive domain of the super-rich. By virtue of your birth date, though, you’ve probably never known such a world: air travel is likely little more special to you than riding Greyhound.In our future, we probably won’t know this luxury again. If oil production peaks, flying in a Boeing 747 will be about as feasible as flying in a giant cruise ship fuelled by coconuts. This is the future of travel a growing number of environmentalists and economists are predicting. As they see it, climate change and energy costs will force our travel patterns to become much more local.“The reality is that there is no one big solution,” Franz Hartmann, Executive Director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance and professor at U of T’s Centre for the Environment, told The Varsity. “How we move ourselves is one of those things we have to change. For most of us, it will be changing the way we travel on a daily basis.” Deciding not to take a car, opting instead for the train or bike for our daily commute is a big step for environmental conservation.But the need for reducing our travel-related carbon footprint reaches well beyond the daily commute. Our dependence on air travel is particularly important, whether a plane is used for jetting to some distant vacation spot or sending overnight parcels.“There’s no doubt that travelling by plane is very carbon intensive,” says Hartmann.The International Air Transport Association points out that today’s aircraft are 20 per cent more fuel-efficient than they were 10 years ago. Nevertheless, air travel currently produces 700 million tons of carbon emissions each year, accounting for approximately three per cent of global emissions. The Committee on Climate Change, an independent body established by the U.K. government, predicts this number could rise to as much as 20 per cent by 2050.Such figures have many airlines thinking green. Recent initiatives by the likes of Virgin Atlantic and British Airways include the development of biofuels derived from nuts and algae. But according to Hartmann, widespread adoption of fuel alternatives to kerosene, the basis of jet fuel, remains out of reach. “We are far from a point where jet aircraft can fly with renewable fuels,” he says.Even if such alternatives were used en masse, there is no guarantee of their long-term feasibility. “We also have to ask ourselves whether there is the capacity to grow the plants to produce the fuel. We don’t know that yet,” he said.Government regulation is an obvious alternative to low-carbon technologies. In fact, pressure is mounting on western governments from bodies such as the CCC to set a cap on global aviation emissions by the end of this year. How consumers would respond to this type of government involvement remains uncertain. Hartmann remarks, “we are rightly or wrongly at a point where if the government attempted to restrict travel, people would disagree.”As a result, shifts in travel patterns fall to the discretion of the individual. Hartmann was more direct: “Do we need to curb our travel? Absolutely.” If individual will fails to produce a change, market forces may dictate one. The tipping point will be energy costs, or more precisely, the price of oil. Hartmann notes, “travel for holiday or for business is very price dependent. The big question is what will happen with ticket prices.”Discount airlines, a staple of modern travel, may soon become untenable. In recent decades, declining costs allowed various airlines to emerge through cut-rate ticket prices, including WestJet and JetBlue in North America, Ryanair in Europe and Tiger Airways in Australia and Southeast Asia. As developing countries expand their airline industries, air travel is expected to double by mid-century. Economists predict, however, that this boom will turn to a bust if fuel costs climb back to their pre-recession levels.Rising oil prices may well be the death knell of the discount airline. “Especially in Europe, there has been a dramatic increase in travel because of cheap airlines. The cost of fossil fuels could change all this,” says Hartmann.Jeff Rubin, former Chief Economist for CIBC World Markets, shares this view. Now also an energy expert, Rubin predicts that current travel patterns will no longer be viable as the world’s oil wells dry up. According to Rubin, oil production will peak much sooner than we think. One figure shows, alarmingly, the world’s oil companies extracting three times as much of the resource as they are discovering, both on and off shore. Such practices will lead to higher oil prices, and the effective end of a “globalized” world. In his new book, Why Your World is about to Get a Whole Lot Smaller, Rubin argues, “air travel just doesn’t make sense in a world of triple-digit oil prices.”Air travel in general will likely return to its traditionally exclusive status. For decades, long-range journeys were a luxury few could enjoy. By the latter part of the 20th century, increased access to cheap oil transformed jet travel from a luxury into a commonality in the west. What we once assumed to have become the norm turns out to have been a historical blip. Indeed, according to Rubin, “We may retreat to the footsteps of our parents, seeking local as opposed to global escapes when we go on holiday.” If economists like him are right, the future of travel will be a return to the past, as long-range journeys, particularly by aircraft, become a luxury reserved for society’s fortunate few.While your wallet will suffer the immediate effects of high-priced travel, the effects on the global order will be even more profound. Globalization may persist due to information technologies and alternative energy innovation, but it will be a shallower version than the current levels of integration. Reflecting on globalization, Hartmann notes that “that whole system has developed based on certain assumptions of fuel costs. Change those assumptions, and the system also changes dramatically.”Moreover, citizenship in the socalled “global village” will become less of an actuality and more of an aspiration. Forget about backpacking through Europe, teaching English to primary students in Japan, or learning to surf off the coast of Costa Rica. “To be blunt, the reality is that this issue only affects a small number of people. Most people around the world do not have the means to travel in this way.” Because of this, Hartmann says, “we need to ask: should our convenience trump the global effort to curb climate change?”For Hartmann, the answer is clear. For the rest of us, a chance to explore the world might be too much to forgo. But if global warming does not curb current travel patterns, oil prices threaten to end the era of affordable travel altogether. In this vision of the future, our world may prove not to be so small after all. Likely, travel for business and for pleasure will become severely restricted, as populations turn inward, and the local village supplants the global one.
Towards 2030, and beyond
ACCORDING TO THE TOWARDS 2030 REPORT, Come 2030, U of T will be even more competitive on the national and international stage. At St. George campus, 35 per cent of the student population will be graduate students, which will increase our research reputation but still provide quality education to a majority of undergraduates. The population of UTM and UTSC will have expanded and the schools developed their respective programs, gaining a new level of prestige and autonomy. Tuition will increase, but U of T will mitigate that burden with more bursaries and scholarships, keeping the university accessible to marginalized students. Corporate partnerships will bring in additional dollars, and provide new applications for cutting-edge research. The increased funds derived from tuition will improve the undergraduate experience by providing more resources for a slightly smaller student population.ACCORDING TO TOWARDS 2030’S CRITICS, Increased tuition will make U of T even more inaccessible, and financial aid will not be enough to make up the difference—if anything, it will put more students into debt. Poor and otherwise marginalized students will be discouraged from coming to U of T and the student population will become less economically diverse and more privileged. Corporate partnerships will discourage less profitable research and study results will become skewed in the favour of corporate interests. Potential whistleblowers will keep quiet for fear of losing their funding. Some believe the decrease in undergraduate presence on St. George will also mean that undergraduate education will be less of a priority, but this is not the view of all who criticize Towards 2030.Though it may seem like a bolt from the blue, the Towards 2030 report is actually the latest in a history of long-term planning documents at U of T. Since the 1980s, university presidents and their colleagues have drafted similar documents to set out U of T’s needs in the years ahead.Back in the day, president George E. Connell’s Renewal 1987 addressed many of the same issues as Towards 2030: improving undergraduate education, increasing the graduate population, and giving the tri-campus administrations more autonomy. The 1987 report introduced “campusby- campus planning,” which focused on individual campus development and received flack for ignoring the ways many departments stretch across campuses. Much like the current prognostication for U of T, 1987 provided a venue for students, faculty, and staff to debate the university’s future. U of T also saw Planning for 2000 in 1994, 1999’s Raising Our Sights, and mostly recently Stepping Up in 2003. It is only in its far-reaching, 20-year focus that Towards 2030 is truly an oddity for the university.Initially drafted in June 2007, five task forces collected submissions from across U of T to augment what would become the longer Towards 2030 Synthesis document, a more polished version of the original draft. Governing Council approved a shorter outline, known as the Towards 2030 Framework, in October 2008. The framework outlines 2030’s main ideas: self-regulation of student fees, increased graduate enrollment on St. George campus, and increased corporate partnerships.In addition, 2030 engages a whole range of issues including how to fairly administer U of T’s three campuses, how to prepare for the perpetually increasing demand for undergraduate education, and how to stay competitive in original research. One of the proposed solutions is to increase graduate presence on St. George campus while directing more undergraduates to UTM and UTSC. “A presumptive goal is that, by 2030, on-site graduate enrolments will comprise at least 35 per cent of the student head-count on the St. George campus, through a blend of modest reductions in undergraduate enrolment and growth in graduate numbers,” reads the framework. Despite the significant change this idea represents, the proposed undergrad-grad ratio is one of the least controversial aspects of Towards 2030.
U of T is certainly not the only Canadian institution looking into reforms in order to bolster its reputation in the upper echelon of global research universities. David Naylor, along with the presidents of the other “Big 5” Canadian universities—McGill, the University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, and University of Montreal—recently proposed that they should collectively concentrate more on graduate- level research while smaller school focus on undergrads.Small and mid-sized universities called foul, as, according to Maclean’s, the Big 5 already receive 46 per cent of the funds from Canada’s main grant councils and 47 per cent of the money the Canada Foundation for Innovation sets aside for research infrastructure. Why should they be allowed to monopolize the system further? Carleton University president Roseanne O’Reilly Runte argued in a Globe and Mail opinion piece that such a system would put smaller universities “in a second tier, removing their ability to compete or collaborate equally.”But, the presidents of the Big 5 counter, Canada needs to compete internationally and attract top students from around the world. Throughout 2030, especially the longer synthesis document, U of T is constantly compared to its peer institutions in Canada and the United States, including the University of California system and the Ivy League.Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology professor Paul Hamel has observed U of T’s almost inevitable look southward, and how it can be a positive or negative influence on the university. “In Canada I suppose there’s a lot of comparisons, certainly people in the corporate classes or the elite classes have a profound fixation on what’s going on [in the United States],” he said, recalling that when U of T’s medical school was reorganized there was a debate over whether to follow the path trod by Harvard. “That’s always been a point of struggle or tension in the country— how do we make our own path?” It’s often unclear whether U of T is trying to be something it’s not, drawing comparisons to know where it stands, or a bit of both.In the absence of sustained government funding, achieving the kind of capital necessary to compete on this level pushes the university to look for other sources of revenue. This is where Towards 2030 comes in.Given the particular aims of the framework and the synthesis documents, fees are at the centre of the furor over 2030. According to the framework, “The University acknowledges that, under almost every financial scenario that is remotely feasible or that sustains an acceptable level of academic quality, tuition fees will remain an important source of revenue.”Before the October 23 Governing Council vote that approved the 2030 framework, 5,398 students, faculty, and staff participated in a plebiscite held by the full-time undergraduate and graduate student unions. The plebiscite asked voters if they approved of student fee deregulation, and the response was an overwhelming “no,” with 93 per cent. The non-binding plebiscite allowed the community to express its opinion on the issue, but did not directly influence the October 23 vote.“Either the federal or provincial government start pumping in way more money […] or alternatively they will essentially have to privatize the university and make fees similar to what you get in private colleges and universities in the United States,” Hamel explains. “Having 50,000 students in downtown Toronto, sticking them in Con Hall and these massive classes is really antithetical to the purpose of the place.” Hamel sees increased funding from private sources as a trend that harkens back to the 1970s, as attitudes about education and taxation changed.President Naylor believes the problem of funding the university is twofold: first, that post-secondary education is low on the list of provincial priorities after health care and the financial crisis, among other issues; second, that the policy of equalization is seeping money out of Ontario to other provinces. “Something about a crowded [university] classroom doesn’t seem to grab public attention and political capital the way that a crowded primary school classroom does,” he said in an interview with The Varsity earlier this month. “In essence, Ontario students and universities and colleges are paying higher tuitions that subsidize tuitions in other provinces.”Naylor encourages students to tell their registrar if they are having monetary issues and to work toward an alternative solution, saying that much of the problem is that needy students aren’t made aware of the financial aid that is potentially available to them. “We take a very substantial portion of an increase in fees and plunk it into bursary money right away. This is run, depending on the program, anywhere from some meaningful per cent to as high as 30 per cent,” he said. “We do not want anyone to leave the university where financial concerns are the driving force.”Towards 2030 promises to make up the difference for needy students when tuition rises. According to the framework: “The University will increase its efforts to ensure that incoming and current students understand the available offsets to tuition fees that lead to de facto reductions in those fees. The University will also draw aside funds from tuition increases to ensure that accessibility is maintained as and when tuitions increase.”This statement has been little comfort to the proposal’s critics. “When you’ve had a job not making more than $10,000 a year, you don’t see having $30,000 in debt as a viable option in your future, no matter how easy it is to get the loan,” notes Governing Council student representative Andrew Agnew-Iler. “If you increase tuition fees and you increase OSAP you just increase the debt load that students are going to come out of the university with, and they’re already facing a gigantic debt load.”Corporate partnerships are another stickler for 2030 critics. Both the framework and synthesis note U of T’s lack of such partnerships in comparison with peer institutions in Canada and the United States: “In responding to this opportunity, and more generally in relationships with investor-owned and non-profit partners, the University will follow its extant policies and consider all partnerships in the light of implications for academic freedom, reputational risk and social responsibility, and respect for existing collective agreements.”On the topic of corporate partnerships, the University of Toronto does not have the best track record. In 1996 U of T researcher and Sick Kids doctor Nancy Olivieri was fired from her post when she publicized negative side effects of a drug she was researching for her sponsor. Olivieri fought back and her case led to a re-evaluation of academic freedom at U of T. Naylor, then Dean of Medicine and very involved in the case, is confident that the measures currently in place will prevent future violations.“There’s a specific publication policy that says we expect our professors and students to have the right to publish papers arising from their research within a specified number of weeks after the sponsor has looked at the material. The sponsor has no veto rights or censorship rights, but can offer constructive criticism just as the referees will, but ultimately the decision to publish has to be with the professor and students,” Naylor explained.In this respect, it is worth noting that civil engineering professor Robert Andrews is still on faculty. In 2000 Andrews doctored the results of his water purification survey to the benefit of his sponsor, ERCO Worldwide, ignoring the complaints by locals in Wiarton, Ontario whose water system had become a living laboratory without their knowledge. Two years later his work was retracted from one publication and censured by two others when it was found he had plagiarized off one of his students. Andrews is still working in the civil engineering department, and even won an award earlier this year from the Ontario Water Works Association.
PLANNING FOR DEVIATIONS FROM THE PLAN
“I expect there will be ongoing issues on the themes of 2030 for not just the next 20-plus years but way past 2030. What’s really interesting to me is how recurrent the questions [are] that have challenged this university and others,” observes Naylor.“I look forward to some point when I’m sitting happily in retirement, watching the successors have the same debates, and watching The Varsity and the student unions have the same responses and concerns. It will go on.”Though Towards 2030 may seem overwhelming, it is by no means set in stone. The approved framework is very broad and specific policies have yet to be put in place, as suggested in its own conclusion: “These strategic directions, as noted, constitute a framework for shorter and longer-term institutional planning,” the report reads. “Their salience may well diminish as time passes and the University’s context changes […] For that reason, among others, the Framework must be seen as a living document— subject to intermittent review, with various of the strategic directions modified as circumstances require.”The synthesis is not strictly binding either. U of T’s next 20-odd years will be shaped by the administrators, faculty, and students that make it their business to shape it. No matter what side you’re on, the debate is hardly over.
Death of the artist?
Until a few years ago, common wisdom held that copyright was one of those issues—like food safety or stock market regulations—that affect everyone but are never an especially relevant political issue. Like so many other issues taken for granted, who has control over the images, messages, and ideas we see every day was only of concern to an elite few in academia and creative industries.That is, until recently. Then, in 2008 the Conservative government decided it was time to “modernize” Canada’s copyright regime to the “new realities” of digital culture. Then-Industry Minister Jim Prentice introduced Bill C-61, amending the Copyright Act to crack down on illegal downloading. The bill made it so that anyone caught violating copyright on the web would face a mandatory $500 fine. Even more draconian, anyone trying to break the Digital Right Management locks (which are employed to secure files from being copied) would be charged up to $20,000. The bill would have treated even the most pedestrian of copyright violations, such as copying text for a course packet or burning backup discs of a CD with copyright protection, as punishable offences.While in the drafting stage, the bill received little media interest. Any plea for a more lenient copyright regime was likely to fall on deaf ears, since the issue of stronger copyright had always engaged broad bipartisan support from the Liberal and Conservative parties. At first, it appeared as though the bill would pass uneventfully, like a previous copyright update had 10 years earlier.But then something went wrong. C-61 was not well-liked. It met intense and unprecedented public scrutiny. Copyright scholars—most vocally University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist—compared the bill to the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a piece of legislation that seemed to have been written out of industry interests. Fair Copyright for Canada, a Facebook group that Geist created, attracted more than 90,000 members. Many MPs noted that the majority of feedback from their constituents about the bill was negative and that copyright had become a “top five” issue. Eventually, mainstream politicians denounced the bill as well. Liberal MP Scott Brison famously compared the legislation to that of a “police state.” Minister Prentice was even greeted with protests, including a substantial turnout at the Calgary Stampede, from citizens in every strata of society. This level of uproar was unheard of for this type of legislation.By early 2009, Bill C-61 had been publicly abandoned by the Conservative government, despite their 2008 campaign promises to reintroduce it in the 40th parliament. With new ministers on the file, rhetoric from the government began to soften on the illegality of copy violations. In a recent interview with The Toronto Star, new Industry Minister Tony Clement suggested that a bill similar to C-61 would not be tabled again, despite acknowledging that “the current copyright law took place in the world of vinyl records and cassette tapes, and nothing like a DVD player or iPods existed.” Even this simple rhetoric is a wild change from Minister Prentice’s promise to place stronger digital locks on all copyrighted works.What exactly happened? Why have people begun to abandon the long-held understanding of ownership, of not only ideas and discoveries, but also physical reproductions, embodied in copyright law?
Professor Geist, for one, was not surprised by Canadians’ response to C-61. “I’ve long believed that copyright policy has rapidly emerged as a mainstream issue,” he noted, correlating this popularity to the recent development of copyright law’s implications having become more concrete the average Canadian. Of course, the mainstream understanding of what type of copying is permissible completely changed with the popularization of the Internet. Even since the beginning of this decade, illegal downloading of artistic content has risen steadily. The U.K.’s annual Digital Music Survey of Western consumer habits found that only 33 per cent of this year’s respondents said that the threat of copyright infringement at all affected their downloading habits, down from 42 per cent in 2006.There remain pockets of resistance to copyright infringement through modes like file sharing. An Angus-Reid poll in June 2008 even showed that as much as 45 per cent of the country supported Bill C-61 (although many copyright reformers criticized the poll for its preamble, which made no mention of the maximum fines that would be implemented by the bill). However, it seems die-hard copyright advocates are becoming fewer and further between.Martin Zeilinger, an instructor at the University of Toronto, recently completed his doctoral thesis on artistic ownership and how the public concept of copyright has changed over time.“You pretty quickly arrive at the conclusion that the idea of authorship is a commercial thing,” says Zeilinger. “Our ideas of the singular author of an artifact are not natural. It’s a completely constructed notion. And [at] times there have been different notions of collectivity, about collaboration, about copying.”Zeilinger’s conclusion is that the concept of copyright has reverted to an earlier form in the public imagination. Technology, he suggests, “has changed the way people think about not only genres, but also the artifacts themselves.”Polling data has shown that as late as 2007, support for heavy copyright policies like C-61 was roughly even with that for a more open system. Now most members of the public seem to be in favour of more lenient copy policy. Groups with previously no position on the issue, such as professors, students, and even medical science unions, have taken a political stance.“This isn’t some divisive, touchy topic to avoid bringing up at dinner parties. You won’t find many people out there who think that what this country really needs is to lock up all the file-sharers,” says Jesse Brown, host and producer of TVO’s podcast Search Engine, which covers legal issues in digital culture.Notes Geist, “While there are extremes on either end—some who want everything for free, some who want to lock down or license everything—I think most people fall into a middle ground that acknowledges that some fair dealing reform is needed, WIPO [the World Intellectual Property Organization] should be implemented, and some form of anti-circumvention legislation is inevitable.”While the public’s perspective has changed, a similar transition hasn’t happened in the industries that produce copyrighted content. “After covering copyright for a couple of years now, I can tell you that it’s almost impossible to set up a good debate,” says Brown. “On the one side you’ve got tens of thousands of Canadians from all professions and walks of life who will argue for a more lenient, fair, and progressive approach to intellectual property.”The other side, as Brown describes it, consists primarily of the “interested parties—entertainment industry lobby groups, unions claiming to represent artists (who’ll often say otherwise). People whose jobs depend on preserving and protecting the old system.”Brown’s characterization may not be entirely correct, but it seems as if a growing consensus is emerging that today’s copyright is no longer functional.“The devil is in the details,” concludes Geist, “but I think there is a compromise to be had.”Compromise, however, will require the acknowledgement of new realities.Asked about such a comprise, Brown replied, “The weird thing is that the bridge you suggest is being built in the U.S. at the same time that we’re getting further and further from it here in Canada.” Brown contends that industry in the United States is at least beginning to realize that adaptation seems more effective than criminal prosecutions and lawsuits, which have become a PR nightmare.“In the U.S., where they have the ability to sue downloaders, they’ve stopped using it! The entertainment industry is finally trying to work with the web and not fight it, and they’re slowly realizing that they have more to gain by shifting their business model than by criminalizing their own customers. But representatives from the very same companies here in Canada seem to view it as a point of pride to champion failed strategies.”
Though public support for more permissive copyright continues to grow, the consequences of such a reform would not be simple. As with the development of new technologies, the question becomes one of adaptation. The greatest implication of a more open copyright system is that it would codify the way people have begun to understand ownership. While most copy advocates rebuff the criticism that open copyright is the newest frontier of modern-day socialism (the totally democratic spread of information that, some neo-conservative hawks argue, represents a kind of classless society) the issue still raises troubling questions. Of course, there is that classical criticism of an open system, that a looser copyright will hurt commerce for the artist, which will in turn discourage artistic output.“Artists are workers just like anyone else. We don’t ask people who make cars to work for free,” notes Joanne Deer, a representative from ACTRA, Canada’s professional actors’ union. “Artists need to be able to buy groceries and feed their families. If they can’t make a living wage they will turn their energy to other careers.”Deer’s words reflect the sentiment held by most artists’ unions in Canada. Their general position on copyright is continually that infringement is wrong, and would mean the end of professional artistry.But in spite of the opinions of industry groups and artists organizations, studies appear to conclude that the effects of copyright infringement are still ambiguous. New studies are beginning to contradict the argument that downloading erodes sales. The total number of sales is not down substantially, though the amount being pirated has increased. It seems like people are just consuming more in general.Most tellingly, a recent report from Industry Canada suggested that sales of MP3s and physical CDs, especially for independent artists, have increased with new ways of downloading. “I think there are all kinds of studies that show that leaking a pirated version of a CD before it is released will almost certainly raise its sales numbers,” says Zeilinger. “In that sense, maybe [the music pirating] discussion is almost redundant to begin with. You can’t really prove that copying harms that kind of business. I’m sure oftentimes it does on smaller levels. It depends on what kind of scale you’re talking about.”Assuming that Zeilinger is wrong and the industry is right, that artists face a decrease in the amount of direct revenue from album sales and box office receipts, the argument that freer copyright law discourages further creativity doesn’t hold up under statistical analysis.A new study from Harvard University released earlier this year found that the number of albums released had more than doubled in the last seven years, from 35,516 albums in 2000 to 79,695 albums (including 25,159 digital albums) in 2007. The music industry isn’t alone. The number of feature films released commercially in the United States each year increased by over 100 since the beginning of the decade, and the publication of new books has risen by 66 per cent between 2002 and 2007.In all likelihood, artists themselves will survive a shift in copyright regime; however, it appears unlikely that the industries around them will. “I see lots of great opportunities and profit models for musicians and filmmakers themselves, going to be able to adapt quickly enough,” argues Brown.Consumption of media is up across the board, but sales of physical product are down by as much as 60 per cent in many industries. Experts appear skeptical that a new and different licensing model could save the entire thing.Says Brown: “In order to make headway on the web and start bringing in modest profits, they’d have to accept major losses in their traditional revenue streams. For example, I think if the film industry streamed new releases through iTunes or XBOX live or Netflix or whatever for 99 cents a movie, they could effectively kill piracy—who would bother? But this would destroy their box office returns and the later DVD rental market. So they’ll cling to the old models as they shrink more and more each year.”Brown does not have much hope for an industrial revolution of sorts. “Hollywood seems doomed to repeat the mistakes of the music industry, who only jumped on board with a decent online model when they had little other choice (and Apple built one for them). So maybe Hollywood will prove too slow to survive and something new will replace it as the best way to make money from films. I won’t cry about it.”“I’m not sure there can be one that works properly, and probably no forced licensing model is ideal,” says Zeilinger. “I’m sure that a completely public domain is not the best way to do it. Nobody says that. However, there is no model that will cover all types of artistic production.”The irony, as Zeilinger sees it, is in the technology itself.“I find it an absurd position that the entertainment industry has maneuvered itself into. The technology that creates these huge cultures of sharing comes from that industry,” says Zeilinger. “Doesn’t matter how far you go back—to the printing press, vinyl discs, CDs. Every medium that has come in succession was one to facilitate the efficient and cheap reproduction of copyrighted content so it could be more easily sold to more people more cheaply. It’s these very same technologies that have also brought this alternative culture of copy into existence. Zeilinger remarks on the evolution of media technologies he has just outlined, “To me it seems to say that there is no way this could ever end with the entertainment industry winning out over this desire to copy and share.”
So perhaps more open copyright won’t kill the artist, though the industries around artists appear doomed. This does not, however, assure the future of the idea of the artist as we know it today. While more art is being produced than ever in some ways, statistics do not yet gauge how many of those artists still producing can make a living at it.Open copyright might not threaten the artist so much as it suggests a change in how we conceive of The Artist. People like Joanne Deer, and industry groups like ACTRA, have a very good point: open copyright has the potential to imperil the idea of the professional artist as we understand it now.“There might be a loss of a certain kind of aura that we used to attach to an artwork or the genius of an artist, and the reason for that is the technology that provides the context for artistic creation,” says Zeilinger.But he believes that this loss of aura, of the artistic genius, might not necessarily be a bad thing. A new concept of copyright might even be able to substantially break down the distinction between author and audience. Zeilinger points out that art theory has been rethinking this distinction since the German philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” that the artist is more of a “producer,” more an outlet for creativity than its driving force. Certainly, Benjamin’s theory makes sense for the increasingly popular forms of mash-up and integrated arts, which see entrenched copyright laws as enemies to their expression.But this type of artistic thievery has a rich history. “At some point in time,” says Zeilinger, “copying someone’s work was the highest level of homage or respect that you could pay to a venerable prior author.” Dada collage in the early 20th century, for example, was one of the first instances where artists would actually physically rearrange their influences into a new work of art. Last year, the copyright documentary RiP: a Remix Manifesto pointed out that this ethos has been especially present in music, which has its own language of borrowing. The Rolling Stones took riffs directly from Muddy Waters, who had himself taken them from sources in traditional folk music.And of course, mashups now take the idea of reproducing one’s influences in a much more direct way, by recontextualizing them in a new composition. In a given piece by Pittsburgh “sound collagist” Girl Talk, the lyrics from Lil’ Maoma’s “Lip Gloss” play over a bed from Metallica’s “One,” before giving way to a mashup of beats from Soulja Boy and yacht rock from Styx.Today’s culture of participation in fact makes it such that everyone can contribute to works of art. “Even writing a blog, or commenting on other people’s postings in a forum— these are all creative ways of intervening and writing,” says Zeilinger.But for artists working in more traditional forms—those who create original music or movies, and try to make a living from touring, selling tickets to shows, or having the public buy their CDs and DVDs—copyright is a much more difficult matter.Denis McGrath is a Canadian television writer whose blog, Dead Things on Sticks, covers the state of the television industry and media issues. McGrath has become a prominent advocate for artists’ rights in the copy debate online.As McGrath wrote most recently, for many artists, embracing the “open copyright” camp is a difficult thing to do.“We float a solution—maybe not a great one—maybe not even the best one—about moving toward collective licensing and a levy/pay system […] and what is the reaction to this concrete idea from the supposed ‘fair copyright’ side? Instant rejection,” writes McGrath.From his experience, the proponents of copyright reform tend to unfairly lump artists trying to cope with the situation in a reasonable way with the draconian corporate solutions. This bickering, he feels, is counterproductive to progress. “One of [the] stated goals [of open copyright advocates] is that consumer behavior not be criminalized […] but they play right back into the hands of the corporate DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] solution. Great job, guys, on the way to beating your drum, you’re being played like a fiddle.”For many artists though, while the whole issue of copyright has inherent value, it also remains unclear.“The copyright laws seem arbitrary and ambiguous still,” says Kat Burns, principle songwriter for Toronto four-piece Forest City Lovers.“They uphold a level of confusion that doesn’t allow people to understand everything without doing a significant amount of research. I just wish that everything was levelled out a bit and prepared in a way that was clear and concise on first read.”Thinking about art and commerce, McGrath seems to sum up the dilemma best.“I’m a consumer too. I’ve been enraged by digital locks that got in the way of my perfectly legal use of paid-for material. I have issues with corporations subverting the Public Domain […] but I don’t know how what I do will be paid for in the future—I’m not even sure that the format of what I do will survive. But I know in my heart that there’s a way forward that puts the power in the hands of the individuals, and doesn’t favour huge conglomerates. Because in the end, isn’t that the real point of the digital revolution?”
A new Canadian bill on copyright is planned for the spring of 2010, assuming that parliament is still in session. To prepare the new bill, the heritage ministry held online consultations with the public that recently concluded. In the process, the ministry received more than 8,000 submissions.However, the most that copyright reformers can muster for the new bill is a kind of cautious optimism. “I’m more optimistic than I was a year ago in the immediate aftermath of C-61,” says Geist, “but we’re still a long way from a truly balanced copyright bill.”Brown agrees, noting that “Ministers [James] Moore [Minister of Canadian Heritage] and Clement strike me as light-years beyond the last duo, both in their understanding of the issues and their approach to the process. It’ll be better than that last miserable bill. But if there’s another election it’ll get trashed and we’ll have to go through all this again.” A statement by the Heritage Ministry this week seems to acknowledge their bosses’ new perspective on the issue: “our government has said it would modernize Canada’s copyright laws, and that is what we intend to do in the near future. The consultation was the beginning of a new chapter in Canada’s copyright history. The next piece of legislation will reflect what we have heard.”What this statement means is still unclear. But there is one certainty in the copyright debate: for artists, industry, and the public, creative work will never be the same.
We are doomed
In late September, Earthcycle, the university’s environment-themed week, held an eco-tour of campus. Designed to highlight what U of T is doing—or not doing—to help the climate crisis, it began at the concrete bastion that is Sid Smith. The tour proceeded to guide us through Trinity College’s green roof, the wall of corporate donors in the mining building, and ended under the energy inefficient lights in Robarts’ lobby.From the greenhouses atop the forestry building to the gas guzzling furnaces at the AC, U of T has a wildly divergent collection of buildings when it comes to ecological footprints. It is evident, though, that U of T has a long way to go towards sustainability. Looking back, the university has made concentrated efforts at environmental improvement in the past. The Sustainability Office’s Rewire program, for example, has reduced CO2 emissions by 3622 tonnes per year. The primary component of Rewire was the installation of energy meters in residences and offices to help create awareness about personal consumption habits, and to encourage conservation. Facilities and Services has retrofitted a number of buildings, including the $2.3-million replacement of the lighting system at Robarts, which will reduce energy use by approximately 12,000 megawatt hours annually and offset 3,100 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year.The university has also made many efficiency gains without such a concentrated effort. In 1973, when statistics began to be recorded on the topic, 53.24 gigajoules of gas were being expended per student, compared to 29.74 GJ per student this year. Water, too, has been substantially reduced from 31.46 gallons per student to 9.15 gallons each year. Even the number of people travelling to and from campus by car has decreased by eight per cent since 1991.However, while a growing consciousness of environmental issues and advances in some technologies have lead to reductions, what the university requires to ensure long term progress is a concrete plan.Towards 2030, President David Naylor’s audacious proposal for the University of Toronto, lays the blueprint for the institutional future, but plans for sustainability are nowhere to be found.“I feel that [sustainability’s] omission indicates a huge lack of leadership on one of the most crucial issues of our time, as well as a lack of foresight as to the implications that our environment has for institutions like the University of Toronto,” says Zannah Matson, president of University of Toronto’s Environmental Resource Network.Instead of making the university sustainable, Towards 2030 is concerned with another aspect of the institution’s future: growth. According to the Towards 2030 Task Force on Long- Term Enrolment Strategy, U of T cannot grow enough to meet the demands of undergraduate education. Yet the university will focus on increasing its graduate student population. These efforts to boost graduate enrollment will be concentrated at the St. George campus.Moreover, it seems unlikely the university will be able to substantially cut the number of undergraduates enrolled, given current pressures. Recent reports by the government of Ontario estimate that the GTA will soon be facing an influx of 25,000 extra students looking for an undergraduate education by—conveniently— 2030. It seems unlikely that the University of Toronto will continue to get preferential money from a provincial government trying to ensure that these extra students get an education. U of T’s undergraduate population will have to expand.U of T can retrofit, rewire, and reduce until it’s green in the face, but if the university’s population continues to grow as planned, we won’t be able to sustain ourselves much longer.
Let’s start with the obvious. The more students there are on campus, the more waste the university as a whole produces, and the more energy it consumes. According to VP Business Affairs Cathy Rigall, “We have been successful with a variety of initiatives that have reduced our use of resources on a per square foot or a per student basis. But on an absolute basis we are using more because we are growing.”Additionally, according to the university’s 2009 financial report, growth has created the need for more teaching space, office space, student activity space, and residences. In the 2007-2008 academic year, each student used 23.64 square metres of space on campus. Multiply that by 62,934 students and the total space used comes to nearly 1,500,000 square metres. With enrollment set to rise, the math is obvious.Expansion causes two problems for sustainability. The first is quantity: the more buildings there are on campus, the more greenhouse gases they produce. The second is cost.“Even if we’re able to decrease the amount of energy use per square foot, if there’s more square footage, you’re going to have more energy use,” says Beth Savan, university’s sustainability officer.Her office, with help from Facilities and Services, is setting out to make campus buildings energy efficient as quickly and cheaply as possible. One good example is the solar hot-water heater currently being built at the Athletic Centre.Professor Danny Harvey of the Geography department, an expert on energy use in buildings, said that it’s possible to decrease energy use and emissions as enrollment increases, but not if U of T continues with business as usual.“You have to insist on very strict standards, and it has to start from day one when requests go out to architects. But that’s not part of their process. We’re just following the building code, which belongs in the stone ages. The university could be using 20 per cent of the energy it’s using now.” But with no plans to make energy efficiency standards a top priority, Harvey contends, the problem isn’t going to become substantially better.As for the problem of funding, to get an idea about exactly how much future expansions will cost, one need only look at the various construction projects started since 1999. The Bahen Centre, additions to Rotman, the Woodsworth College residence, and 12 other projects on St. George campus alone cost an estimated $1.4 billion.U of T is in serious financial trouble. The province has cut endowment funds, and this month the university reported it lost 31 per cent of its endowment in hedge funds affected by the recession. U of T also posted a reported $146.7 million in losses, similarly caused by the recent financial crisis.With the goal of expanding towards 2030, where will the money come from? Endowment funds simply aren’t there, students’ tuition costs can only rise so much—we hope—and there are only so many times the alumni can be tapped.
Donations from corporations are often presented as a way forward. Even with the volatility of the financial system, returns on investments are still the university’s best bet to secure the funds for the goals set out in Towards 2030. But here’s the dilemma: several of the companies that U of T invests in either practice or finance activities that are extremely environmentally detrimental. And by investing in them, U of T arguably funds these practices as well.According to University of Toronto Asset Management statistics, the university has $10,351,000 invested in Barrick Gold, the mining giant owned by Peter Munk. Barrick owns the Porgera Joint Venture Mine in Papua New Guinea, which according to Mining Watch is known to leak toxic chemicals into the ecosystem, and is responsible for human rights abuses against workers and indigenous people. U of T has another $10,222,000 invested in Encana Corp, Canada’s largest natural gas and oil producer and owner of the controversial pipelines in the native lands of northern British Columbia.U of T’s top two corporate equities are banks: the Royal Bank of Canada ($14,894,000) and Toronto-Dominion bank ($12,606,000), both of which invested significantly in the Tar Sands of Alberta, the world’s largest single greenhouse gas emitter.It is clear that U of T is heading towards 2030 without much consideration for its environmental sustainability. Without serious reconsideration of the university’s energy, expansion, and investment policies, growth will exacerbate an already critical environmental problem.Granted, even if U of T recycled, divested, and retrofitted enough to become carbon neutral, it would represent an insignificant change in the grand scheme of things as measured in tonnes, gallons, and gigajoules. However, universities can set an example for responsibility and forward thinking, as they have previously on issues like apartheid and sweatshops. By putting sustainability on the back burner, U of T delays progress.U of T sets out to cultivate “Great minds for a great future.” But such a motto begs the question: what future?
Focus on the Family
As has been widely documented, the nature of marriage in Canada has changed considerably in just a few decades. A 2006 Statistics Canada report revealed that for the first time in our history, fewer than half of Canadian adults are defined as legally married. Thousands of “I do’s” are evolving into a chorus of “I don’t.”According to the same Stats Can report, more than one-third of current Canadian marriages will end in divorce before the couple’s 30th anniversary.It’s easy to lay the blame on the hardships of modern living: our lives are seemingly more stressful than ever before, so it might make sense that fewer marriages survive in that environment. Toronto divorce attorney Andrew Feldstein sees many separations occur because the lives of North American adults present more obstacles to partnership. “I think marriages are very challenging these days,” he says. “And now, there’s an alternative option to staying married.”Sarah Chana Radcliffe agrees. “We started off by de-stigmatizing divorce,” says the marriage counsellor and author of the parenting book Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice. “But we’ve gone too far. In secular society we don’t have a reason to work a marriage through anymore. Because there’s no stigma [against separation], we’ve lost our values of marriage.”But for Noel Biderman, president and founder of AshleyMadison.com, a website that arranges covert affairs for married adults, it isn’t just the easy exit clause that has so many couples wanting to be singles again. He argues that more marriages are turning out to be semi-permanent in part because the choice to enter into wedlock in the first place is our own.“Not so long ago, people were married in arrangements made by their parents. It’s only recently that we’ve fallen into marrying because of love, which isn’t sustainable,” Biderman says.Despite the choice being our own, the 2001 census says that 80 per cent of adults 25 and over have willfully signed on to ’til-death-do-we-part, some more than once. How does a person swear to love and protect, and then have their mind change so dramatically? After having been in the divorce business for nearly 15 years, Feldstein has garnered a few theories.“The concept of marriage is that it’s supposed to last a lifetime,” Feldstein says. “But your interests at 30 may be different from those at 50. Does [a couple] grow together or do they grow in separate ways? It’s very difficult to predict. You can wind up strangers just sharing a home together.”Biderman, the man behind the slogan “Life is short. Have an affair,” and owner of the self-proclaimed “most controversial site on the web,” argues that our society puts marriage on an unrealistic pedestal. “Society has this idealized version [of matrimony],” he says, “but you have to deal with the human condition. We stray, and it hurts to be lonely, and we are biologically driven to change things.”The moral question at the heart of Biderman’s business is that of monogamy. Despite the taboo of infidelity, Biderman does have data on his side: while statistics are often unreliable, various published studies on the incidence of adultery place their estimates at anywhere from 40 to 60 per cent of all marriages. The massive success of Biderman’s empire speaks for itself; AshleyMadison.com boasts over 4.7 million members, with a new adult joining every 15 seconds.“We definitely know that humans aren’t genetically engineered to be monogamous,” Biderman claims. “Our society has a choice. We can say that sex and monogamy are so important to a marriage, and then we have really catastrophic divorce rates. If you look at other cultures—Japan and France are good examples—where there are purportedly much higher rates of infidelity than in Canada or the U.S., those cultures seem to have really low divorce rates. Maybe they just have a better paradigm.”Despite media scapegoating, Biderman maintains that his site has actually helped many marriages. “I hear back from my members, ‘Thank you. I’m a better partner because of [AshleyMadison], I’m a better parent,’” he says.But not everyone believes that non-monogamous matrimony can be beneficial. “I don’t see how a non-monogamous marriage could really work for anyone,” Radcliffe counters. “They [the couple] are really reducing their intimacy—they aren’t having the connection they could have.” While Radcliffe acknowledges that couples will inevitably “lock horns” and have marital issues, she maintains that counselling and courtship efforts are solutions, while infidelity is not.“As soon as you get casual and start to take your partner for granted you create a very serious crack in the marriage,” she advises. “Couples need an island of protected time together. Date night once a week is mandatory.”While marriage counselling is a rapidly growing discipline, Biderman is skeptical. “The data shows that marriage counselling has proven time and time again to fail people,” he says. “Counselling fails more often than it succeeds. Many people love their kids, love their partner, but have a void in the bedroom. They are one of the millions of people in sexless marriages. [Humans] have a need for physical connection, for active sex lives.”For the millions of users on AshleyMadison.com, infidelity could be a solution—or, as Biderman notes, an affair can help adults questioning their marriage realize whether they want to remain with their spouse or not. And while divorce is a complex procedure that can be emotionally taxing, Feldstein agrees that it is the best solution for an individual unhappy in their relationship. “The ideal is to have a family with a child with two happy parents,” he says, in response to critics of divorce. “But is it better to have a child in an unhappy home, with two parents who are constantly fighting? What sort of educational message does that give a child?”With the frequency of adoption, single-parent households, and common-law parenting, perhaps the ensuing generations will take the traditional concept of marriage with a grain of salt. But for some, the nuclear family remains the target model for relationships. “Children have an inborn need for their mother and father in the same household,” says Radcliffe. “They don’t feel whole once their parents split up.” When asked about the possible positive effects of a couple embracing an open relationship or a “swinging” lifestyle, Radcliffe advocates a traditional view of matrimony. “When people embrace weird concepts of marriage, it’s the children that suffer the most,” she says.Biderman disagrees. Happily married, and with two children of his own, he says he admires the bravery that it takes to explore non-conventional options in a marriage. When asked about Club Wicked, the Toronto venue for adult swingers, he says he approves. “Swingers have found the courage to tell their partner that something is lacking for them sexually,” he says. “My guess is the data will show that those are the couples that end up staying together, not the ones in monogamous marriages.”Perhaps the only thing that Feldstein, Biderman, and Radcliffe agree on is that marriage should be considered more seriously before couples take the leap. Radcliffe has even compiled a pre-marriage quiz for couples who are considering tying the knot. “On it, there are questions about how you manage money, how you manage anger, and how you deal with responsibility,” she says. “When the feeling of being in love dwindles after a few months of marriage, you are basically left with a roommate who is either going to be a good one or a bad one.”Across Canada, adults fall in love, and fall out. They get married, and (over 30 per cent of the time) they also get divorced. The logic behind these patterns is hard to decipher, but it may be that the problem is not so much the marriages in question, but marriage itself. As Biderman, the poster-boy for adultery, astutely observes, “The only way to save [many] marriages is for the institution to evolve.”
The World of Tomorrow
You didn’t wake up this morning. No, you’re not dead—thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, you simply haven’t needed to sleep for a week. Which is pretty handy, since you’ve been able to perform nearly uninterrupted work on your undergraduate thesis for the past 100 hours.Now it’s 10 a.m. and time for you to head to “class.” But you’re not going to some stuffy lecture hall to hear Professor Boring drone on while you doodle in the margins of your notebook (ugh, how 20th century). No, you’re strapping on your jet pack, ready to blast over the glittering spires of this brave new world to the educational centre, where you’ll have information downloaded directly into your brain. At 100 megabytes per second, reading the book is even faster than renting the movie.Yeah, the life of an undergrad in 2030 sounds pretty sweet. Or at least productive. But what aspects of this depiction are science fiction, and which might actually become science fact?
Not a Wink of Sleep
Slumber is nice. It helps us recuperate our weary bodies, sort and store knowledge and memories, and it just feels good. But it’s also rather inconvenient. Sleep takes up about a third of our already too-short time, and we have to do it with annoying regularity—for most of us, every single day. Unlike flossing, we can’t keep putting it off until we get a spare moment. Indeed, rats deprived of sleep for a week develop hyperphagia (abnormally incrased hunger), hypothermia, and other complaints, eventually developing septicemia (blood poisoning) and dying. And who wants that?Why not do away with this biological necessity?In 2006, circadian biologist Russel Foster told New Scientist that “In 10 to 20 years we’ll be able to pharmacologically turn sleep off. Mimicking sleep will take longer, but I can see it happening.”Science is making progress on that front, as it develops drugs allowing humans to go for increased periods without the need for rest. A decade ago, scientists kept helicopter pilots awake for 40-hour stretches on the pharmaceutical Modafinil. They found that performance was “maintained at or near baseline levels by modafinil, whereas performance suffered under placebo.” All this from a drug shown to have few side effects and little addictive potential.Modafinil was acquired by Cephalon in 2001. In a later press release, the company described the drug as “first in a new class of wakepromoting agents.” Wired reported in 2003 that pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly was quietly working on a drug to surpass Modafinil, with a lead scientist on the project chuckling that “the first drug in its class is rarely the best.”The Guardian noted last week that Cephalon is set to release Nuvigil, the successor to Modafinil, later this year. Read: 40-hour sleepless stretches are just the beginning.
Jetpacks: A Flight of Fancy?
What would a vision of the future be without the ability to fly? From hover cars to jet packs, many science fiction dreamers would have us freed from the tyranny of gravity. Glenn Martin is leading the way in making personal flight a reality. For 28 years, Martin, of Christchurch, New Zealand, has been building flying machines in his garage. He’s still testing and fine-tuning the culmination of his work, the Martin Jetpack, but it has broken virtually every record in the field. Traditional rocket belts, usually propelled by compressed gas, have been around for decades. However, they’ve barely cracked 30-seconds of air-time, and have found few, if any, practical uses.With a 200-horsepower engine driving two rotors, Martin’s device can fly for half an hour— theoretically, at least. He’s already clocked around 5,000 test runs of up to five minutes in length, posting some impressive footage of his feats on YouTube. The machine should be able to soar high into the air, though Martin has yet to take it more than a few feet off the ground.“You don’t teach your sevenyear- old kid to swim and then have them swim Lake Superior,” Martin told The Varsity.“I won’t let anyone fly any higher on this until we’ve done 100 hours [of cumulative flight time] on one frame,” and after all the safety mechanisms are finished, he said. But Martin allows his wife and kids to fly the jetpack. “I wouldn’t let them if it weren’t safe.”Once it’s ready for the public, he sees many uses for the machine, including building inspections, search and rescue missions, and transporting medical personnel to accidents.“In the next 10 years, thousands will have flown jetpacks,” Martin claims. “That doesn’t mean people will abandon the automobile.” He notes, though, that one of his customers “already owns a Lamborghini, but he still gets stuck in traffic.”
Mind Over Chatter
The idea of having that three-hour Econ lecture beamed directly into your head—instead of having to actually sit there through it— sounds far-fetched. But consider that Sony was granted a patent in 2005 for a “device for transmitting sensory data directly into the human brain,” as New Scientist reported. While entirely speculative, the corporation imagines a day when we can use ultrasound to produce electrical currents in small, targeted areas of the brain, bypassing the usual perceptual organ. Thus a stonedeaf Beethoven could “hear” his own symphonies, were he alive today. Or rather, tomorrow.It gets better. In 2008, the Telegraph quoted Chris Parry, chief executive of the U.K. Independent Schools Council, as saying “It’s a very short route from wireless technology to actually getting the electrical connections in your brain to absorb that knowledge.” Parry went on to predict that “Within 30 years, sitting down and learning something will be a thing of the past.”A bold claim, to be sure. But we’re perhaps inching in that direction. Transcranial magnetic stimulation is already a reality: we can induce electrical currents across broad areas of the brain simply by toggling rapidly between magnetic fields. We can also make information flow the other way. In 2006, for example, the *Pittsburgh Tribune-Review *reported that a University of Pittsburgh neurobiologist successfully trained a monkey to “feed itself chunks of zucchini using a robotic arm powered by the animal’s own brain signals.”Yes, it’s a far cry from not having to read that 500-page philosophy textbook. And perhaps the day will never come when people can entirely forgo such “analogue” means of education. Leslie Chan, a lecturer at U of T Scarborough who focuses on learning with new technologies, explained to The Varsity, “Information is not knowledge, and knowledge is not education.” While he believes we’ll eventually be able to “download” bits of information directly into our brains, it won’t be enough.“Education has to be in context— it’s about the appropriate application of knowledge,” said Chan. He added that while “some would argue that memories are just brainwaves, and that we could digitize them […] a lot of what goes on inside the classroom can’t be duplicated.”Chan says that in 20 years we’ll still be using analogue and digital educational methods “handin- hand.”Claire Brett, an associate professor at OISE who focuses on computer-mediated learning, is even more skeptical of Parry’s prediction.“When we process information, we don’t want everything in our brain. We selectively encode things, and we do that at the perceptual level,” said Brett.“The last 50 years of cognitive science show that to store things in long-term memory we have to heavily process it. Look at cramming for an exam by rote—there’s so much you lose.”So the kids of the future will probably still have to go to school, but at least they’ll be able to console themselves by flying there on a jetpack.
From the Editors
I want you to know that I did not pick the focus of this issue. In fact, I became an associate well after this theme was decided on, and if I had decision-making power enough to do so, I would have axed it outright. I think that predicting the future is futile, passé, and, well, predictable. In these hard times (especially for those of us desiring a career in journalism) it is very easy to focus on the future because it does not involve facing the present. There is, in fact, a whole genre of thought dedicated to predicting the future, and a revival of the term ‘futurist.’ Ray Kurzweil, for example, has become famous by predicting that human beings will merge with machine consciousness by 2045 (Google him, he’s very interesting). A lot of thought has been put in to what life will be like in 20 years, so when I heard about this theme, I thought we would be just another drop in the bucket. Consequently, all of the possible bad things about the future popped in to my head: cliché, hubris, kitsch, etc. Well, I was wrong. This issue is proof enough (we’ve got articles that look critically at our future and our present, plus some funny stuff that’s actually funny), but something else really changed my perspective.Rummaging through some of my grandparents’ old books, I came across a little gem called Here Comes Tomorrow: Living and Working in the Year 2000 written by the staff of The Wall Street Journal and published in 1967. My first thought was that they must have gotten everything wrong. And, yes, there are mentions of robot maids, food pills, and moon dwellings, but there are also a number of claims that are surprisingly astute. The chapter on communications pretty much sums up the Internet: “By the year 2000, you will be able to do just about everything but shake hands or kiss your wife via electronic communications.” And the chapter on computers envisions a world in which every office, if not every home, has its own terminal, what the book refers to as “teletypewriters.” There is even a discussion of the antisocial consequences of a digital lifestyle, and the possible dangers of digital surveillance. This is pretty surprising, until you realize that the Internet was already being developed in laboratories in the United States as part of the arms race. The first ARPANET connection—the military-industrial prototype of the Internet—was made just two years after Here Comes Tomorrow was published. But who was thinking about this type of radical change in the 1960s? Apparently, Cold War engineers and paranoid journalists.Paranoia is another thing that comes up in Here Comes Tomorrow, which connects the book to this issue of The Varsity. The book’s preface explains that “of necessity, all the articles but one were written on the premise that the world would not be engulfed in a nuclear holocaust; the one exception is the article on military developments,” which stands in stark contrast to this issue, which pretty much assumes that global warming will end human civilization. We’ve got an article on the end of travel, another on U of T’s inability to become environmentally sustainable, and even a joke end-of-the-world scenario flow chart. There’s a piece on the decline of the artistic professional, and another that pretty much asserts that monogamy is a thing of the second millennium. What does this say about us?Well, it appears that in 2009, the future looks a little more grim. The late ‘60s were fraught with violence, hatred, famine, and corruption, but it seemed like the ongoing march of progress would provide technological solutions to the world’s problems. Now, here we are, a decade after the turn of the millennium, we still have all the above problems, and we know that technology is not going to save our asses; in fact, it will probably just take them over. We’ve got a recession, a war in Afghanistan that might just go on until the next century, Stephen Harper, Facebook, newspapers about to fail, a municipal workers’ strike that helped nobody but right-wing politicians and photo-bloggers, a guiding document for the university that wants to cut the number of undergrads on St. George campus by the year 2030 (seriously, see Hilary Barlow’s report on page 10), and lots and lots of condos. So grab a nice hard drink and let’s find out what the future beyond 2030 has in store.Love,Dan EpsteinAssociate Features Editor