Nora Young starts off 40th anniversary writing series

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Photo by Ju Hyun Kim

The Writing Centre celebrates its 40th year of service this year, and has decided to celebrate this milestone with the Writing Centre at 40 Speaker Series. The first speaker of this series was Nora Young, the author of the bestselling book The Virtual Self, and the host of the CBC Radio show Spark, a show about technology and culture.

At the opening of the talk, Mandy Penny, the Writing Centre’s writing and multimodal communication specialist and digital communications specialist, stated that the four-part series is focused on questions like “how does writing shape who we are and who we interact with, how do our communications impact local events, or filter them for us.” Young’s talk centered around the technology of communication, how it has changed, and how we as a culture have changed with it. It was later followed by a discussion of these themes and answering questions the audience had.

Digital communication is getting more accessible all the time. With the constant changes and developments in technology, society has to adapt very quickly. Young said, “We tend to get freaked out when there is new technology,” but argued that the “medium of expression changes writing,” and that “communication changes for the platform.” One does not communicate the same way on Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter.  Young noticed this early on in her radio career, as writing for the radio is much different than writing for print.

In her talk, Young explored the positives and negatives of changes in the technology itself as well, like the development of artificial intelligence, more image and video-based content, instant messaging, mass data collection about users and patterns, and memory storage. There is a fine balance on the Internet between “free speech and a troll fest” as Young pointed out, and there was not a consensus on a clear solution. Young also discussed with the audience the blending of the online and personal, stating that “our lives become a constant blend of online and offline.”

The overarching message of the talk was to embrace the world of changing technology and communication, but to be aware of how it affects people. Young ended with a description of what she believed were the characteristics of humans that make us fundamentally human and the beauty within that.

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