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From the archives

The Path of Poetic Resistance

To disarm Canada and its canon

Are Interests Really Value-Free?

A salvo from the “realist” school of Canadian foreign relations

Going It Alone

The marvellous, single-minded, doggedly strange passion of citizen scientists

Heads in the Cloud

On turning a page

Kyle Wyatt

For several summers in a row, starting in 1994, I attended a science and technology camp a few hours away from my hometown. Among the cutting-edge toys to delight and mesmerize were a space shuttle simulator, Estes rockets, wearable heart-rate monitors, Apple’s original digital camera, and, above all, the still-young internet. It was at this camp that I first heard a modem handshake, that I first downloaded animated GIFs from distant FTP servers, that I first surfed the web using Netscape Navigator (that would have been the second year), and that I first sent and received email.

The camp had a twice-weekly magazine, which, portending things to come, I readily volunteered to edit. I don’t remember much about what the three or four of us on the masthead published, beyond a bit of preteen romance gossip, but I distinctly remember the room where we laid out pages using ClarisWorks and diligently proofread our issues.

Those were the halcyon days — long before unlimited data, browser cookies, bots and bullies, Google ads, social media, deep fakes, and tech billionaires. Because so few of us had access at home — and nobody had access on the sidewalk or at dinner — we actually had to plan our online existence. Technology was not yet the exhausting, unthinking drug it would become, that hit after hit of dopamine whenever we hear a chime or see a red notification indicating an unread, surely unsolicited message.

Like many of my generation, I do not consider myself a digital native. For most of my childhood, we didn’t own personal computers, nor did we use them regularly in the classroom. We certainly didn’t have tablets or smartphones to pacify us on road trips or in waiting rooms. Even into university, we did much of our note-taking by hand, because our laptops, if we had them, were too heavy and too valuable to lug around. But I am among the original digital immigrants and among those who, increasingly, don’t like this plugged‑in world we certainly helped create.

The New Yorker put our shared malaise into words last fall, with an essay entitled “Why the Internet Isn’t Fun Anymore.” The Atlantic, The Verge, and various others have all made similar pronouncements in recent months. And depending on how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on two free speech cases brought by big tech, the lay of the land could get even less appealing.

What is appealing, more so almost by the day, is dialling back — not an abandonment of the gadgets and gizmos that have transformed our lives but a moderation of their presence. Old‑school flip phones, for example, were among the hottest gifts this past holiday season, especially for teenagers, a group that has also embraced disposable film cameras and vintage point-and-shoots. “They love the ability to disconnect,” CNN reported last year, “or as much as that’s even possible.” (Admittedly, CNN has observed the rediscovery of flip phones several times over the past decade, but it seems like the trend might now stick around for a while.)

Sports trading cards are also making a comeback — and not just the unopened ones that a Saskatchewan family recently found in their attic and sold for $3.1 million (U.S.). Steadily growing since 2015, the global trading-card market is expected to top $20 billion by 2030. Whether it’s an athlete’s photograph or player stats, a fixed moment in time — one that you can catalogue and keep — is often more compelling than whatever latest intel Siri might cough up.

Perhaps nothing speaks to our shared digital fatigue more than music, specifically sales of vinyl records. Two decades ago, naysayers would have declared vinyl dead, but sales have grown year over year since 2006, which, incidentally, is when Spotify launched its streaming service. According to Billboard, vinyl sales in Canada were up nearly 26 percent in 2023. In the United States, they increased some 14 percent. In both countries, transactions were boosted by Taylor Swift fans. These consumers aren’t exactly Luddite fossils, but they understand more and more the enduring value of analog.

And that’s why I stay cautiously, perhaps foolishly optimistic about the future of print. Despite repeated doomsday announcements — job cuts at Time and National Geographic, the demise of Sports Illustrated, the end of Reader’s Digest Canada — there remains an appetite for periodicals not mediated by algorithms and screens. Maybe daily or weekly news no longer requires a printed object such as the one most of my readers are holding, but not everything worth reading can or should be delivered in an instant. Even at technology camp all those years ago — when we were convinced that computers and the internet would solve all problems while creating none — our little magazine was a physical one. We couldn’t have imagined otherwise.

Kyle Wyatt is the editor-in-chief of the Literary Review of Canada.

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