Canada

Robocall Blogger Unfuckwithable Anticipates 'A Spiro Agnew Moment'

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While controversy surrounding federal election robocalls has just been stirred up over the past two weeks — largely due to the tenacity of a couple of Ottawa Citizen reporters — Brian-Michel LaRue has actually been wondering out loud about them since after the election last May.

The name of LaRue's blog, Unfuckwithable, may limit the number of broadcast media references to his efforts, although notice has been growing. Right now, the 29-year-old native of Montreal — a current contributor to Le Monde who previously worked for the CBC — also happens to be living in Miami. But he was asked to take a quick trip to Ottawa this week to give evidence to Elections Canada.

Links to the Tumblr-hosted website have appeared with increasing frequency on Twitter, where @unfuckwithabIe (the second last letter is capital-'I' not 'l') has a relatively modest follower count, although increased attention is being paid to references to tips about "Julian Fantino's Spiro Agnew moment" — based on an apparent affidavit although summed up for now as a one-act play.

Robot Politicians May Be Required for Open Government to Work

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The inaugural PS Engage learning and networking event in Ottawa on Monday provided a stage for the Canadian government to announce formal guidelines for playing the social media game.

Yet the lukewarm reception to the idea that layers of bureaucracy must continue to be involved in the most elementary interactions with the public served as a reminder that the future of communications can't be left to career policymakers alone.

Fortuitously, that evening, a second Metaviews salon in the capital city picked up where the October event left off, by asking the question "Will There Ever Be Open Government?"

This question wasn't going to be definitively answered in one night, of course, but a mixture of insiders and outsiders — all of whom have wondered about a more effective evolution of online public service — seized the opportunity to swap thoughts.

Disruption was the central theme of one conversation — as everyone in the room has closely observed the transformation of all media industries over the past decade. Open Government can similarly provide a breakthrough for the younger generation of civil servants. Currently, the way most of them interact on the job compared to in their personal lives remains a century apart.

Qwikster Backtrack Proves Netflix Canada Can Be Beat By Competition

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Netflix being forced to acknowledge the unpopularity of the decision to spin-off its mailing service in the U.S. as Qwikster is being seen as a victory for consumers who weren't as quick to dismiss the benefit of DVD distribution.

Part of the opposition to separate virtual from physical distribution surrounded the fact that not all rights are yet created equal. And the shortcomings of a stream-based service have been even more pronounced north of the border — as Netflix Canada never offered the option to begin with.

Yet the decision by CEO Reed Hastings to distance Netflix from sending discs through the mail was no doubt inspired by the realization that virtual viewers aren't as discriminating about what they watch.

While the company built its reputation on providing exposure to offbeat DVDs that were generally ignored by Blockbuster, this Netflix effect was also based on the process of ordering, anticipating and receiving a movie, rather than a random click.

Canada seemed willing to embrace a more populist approach, though, in part because of the novelty value of an American service that wasn't geo-blocked. Complaints about a limited selection didn't hinder a million people from signing up.

Snow's Better Than Nothing

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I was sitting in the parking lot of IKEA the first time I heard the Government of Canada’s digital television transition advisory on my AM radio. Scripted to a bristling player piano score (perhaps the agency that produced the radio ad thought Canada was transitioning from silent pictures to talkies?), the spot advised listeners that over-the-air (OTA) television “snow” (aka analogue signals) would be “cleared” from Canada’s airwaves by August 31, 2011 so as to make way for digital television signals.

While last week’s switch from analogue to digital television could have been a welcomed change for OTA viewers (conservatively estimated to represent one million households) if it had been equitably executed, the benefits to be realized by the analogue television shut-off hasn't been shared with all Canadians. MP Charlie Angus said it best when he described Canada’s digital television transition as a “hodgepodge” effort.

Under Canada’s new two-tier OTA television broadcast system, viewers residing in cities of 300,000 or more (with some exceptions) are now able to pull in a dozen or so free to air Canadian digital television signals using a roof top antenna or a set of “rabbit ears” (provided they have a newer TV or a digital-to-analogue converter box).

Political Games

National Post GeoPollster ARGDuring this week's Metaviews teleseminar I was informed about the existence of The National Post's GeoPollster, a foursquare style political Alternate Reality Game whose main goal is to increase voter turnout and interest in Canadian politics. I was immediately interested.

This is because for the most part the political parties, civil society groups and mainstream journalists in Canada seem uninterested, or unable, to use new media effectively. Sure each party uses Twitter and Facebook, but they do so badly. Earlier today Luke described how Micheal Ignatieff's Twitter kept pumping out status updates during this week's debate – effectively undermining the personal nature of social media. Iggy's Twitter was effectively a simulacrum of the real Iggy.

So if the political parties can barely understand how to use Twitter effectively, what hope is there for them to use videogames well? Not much.

This is to their detriment however, because videogames are ideally suited to political tasks. This is because they can engage in procedural rhetoric – something I have discussed at length before. Procedural rhetoric uses what computers do best – run procedures – to engage in arguments about how the world works. It helps that politics is all about ideology, which videogames happen to be excellent at expressing.

Ian Bogost in his book Persuasive Games says that “Political videogames use procedural rhetorics to expose how political structures operate, or how they fail to operate, or how they could or should operate.”