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Spark on CBC Radio One Nora Young helps you navigate your digital life by connecting you to fresh ideas in surprising ways.
85 Episodes
The first episode in our special Guide to Civilization series, will look at how tech from the wheel to just-in-time delivery architecture (and many things in between) have changed the way humans have been able to move, expand their horizons and shrink their world — along with the costs and benefits. We take a special look at the impact and role of the bicycle, which is consistently rated as the most significant invention in human history. And we end the episode with a peek into the future of movement, and what things may look like down the road, so to speak. + Technology has always abetted human movement; from the invention of wheels and aqueducts to drones and self-driving cars, the movement of people and goods has evolved in lockstep with the development of newer technologies. Transportation geographer Jean-Paul Rodrigue takes us through some of the most important inventions of transportation technology, and describes how they broadened human mobility. + The bicycle is one of the most important inventions in history, and in many parts of the world, is the most-used transportation technology. Peter Walker, who wrote How Cycling Can Save The World, talks about the bike's importance - and how it may not only get us off our dependence on fossil fuels, keep us healthier, and is a tool for social justice. + In the 19th and 20th centuries, popular science and popular fiction posited a world of the future where technology would be the panacea to all human concerns -- including transportation. Writers like Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin and Philip K. Dick imagined futuristic worlds where humans would be able to ride fantastical machines that would propel them from place to place at astonishing speeds with stunning efficiency. But as 21st-century humans continue to reckon with the effects of climate change and ever-growing social inequality, the starships and teleporters and indestructible dirigibles that past generations envisioned now seem less and less likely. The Future Today Institute’s Leah Zaidi, and Shauna Brail, from the University of Toronto's Institute for Management and Innovation, talk about their visions of the future, as well as how we might get there, what’s holding us back, and what the ideal future of transportation might truly look like.
483: Flux

483: Flux


The human brain is always changing, and that constant state of flux helps us adapt to our ever-changing world. What would happen if we built our technologies and economic systems so that they function like our brains? + In his new book, Livewired, neuroscientist David Eagleman argues that far from being fixed, our brains constantly adapt to the changing external environment. There's a sort of 'survival of the fittest' battle going on inside our brains, as parts of the brain compete for space. That means the brain responds to new demands, whether that's living in a pandemic, or recovering from injury. + Beyond highlighting the myriad ways in which some social and political structures were ill-equipped to handle the constraints imposed by a global pandemic, COVID-19 has done an excellent job of demonstrating that the existing systems underpinning our world are in dire need of modernization and revitalization. Capitalism, whether applied to small business, large multinational conglomerates or the state itself, is one of those systems that needs scrutiny in order to address the issues highlighted by COVID-19, as well as ensure a better local and global society in the future. Ravi Nadjou is an innovation and leadership advisor based in New York City. He explains why — and how — we need to rethink capitalism at all levels.
Technological development is politics by other means. From American companies moving to buy TikTok to governments advocating digital sovereignty and self-reliance, we seem to be entering a new era of techno-nationalism, where it's increasingly difficult to separate the politics, the economics, and the tech. And, extremist groups like the Boogaloo move from online forums to real world protests. Is the internet is fueling right wing extremism, and how do we de-escalate that extremism? + Throughout 2020, online extremist movements like QAnon and the Boogaloo Bois have gone from fringe internet groups and jokey memes to appearing at protests and crossing over into more traditional political groups. How has the internet fueled the growth of these movements? And can online tools also serve to de-escalate and de-radicalize? Vivek Venkatesh, UNESCO co-Chair in Prevention of Radicalisation and Violent Extremism, professor at Concordia University, explains. + The Trump administration has said Chinese video sharing service TikTok needs to sell off its US operations or face a ban, citing concerns about user privacy and national security. For its part, this week China issued a sweeping proposal for data sovereignty. David Murakami Wood, researcher in the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queens University, weighs in on the technological future of politics. + From TikTok to Facebook, many are worrying about the intersection of technology and politics. But is the intertwining of politics and tech new? Media historian Dwayne Winseck explains how they've been pretty much joined at the hip since the Roman Empire.
In an age of digital devices and near constant distractions, many of us feel like our attention spans are shrinking. So this week on Spark, a handbook on how to concentrate in a distracting world. Stefan Van der Stigchel is a cognitive psychologist and author of Concentration: Staying Focused in Times of Distraction. He believes that concentration is like a muscle you have to work to maintain. As we age we find it more difficult to concentrate. Tarek Amer and fellow researchers found a possible upside: being scattered may help in creative thought. Tarek is also researching whether we can use older folks' distractibility as a way to deliver helpful reminders. Michael Shammas, a lawyer in New York who decided to unplug his headphones for a week. After spending years tethered to his phone while working at a corporate law firm, Michael decided he needed to shake things up. So he abandoned the comfort of his audio bubble, to see what he could learn by reconnecting with his inner monologue. This episode originally aired March 15, 2020.
What if there was an alternative to buildings made from concrete, steel and glass? This week on Spark, we look at some of the ways architects are trying to incorporate living materials into building construction, or create spaces that seem alive in the sense that they interact with us in a fundamental way. Phil Ayres is an architect in Copenhagen, and he's working with mycelium, the fibrous network that supports mushrooms and other fungi—and is, as it turns out, a great building material! Philip Beesley is a Toronto architect and sculptor who leads the Living Architecture Systems Group, which explores—and pushes—the boundaries of interactive spaces, using both biological and fabricated material. This episode originally aired March 1, 2020.
This week on Spark, streaming wars and the future of TV. Dan Rayburn is a principal analyst at a market research and business consulting firm. JP Larocque is a TV writer and journalist. They're both talking about how streaming has changed and what it means for Canadian consumers. Patrick Keilty is a professor in the Faculty of Information and Archives Director of the Sexual Representation Collection in the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto, and he'll explain how the porn industry led the way in terms of how services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video work today. And Ed Finn is the Director of the Centre for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, and the author of What Algorithms Want: Imagination in the Age of Computing. he'll explain the cultural impacts of streaming. This episode originally aired February 2, 2020.
Separation and divorce are common in Canada. But splitting up is never an easy thing. Now, though, new online services and tech tools aim to make the process easier. They range from online mediation, to apps that help with co-parenting. The overarching goal is to keep the process of splitting up and co-parenting *out* of the court system. To simplify and demystify the whole process. Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich is a lawyer and is affiliated with Carleton University. She recently concluded a study examining how technology generally and apps such as OurFamilyWizard are changing the way separated and divorced parents co-parent. Chris Bentley, the former Attorney General of Ontario, is the managing director of the Legal Innovation Zone at Ryerson University, which helps improve access to the legal system and provides free online resources to separating and divorcing couples. Jenny Friedland is a lawyer and mediator in Toronto, who helps couples "exhaust the hate" and try to separate without resorting to litigation. This episode originally aired January 19, 2020.
For two years, two months, and two days, Henry David Thoreau lived alone, in a tiny cabin he built on the edge of Walden Pond. Shortly after, in 1854, he published Walden. This week Spark revisits Walden, and looks at its elegant relevance for today's world. Michael Harris calls Walden a "swan song for an antique enjoyment of time alone." He's the author of The End of Absence and Solitude. He discusses how we can find solitude in today's world and why we need it. An installation at the Daniels School of Architecture at the U of T. called New Circadia: Adventures in Mental Spelunking was a giant, gently-lit and sound-muffled cave where visitors can relax and leave their devices behind. And 10 years ago, filmmaker and internet pioneer Tiffany Shlain and her family decided to do what many have tried before them: a digital detox. And they've been avoiding digital devices for one day ever since, even as her children have grown up. We talk about unplugging and her new book, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week. This episode originally aired December 8, 2019.
Failure. It's romanticized in tech startup culture, but what does it actually have to teach us? Corporate culture has certainly shifted a long way from the days of "failure is not an option." Farhan Thawar is the VP of engineering at Shopify. He says it's not so much failure but a willingness to look stupid that really counts. Juliana Castro thinks we need to renegotiate our relationship with failure. She's come up with some tactics to embrace our mistakes without romanticizing failure. Melanie Stefan, a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, believes we all need a CV of Failures. She explains how a failure resume can be part of our success story. This episode originally aired December 1st, 2019.
A stair-climbing wheelchair might seem like a cool innovation. But for Liz Jackson, it's another example of what she calls a "disability dongle," a well-intended, but ultimately useless solution to a problem people disabled people never knew they had. Liz Jackson is a disability advocate, design strategist, and the founder of The Disabled List. She says people with disabilities need to be on the front lines of innovation and not just the recipients of design. Accessibility for people with disabilities didn't just happen. Its history includes do-it-yourself ingenuity, activism, and shifts in how we think about the politics of design. Bess Williamson explores this evolution in her book Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design. Empathy is considered to be good quality for designers thinking about truly inclusive design. But User Experience designer Amelia Abreu believes the trend of "trying on" a disability to build empathy into accessible design actually exclude disabled people from the design process. This episode originally aired November 10, 2019.
This week on Spark, how algorithms and digital technologies try to predict, or even influence, our behaviour on scales both large and small. Amazon, Google and Facebook all have an image of us. John Cheney-Lippold suggests that doesn't truly reflect how we are in real life and that the profiles that algorithms build of us reflect how companies want to see us, in ways that give value to them. And Abeba Birhane suggests that the —"I think, therefore I am" notion of the self — isn't the only way to view the individual. This episode originally aired on November 3, 2019.
Has technology altered the way we remember things? What does knowledge mean when we use our phones to store facts instead of our brain? Evan Risko, a psychologist and the Canada Research Chair in Embodied and Embedded Cognition at the University of Waterloo, digs into these questions. Henning Beck's latest book, Scatterbrain, argues that our brains aren't anything like computers. Instead our brains are constantly dumping and rearranging information. The neuroscience of memory in the digital age. And how does the internet change the way we know and share information? Kenyatta Cheese, (ken-YATT-ah) co-creator of Know Your Meme, explores memes as images densely packed with meaning. This episode originally aired October 27, 2019.
We rely on complex, global technological systems for our economy and society. But those systems are often hidden from us. This week, a look at two hidden systems we rely on every day. Andrew Blum, author of The Weather Machine, takes us inside the complex world of weather forecasting. And then we do a deep, deep dive to the bottom of the ocean, where Nicole Starosielski, the author of The Undersea Network, explains the dizzying array of undersea cables that make up the backbone of the internet. This episode originally aired September 15, 2019.
Innovation, in its purest form, comes from unfettered imagination. The simple decision to try. To be flexible. To think outside the box. But there will always be someone who says that the box is "just how it's always been." And so most of the time, we stick with the status quo. Change, after all, is tough. But then came COVID-19, and world protests against anti-Black racism and police brutality. Suddenly all of the reasons why certain processes, systems, and operations couldn't be flexible evaporated. The idea of going "back to normal" is now off the table. We saw that most office workers could work from home, or with staggered hours. We saw that cities could open up streets for pedestrians and bicycles. We've seen what's possible. In all aspects of our social, economic and political lives, people are advocating for a NEW "new normal". This week: how we design a more flexible future together. + Michael Longfield, the interim Executive Director of Cycle Toronto, on how the city has built kilometres of new bike lanes, created car-free zones, and what might be needed to ensure they stay in place after the pandemic threat subsides. + The pandemic rapidly switched education to an emergency, remote-teaching model. But does that temporary change mark a bigger shift towards online learning? And could that make university and college a more flexible experience? Tony Bates, the author of a dozen books on online learning and distance education, weighs in on how higher education is changing.
New technologies aren't neutral. They're designed by us, and they can be an expression of our values... and our biases. That doesn't necessarily mean a technologist or a tech company consciously sets out to skew technology in a particular way. But the questions we ask, or don't, about a new technology shape how it can be used. So this time: questions. About technology, power, protest, and democracy. + The now-cancelled Sidewalk Labs project aimed to create the most measurable community in the world. But would that have turned into a form of high tech surveillance embedded in the built environment? Richard Lachman, the director of Zone Learning and the Experiential Media Institute at Ryerson University, believes the project helped reveal some needed repairs to our privacy and data protections. + Technology is often claimed to be neutral. Sure, it can be used for good or ill, but the technology itself doesn't have politics. Not so, argues Ruha Benjamin in Race After Technology. Discriminatory design can perpetuate inequality, reinforcing systemic racism, all while under a cloak of neutrality or even progressivism. In this conversation she discusses the current climate of surveillance and how race itself is used as a kind of technology.
Do you "trust the experts"? Or rather, in what circumstances do you trust the experts? In a complex world like ours, expertise is important, but specialization and hyper-focus can also get in the way of seeing the big picture. On the other hand, in rapidly evolving situations where the stakes are high and information is thin on the ground, measured expertise can easily be trumped by rumour and misinformation. + Among the challenges facing the world today is an "unprecedented crisis in public understanding," says sociologist Fuyuki Kurasawa. The Director of York University's Global Digital Citizenship Lab says there's an understandable delay between the public's need for knowledge and the response of experts, who are often cautious and concerned that they offer correct information. Into that gap slides social media, where rumors, innuendo, untruth and disinformation run rampant. So how do we address this? + We live in an era of extreme specialization, and have come to rely on human experts, protocols, and technology to help us navigate our complex world. In his book, Think for Yourself, author Vikram Mansharamani argues that while consulting expertise is essential, mindlessly following narrow specialization blinds us to the big picture.
If you live in a city, the way we used to get around--at least before March--has changed dramatically. Public transit use is way down. You can't buy a bicycle for demand. People who previously took the bus or ridesharing services have gone back to the safe isolation of their car. Of course, that's if they have a car, or live close enough to their work to ride a bike. For many, public transit is the only option. So how will urban transportation look after the pandemic? + David Cooper is one of Canada's most respected urban transportation consultants, and he offers some ideas. He's the principal of a consulting firm called Leading Mobility in Vancouver. + According to Matthew Crawford, we are both separate and together in our cars which makes it unlike any other shared space. In his new book Why We Drive: Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road he explores why driving is still a great way to exercise one's skill at being free.
It's been a long time since many of us have stepped inside an actual, physical retail store for anything other than essentials. Across Canada, we're in different stages of reopening in a staggered, uncertain way. Many businesses have shuttered permanently. Some have filed for bankruptcy protection. Others are open, but with restrictions. As e-commerce takes off amid the pandemic, how will smaller vendors compete against the online behemoths? What will the in-store experience look like down the road? Will it change forever? + Craig Patterson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Retail Insider, Canada's leading online retail industry publication. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the School of Retailing at the University of Alberta + Darryl Julott is the senior manager of Digital Main Street, a volunteer-driven group that wants to help independent businesses and artists build online stores free of charge. It's partnered with The City of Toronto and several tech companies to launch the "DMS ShopHERE" initiative. + Melissa Gonzalez is the CEO and founder of retail strategist group The Lion'esque Group, and also a principal and shareholder of global architecture firm MG2.
These days, we're living with a lot of uncertainty. And that can be scary. So we turn to science, to mathematical models and policy makers, all to try to understand where things are going. But fiction can also offer us insights into not what's going to happen, but who we are. Novels can remind us that no matter how scary or uncertain things are, others have dealt with similar feelings. Over the years at Spark, we've spoken to many authors who have imagined the future, and where our strengths and weaknesses could lead us. And while none of them predicted what we're going through now, they still offer insights on being human in strange times. And for where we may be headed. + Gary Shteyngart is an American author, and we'll have part of a 2010 interview about his book Super Sad True Love Story. + David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, from 2015 about his novel Slade House, which began as a story called "The Right Sort," which he released on Twitter. + William Gibson, author of Neuromancer, in a 2015 interview about how our sense of history is changing. + Ian McEwan, who won the Booker Prize for his book, Amsterdam, in a 2019 interview about his most recent novel, Machines Like Us, which explores a romantic relationship with a robot. + Margaret Atwood, Booker-Prize winning author of The Handmaid's Tale, The Testaments, and the MaddAddam trilogy, in a 2014 conversation about robots and our relationships with them.
In the midst of a global health crisis, how's the health...of the internet? Being online has clearly emerged as a necessity. But with online tools like video chat exploding in popularity, a look at whether they have the safety and security we need. And whether the current crisis will force a change in how tech giants operate. And in the midst of so much bad pandemic news, maybe there's a bright spot: a return to the positive, open values of the early internet. + Lawyer Njeri Damali Sojourner Campbell has a YouTube channel and a Facebook group where she focuses on Afrofuturist fiction. But when the pandemic hit and so many of us were suddenly alone in our homes, she decided to start Quarantined Pages: daily video conferences where you read -- silently -- with others. + Many hoped that the World Wide Web would lead to the betterment of human knowledge but it hasn't always lived up to that idealistic vision. Angela Misri is digital director at The Walrus. During this pandemic she's seeing evidence of a more supportive digital community that finally lives up to the web's promise. + The pandemic has underscored the importance of internet connectivity in an unprecedented way. Most of us are now using it as our primary means of communicating with friends, family, colleagues and even our healthcare providers. What has this meant for privacy and internet traffic generally? The Mozilla Foundation, which makes the Firefox browser, has been tracking this. Mark Surman, the foundation's executive director, talks to Nora.
Comments (1)

Yaser Izadinia

So amazing topic...I need the can I have transcripts?

Oct 13th
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