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Where are the women in Canadian green tech?

The environmental sector is often thought of as progressive and forward-thinking, but when it comes to gender diversity in low-carbon economies, is it truly equal?

At the Ontario Climate Symposium hosted on Friday May 12, York University environmental studies professor Christina Hoicka facilitated a panel that discussed gender diversity and how women experts are leading the way on energy research. Part of Hoicka’s research focuses on discovering which women academics are influencing the field of energy research, and whether or not enough is being done to encourage women to be a part of the renewable energy (RE) industry.

Women make up less than 20 per cent of the renewable energy sector workforce. Jobs are opening up in this sector thanks to the the growing popularity in green technologies, which means it’s the perfect opportunity to close the gender gap in STEM fields.

Canada Research Chair in global women’s issues at Western University, Dr. Bipasha Baruah, was one of the panelists and explained that because there are so few women leaders in clean technology, she feels she actually gets more attention in her role. “Sometimes I feel hyper-visible. Part of that is that you can check so many boxes with me. Even if you are acknowledged, you can still be tokenized,” Baruah says.

Women are clearly under-represented in the green sector in Canada, representing only 20 per cent of jobs, but 50 per cent of university graduates. Most women within the industry are found in sales, administrative roles, and technology positions. For women that are in STEM jobs, the wage gap is smaller, with women earning 14 per cent less than men compared to 21 per cent in other fields. But, they are still massively underrepresented. According to Baruah, women are often discouraged from entering engineering and technology fields because of the misperceptions of the ‘dirty work’ involved and that they typically feel inadequate in the technological aspects of certain occupations.

Baruah’s research did emphasize that Canadian women are increasingly becoming leading entrepreneurs. She interviewed Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE) CEO Rebecca Black, who pointed out that of the membership base of 1000 women in the province of Ontario, at least 20 per cent were entrepreneurs in RE. Women are often more community-based leaders and renewables thrive off a grassroots cooperative business model.

Julie MacArthur, Professor at University of Auckland, reinforced this idea through her study of the evolving socio-technical community-based approach in the renewables sector. In the wake of moving away from large fossil fuel corporations, several renewable community-based organizations have popped up that focus on alternative energy sources. Many of these grassroots organizations are spearheaded by women, who are essential to this movement of cooperation and community-based growth. MacArthur explains that ‘energy democracy’ is growing and there is a changing socio-political focus that is happening right now, as the environment grows as a central concern in the Canadian economy. Obviously, women have a key role to play in this change.

Including women in the move from a brown to green economy will only make RE more diverse and versatile. Being able to provide even more data about women in clean technology helps society to understand where we stand in regards to gender diversity and how we can better accommodate women looking to enter these fields. It is important to provide a discursive research space and more panels to educate women invested in an environmental career, and Women’s Post hopes to learn more as amazing women researchers grow and learn in green technology.

Hang up on your social media hang-out

Has social media made it easier to make friends, or is it even more difficult with our mobile devices in hand?

Technology has vastly changed the way younger generations make friends. With the overconsumption of various social media apps ranging from Facebook to Snapchat, the rules have changed on the how-to’s of finding your bestie.

There are many pros and cons of the social media world people live in today. There is a lot of accessibility, opportunity, and connection that can happen because of computers and cellphones. On the other hand, these positive developments in technology are also paired with pressure to constantly be plugged in and responsive, resulting in face to face interactions becoming less valued. Remember when people used to call a friend’s house and make plans in order to hang out? Now, it’s possible to have a Skype date with a friend across the world and watch a movie without leaving the comfort of your own home.

Though there are perks to social media, there are still some issues that need to be ironed out. Call me a skeptic, but I’m very hesitant about social media. There is something innately creepy about having your every breathing moment tracked online. It’s also clear that people are addicted to their phones. It also puts more pressure on friendships. If someone doesn’t answer immediately, it is quickly assumed that something is wrong (guilty as charged). This need for immediacy and instant gratification creates a lot of issues and useless drama. It is also anxiety provoking to be expected to be available at all times.

It is all too easy to hide behind the computer screen and utter disrespectful statements on a whim that would never fly in person. Social media’s accessibility has made people quicker to cut another person off permanently with the flick of a button. Being able to ‘block’ someone so easily or bully them online has caused a lot of hurt, and instigates more issues. I’d like to believe that most people are decent human beings, but online communication can turn even the kindest friend into a ruthless beast if an argument occurs over the interweb. The golden rule folks: if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it online.

So far, I’ve only touched on the direct affects of social media on friendships, but there are also a a lot of unusual rules and social patterns developing. Instead of watching concerts, people are often too busy taking a video of themselves being “cool” or appearing “valued.” When people hang out in groups, oftentimes it feels like the other person isn’t there because of the phone they can’t tear their eyes from. And of course, there is the “don’t eat until I’ve taken three dozen photos for my Instagram” phase.

It is time to put down the phone or computer! Relying on social media to build and maintain friendships is not the way to go. Instead, try the good old-fashioned in person hang-out without phones. You will find yourself looking at the world in a whole new way without any distractions in your face. There is still hope for people to interact without a social media hang-up, all is not lost, but it is vital to put down your phone first.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

The one text message you should never send

“Hope you’re well!”

It’s a phrase that takes one second to send. No autocorrect needed, no thinking required. Sometimes modified, most seen in work emails, with family and friends, your next-door neighbour, the phrase implies that we, the sender, wishes the best upon the person. And that’s pretty much it.

I learned the implications behind this text message the hard way. After sending a similar text to a friend of mine during a difficult time in his life, I quickly realized that sometimes, it’s better to just ask.

So, just ask.

Wishing well upon a person is nice. But it doesn’t do the job of showing how much you care about the person. It’s a wish. Meaning you don’t expect a reply, you instead assume- and hope- that it’s going well. Sending a text message along these lines allows you to skip the details, tidbits, and everything in between and just jump straight to the conclusion; everything’s well.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of the hidden subtext behind this phrase either. But, to some, it implies that the sender is merely pretending to care about someone. Because that was the truth when I sent this text to him. We had just met. He was a new addition to my life. So, I felt like I was required to check up on him out of formality. It was courtesy.

However, it was the first time I was called out for being courteous. He knew exactly where I was coming from when I sent that text. As a people pleaser always looking to get on everyone’s good sides – the guilt was real. So, ever since that incident, I’ve took it upon myself to be very careful before ‘hoping’ the people I interact with are well.

Before sending the text, it’s important to ask – do I really care how this person is doing? Sometimes, the answer is still no. And that’s okay. It’s fine to just hope in this case. However, the question then arises, when you’re looking to catch up with someone you truly care about, how you can really showcase your interest in the person’s life.

Take a look at the text messages exchanged between you and your best friend. There will be no hope in sight. Rather, your texts will contain a plethora of very concrete questions; “How is it going with that thing?”, “Did you find out about…?”, “Is it over yet?” followed by very detailed responses, usually details that you, the reader, could have lived without actually knowing. (i.e The events that took place the morning after Taco Tuesday)

The bottom line is, there will be a time in every person’s life, sometimes multiple times a day, when they must stare directly into their phone screen and laptop, and spout the words ”I hope you’re well.” It’s embedded into us to hope well for humanity. And although that’s not necessarily a bad thing, sometimes instead of hoping well, it’s better to just make sure they are well. You never know what a person is going through unless you ask. Because, unfortunately, we live in a society where there’s no answer other than ‘good’ when it comes to responding ‘how are you?’

So, offer something extra and lend your ears once in awhile. If their story turns out anything like mine, you’ll get a great article topic in return.

What text would you never send to a loved one? Let us know in the comments below! 

Why the term “fake news” is so dangerous

What is “fake news”? That’s a question a lot of people are asking these days. It’s also a question a certain President-Elect SHOULD be asking before he takes office; although, I’m sure he won’t.

As a journalist, this phrase makes me cringe. News, by its very definition, cannot be considered “fake”. It can be sensationalist, maybe sometimes biased, but not fake. “Fake News”, therefore, isn’t news at all. It’s just garbage on the Internet or the tabloids that way too many people are gullible enough to think is true.

The Internet is big. Anyone can create a free website and start to write, upload photos, and create video. They can even make their site look like that of a news organization. It’s not that difficult. This fact is an amazing thing, but it does create a few problems. Who do you trust? What information is real and what is, as we call it now, “fake news.”

This is where journalists and news organizations come in.

It is their job (and mine) to sift through all of the false claims, tall tales, and outlandish stories that exist on the Internet. A journalist will confirm facts with numerous, legitimate and reliable sources. Their work is then edited by a number of people, including fact-checkers. If, in some cases, those sources and fact-checkers are not available, a news organization may use the word “unverified” or “alleged” until such time where the facts can be confirmed. This ensures transparency. This does NOT mean the information is falsified by the media with a nefarious purpose.

Cue President-Elect, Donald Trump.

At a press conference on Jan 11, Trump refused to answer a question by CNN veteran reporter Jim Acosta.  This happened after CNN reported that intelligence officials briefed Trump on an unverified dossier alleging Russian officials had compromising information about Trump.

“Your organization is terrible,” he yelled when Acosta tried to ask him a question. “You are fake news.”

And that was it. The term was redefined.

Since then, Trump has used the term “fake news” to describe every story he’s had an issue with. Most recently, on Jan. 18, he tweeted a news story from NBC.

 

Essentially, the term “fake news,” once used to describe a false story on the Internet that suddenly started trending to the point of believability, is now used to label a media organization is wrong and untrustworthy.

What Trump hopes to do is perpetuate this myth that the media is out to get everyone — that they would do anything or say anything for a headline and a few clicks. This is outrageously insulting, not to mention a dangerous sentiment for the future President of the United States to make. The job of the media is to keep people of authority accountable; to inform the public about what is happening in the world; and to shed light on important issues that require attention.

Just because you don’t agree with a story, or you don’t like what it says, doesn’t make a story, or a news organization, “fake.” It also doesn’t mean it’s wrong — unless you can show the data and prove it.

To throw this phrase around haphazardly, without forethought or understanding, creates real problems for the media and destroys its essential purpose.  I’m guessing this is exactly what Trump wants — but the public should be wary.

It’s good to be critical. It’s smart to question whether something described as fact is, in actuality, true. However, it’s just as important to question the way politicians attack the press and the real message they are trying to send stop from spreading. The President-Elect’s use and abuse of “fake news” is another of his bullying tactic to deflect and suppress non-Trump generated news. The public should not allow this abuse to continue.

Freedom of the press is an essential part of a democracy. As Barack Obama, soon to be former President of the United States, said to the media in his last press conference Wednesday, “You’re not supposed to be sycophants, you’re supposed to be skeptics. You’re supposed to ask me tough questions.”

“Democracy doesn’t work if we don’t have a well-informed citizenry, and you are the conduit through which they receive the information about what’s taking place in the halls of power. So America needs you and our democracy needs you.”

The use of the term “fake news” to delegitimize the media is an affront to that very concept — and it’s up to every single citizen of North America to ensure politicians don’t take advantage of this term for their own gain.

What do you define as “fake news”? Let us know in the comments below.

Self-automated vehicles: progressive or downright creepy?

Self-automated cars are one of the most exciting developments in the automotive industry, perhaps since the invention of the car itself. Imagine a vehicle that drives itself, and the once autonomous driver becomes simply the passenger?

The positive and negative aspects of self-driving cars are being hotly debated, but car manufacturers are plowing ahead fearlessly despite any criticism. The idea of a car driving itself is just too tempting for inventive and forward thinking companies such as Tesla, a company that has arguably made some of the best electric cars on the market. All of the vehicles sold from Tesla since October 2016 are already equipped with self-automation, though it is running in shadow mode until further notice.

The self-driving cars from Google are a huge competitor for Tesla. They have been testing their vehicles for over a year now and is hoping to release the vehicle in 2018. The best part? The Google Car looks like an adorable marshmallow bot (see image above). It has a maximum speed of 50 km per hour and is made for moderate distant driving rather than large roadways. This vehicle has been a favourite in the auto-world so far and is set to become the most popular self-automated driving option once it hits market.

Self-automated cars will become widespread in the next few years, but is the world necessarily ready for such a change? Most countries haven’t even started the process of changing legislation to include self-automated cars. On the other hand, the government of the United States has a different agenda. The U.S. Federal Department of Transportation has embraced the future of self-automated cars and has started taking steps to create a series of regulations surrounding the new technology. They recently released the “The Federal Automated Vehicles Policy”, which listed rules such as securing the vehicles from cyber-attacks and that the cars must adapt to local laws.

The Ontario government recently approved the testing of three self-automated vehicles in November 2016, which is exciting. The University of Waterloo is testing on the aptly named ‘the Autonomoose’; the Erwin Hymer Group, an international automaker, is testing a Mercedez-Benz Sprinter Van; and, Blackberry will test a 2017 Lincoln. It’s great to see the Ontario government taking such a keen interest in self-automated cars.

One of the more high-tech and outlandish versions of the self-driving car is the Volkswagen Bus, proving that these cars can be made for multiple demographics. Volkswagen is coming out with a self-automated hippie van, which is due to be released in 2025. The vehicle will include a self-automation option and includes swivel front seats that allow the driver and passenger seat to turn around while driving so that they can hang out with their friends. The VW Bus also includes a touchscreen instead of a steering wheel and will control a number of functions, including ambient lighting and sound for ultimate enjoyment. Is this a good idea or a creepy futuristic play on the classic hippie van of the 1960’s?

The self-automated element of the car evolution goes even further with the Honda NeuV, a self-driving car that will use an AI system called Yui to control the vehicle and feel the driver’s mood and preferences. It includes mood lighting, massage beads in the seats and with eye-tracking sensors, would be able to adjust music depending on the person’s perceived mood. It appears the future of the robot takeover is imminent ladies and gentlemen.

On one hand, self-automated cars would lower the rate of accidents caused by human error. They would also allow for greater efficiency of travel of roads. Alternatively, there are many kinks in this type of technology, including the threat of cyber-hacking, the risk of technological malfunctions, and the question of ethics. It is has been suggested that self-automated cars wouldn’t react in an ethical manner if a child were crossing the road for example, and without being able to swerve may hit the small human. The vehicle may be able to stop more quickly if it is programmed for the child, but it is probable that the vehicle wouldn’t swerve out of the way to avoid the accident. Tesla also reported a fatality that occurred in early 2016 when a self-automated car crashed into a white lorry crossing the street, failing to differentiate its white colour from the bright sky above.

The self-automated car is a fascinating example of the future of the vehicle. It would allow for more shared use of vehicles (the vehicle could act as an Uber or taxi while you work) and it eradicates the rate of human error on the road. There still remains something uncomfortable about these vehicles though. It seems the future is drawing closer to technological dependence when considering self-driving vehicles and smartphones. There is also something beautiful about driving standard, hand on the stick with complete control over a roaring machine (electric though of course is preferred, environmental concerns must be considered a first priority!). What happens next with automated cars remains to be seen, but it appears we have entered into the futuristic world. What does that mean for us measly humans? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Why you should unplug this year

Are you rolling your eyes yet? Have you closed this window? Please, before you leave to read something else, hear me out!

It’s true that every year someone makes a claim for a tech-free existence. As a reporter, that very thought terrifies me. Technology has become such a critical part of not only my life, but society as a whole. There is, quite literally, no way to live a digital-free life, which in itself is a pretty scary thought.

What I am arguing is the benefits of a short-term unplugging, or rather the importance of limiting your digital intake this year.

In this digital age, it’s nearly impossible to go a day without technology. For example, personally, I wake up in the morning and look at my phone — what time is it? What’s the weather? Did someone comment on my Facebook page? I then travel to work, listening to a podcast and checking my Twitter feed as I go. Once I get to work, I’m on the computer for all but my bathroom breaks. Then, I travel home and sit myself down in front of the television to unwind. If I feel like it, I’ll check my emails after dinner and my social networks. Maybe I’ll play a game or watch Netflix in bed? All of this is to say that technology has, quite literally, become my life.

This is what led me to this realization: every once in a while we have to unplug, get rid of the temptation to check social media or the need to be up to date with our work 24/7. By unplugging from the digital world, it gives you the opportunity to live in the REAL world — not one that is judged by hashtags and filters.

According to Forbes, 61 per cent of people feel depressed after checking social media and 71 per cent say their devices contribute to their overall stress. This doesn’t shock me. Every time I pick up my phone, I see friends and colleagues succeeding in their workplace and/or messages from people upset with their life. Both scenarios evoke strong emotions in me, and that’s before I read all of the heartbreaking news posted in my feeds.

Technology also makes it incredibly difficult to separate your business and personal life. If you are always checking your emails on your phone, you’ll never get to experience anything else. Do your work at work, and when you get home, make sure to spend time with your family or on yourself.

An easy way to start this new chapter of your unplugged life is to remove all technology from your view an hour before you go to bed. Instead, do the dishes, read a book, or go for a walk. The artificial lights in your television or cell phones can actually trick your brain into thinking it should be awake. You may find you sleep better if you don’t check your devices in the middle of the night.

In the morning, instead of checking your phone first thing, make yourself a cup of tea and/or coffee first. Take that 10 minutes for yourself and think about what you are doing that day. Maybe do a short yoga practice or meditation. Starting the day with presence of mind, deciding what YOU want rather than what Twitter tells you to want, will help set the tone for the rest of the day.

Resist the temptation to take a photo of your food at a restaurant. Keep that phone in your purse! Unless your job is in food photography, no one really cares! Why not enjoy what’s in front of you, as well as the conversation happening around the table?

And finally, try to spend one day a week away from the television and/or computer. Go out of the city, meet up with friends, or simply run some errands. Find a hobby that doesn’t involve technology — knitting, writing, painting, or a sport! The entire goal of this unplugged time is to allow yourself to be present and aware of what is happening around you, without interruption or distraction.

I know unplugging can be hard — I myself suffer from withdrawal if I don’t check my phone after an hour or so. But, this year, my plan is to be more present. I want to try more things, be more alive, and that is not something I can do if I’m constantly glued to my computer or my phone.

Ultimately, remember this: living life is much more important than documenting it. With this kind of mentality, you can’t go wrong!

Woman of the Week: Miriam Verburg

Do you remember those teenage years — all of the confusion, the expectations, and the social awkwardness?

That’s one of the reasons why Miriam Verburg helped to create the LongStory Game, a dating sim, choose-your-own-adventure type game that helps pre-teens and teenagers learn the ins-and-outs of dating. Users get to pick a character —boy, girl, or trans — and must solve a mystery while navigating social scenarios. Some examples include, bullying, backstabbing friends, alienation and immigration, and experimentation with their own sexuality.

“I made it as a response to other dating sims, which follow boring storylines – you buy enough nice clothing and people will like you,” Verburg said. “LongStory is less appearance based and more ‘if I was 13 playing a game about relationships, what would I want to practice doing’.”

Verburg is modest to a fault. She is a self-affirmed feminist who wants to be a force of change and social good, but would rather work behind the scenes than in front of a camera.  She considers some aspects of business like advertising and monetization a challenge, as she wants her work to retain it’s authenticity and accessibility — something many other businesses can’t claim.

Verburg became interested in technology at a young age. Her father worked for the Bloorview Macmillan Centre in Toronto as a researcher, developing rehabilitation programs for kids. He often brought home weird-looking laptops and would let the kids play with them. Verburg caught the creative bug, and studied art in school, primarily print-making and digitization.

After graduating, she worked at Studio XX, an “explicitly feminist art studio” in Montreal, where self-taught women in technology could teach others. After a while, her interests changed to web development. She completed her Master’s in Communications and Media Studies at Concordia and got a job teaching kids digital literacy at a library in Montreal, something that inspired her to continue to work with kids and technology.

While doing all of this, Verburg started her own website development company with some friends called 3scoDesign, which focused on helping non-profits design and integrate their digital footprints. Verburg has maintained that entrepreneurial spirit and is now the founder and CEO of Bloom Digital Media, a “boutique gaming company” that specializes in user experience and project management.

LongStory launched two years ago through Bloom Digital Media and it’s quite the success. Verburg’s target audience at the beginning was young girls; she wanted to create a game that taught consent and allowed girls to experiment with their desires.

“It was 2012 — Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd — I found those stories sad and surprising,” she said. “It seemed to me, as a teenager, I was pretty convinced that the dating world was not constructed in a way girls can experience themselves fully with power and freedom.”

LongStory has since grown into a phenomenon that transcends gender, a game that appeals to young people across the board. Users can choose a character that accurately represents how they choose to be identified — “he”, “she”, or “they” — and can try things they may be embarrassed to try in public.  The challenge, Verburg says, is to keep the game authentic and available, so that teenagers are comfortable using it and parents don’t mind them doing so.

“There has been lots of pressure to make this educational and put it in schools, which is something I’ve resisted,” she said. Teenagers see devices as a place where they can be free to be themselves, and if you introduce it into classrooms, that whole idea changes.

Her team is also made up of an equal number of men and women — something Verburg says should be the norm no matter the company.

“The team is fairly evenly split and we also try to have a lot of LGBTQ members to represent that idea authentically,” she says. “People say it’s hard to have diversity in a company, but it’s not.”

One of the things Verburg hopes will change is the perception issue regarding male-dominated industries like hers. People say that more women should be involved in gaming or web development, but they don’t actually speak with women to find out what kind of games they would be interested in. That’s something Verburg has actively been trying to change.

“We spoke with a lot of girls during market research,” she said. “I want to explore how to create a community around that idea of gaming – how to help [girls] find better games and enjoy the experience more. There is such a strong community around building games and it makes me sad to see that if you ask girls if they want to get involved, they say ‘it’s still not meant for me’.”

Verburg was also involved with Dames Making Games, a not-for-profit feminist organization that runs events and programs for “women, non-binary, gender nonconforming, trans and queer folks interested in games.”  When she isn’t working or involved in the gaming community, Verburg enjoys doing circuit training, going for a walk outdoors, or playing a board game — anything that doesn’t involve analytical thinking.

Season two of LongStory was released a few months ago, and Verburg is excited to see where it will lead. “It’s like an Archie comic,” she said. “It can only go on.”

Woman of the Week: Jennifer Flanagan

Jennifer Flanagan, co-founder and CEO of the non-profit Actua, was exposed to science and technology at a young age, more so than other young girls in her class. Her father and uncle were both engineers, and as she says, “kids that grow up with engineers or scientists as parents are typically the ones that pursue it themselves.”

Flanagan’s plan was to go to medical school, combine her love of science and her affinity for helping people into one career. But, all that changed when she saw a poster on the wall asking the following question: Do you want to start a science or engineering camp? Her answer was a resounding yes.

That small group of students started up a few camps locally, but soon the model spread nationally among engineering programs at different universities. As of 1994, the camps had a policy for gender parity, with an equal 50 per cent divide between girl and boy participants. “That was unheard of,” Flanagan said.  “It was controversial, amazing, and it worked.”

The programs became more popular, and eventually the students started to receive funding from university chairs and Industry Canada. And that’s how Actua was formed — a national charitable organization that engages young kids and marginalized communities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). “We [engage] about 225,000 youth a year – that includes a huge focus on those underrepresented audiences, or the hardest to reach audience in Canada,” Flanagan explained. This includes a program called InSTEM, a customized, community-based educational program that engages First Nations, Metis, and Inuit youth, as well as a digital literacy program that transforms young people from passive consumers into real innovators capable of using and creating future technology.

Twenty-five years later, Flanagan is just as excited about her role in Actua as she was when she saw that poster on the wall. She says she has seen progress since the program went national.

“Big evidence of that progress is Actua,” she said. “When I first started doing this work, we had to convince people it was important. A summer camp was one thing, but no one saw the link to the future work force or economic development.”

More woman are getting involved in certain science, like medicine for example, but Flanagan says there is still a void in research and in technology-based industries. “Whether its health-based research that’s skewed because no women were involved — it affects research outcome. It’s really important to have those voices at the table. And so, that starts really early. Talking to girls – telling them that they can do science and we NEED them in science. We need to make sure women are designing the world of the future.”

Flanagan is working with a team on a special project meant to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary next year. Actua is building a “Maker Mobile”, a mobile workshop that will travel from one end of the country to the other in just over 18 months, stopping at schools and community centres along the way. “A maker space is a workshop that is filled with technology tools that allow you to build prototypes or allow you to build products,” Flanagan said. “We are celebrating past innovation by building skills for future innovation.”

The idea is to inspire young people to not only learn more about science and technology, but also to inspire them to innovate. The maker mobile will empower these young people and shift their attitudes. Too often, people tell kids to pay attention to math and science so they can do great things in the future, Flanagan explained. Instead, why not encourage them to do great things now?

“Today’s youth are incredible innovators already. They are amazing problem solvers and have natural abilities with science and technology.”

Flanagan’s passion often follows her outside of her work with Actua. She sits on the board of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, an organization that has a wide mandate, which includes empowering women, helping them escape violent situations, and ending poverty.

“The work with the Canadian Women’s Foundation is so fundamental — doing work that is creating the first generation of women free of violence requires more passion. The work that we do, engage girls in science and technology goes far beyond knowing there is enough female participation in these subjects. It’s about raising confidence.”

Flanagan is also a finalist for the Social Change Award for the 2016 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. She is reading a newly released book called “Girl Positive”, which tells the story of hundreds of girls across North America and finds out what they need, something Flanagan says is critical reading for parents and policy makers.

 

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Where can Pokemon Go from here?

I got into a rather heated argument with my family last weekend over Pokemon Go. They had been reading the headlines about the terrible consequences of the app — the stampedes around Central Park, the guy who accidentally shot at two kids who were hanging out near his car, and the theft sprees that have occurred throughout the United States.

All I could say was that despite all of the glitches, I thought the app was a work of genius. And I haven’t even played it yet.

There are a number of reasons why I haven’t downloaded the app yet — a) I think it will take up more data than I can muster and b) I don’t think I’ll sleep for a week if I get it — but, that doesn’t mean I don’t think the technology is absolutely brilliant.

Pokemon Go inserts the game into the real-world, allowing players to walk around neighbourhoods and “catch” or “battle” Pokemon on the streets. Pokestops can be found at public art installations, tourist attractions and historical markers. Players will be allowed to join teams, battle other players, and train their Pokemon based on physical challenges. Eggs can only be hatched if a certain distance or number of steps is achieved. This has spurred a number of hilarious digs on social media about a sedentary generation finally having to move in order to play the game.

Sure, there are a few glitches — some of the Pokemon are hidden on private property and in commercial buildings — but it encourages people of all ages to explore neighbourhoods, play outdoors, and get nerdy. Is this really that terrible?

This fascinating mixture of augmented reality, geocached data of objects and locations, and Google Maps has the potential to revolutionize the way apps are developed in the future. Not only that, but it has the potential to change the way society as a whole uses this technology.

First of all, it’s a great marketing tool. Already, institutions like Toronto Tourism are asking residents to tweet pictures of Pokemon at historical sites for promotion. Imagine you are hosting an event and you want attendees to really engage with your company. Simply create an app that encourages participants to visit each table, station, or area of the event and collect points for a draw. Already, businesses can purchase a “lure” or “incense”,which attracts Pokemon to their area.

Now, let’s take this to the next step. How about using it for public good? Maybe a municipality can use it to encourage residents to pick up garbage or use public transportation? How great would it be to use this technology to host a neighbourhood-or city-wide scavenger hunt, highlighting government buildings, public monuments, and community centres?

There is so much potential with Pokemon Go and I can’t wait to see how it’s used next. Who knows, maybe this will be the week I give in to the Pokemon Go crave? I’ll let you know if I catch em’ all!

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The world of tomorrow, today

A former professional life brought me to New York City every couple of weeks. Routinely flying into LaGaurdia Airport in Queens, (no, this article is not about the horrendous state of the terminal Air Canada is located in) I was afforded a wonderful view of the New York World’s Fair location as we approached the runway. The skeleton globe, the monolithic structures, and the tree-lined paths remain an iconic reminder of a time when the world would gather with pilgrimage fashion to be awe-struck by the grand possibilities of the future.

During its heyday, the fair held a sense of wonder and aspiration for its visitors. In 1889, the Eiffel Tower was built in Paris, in 1893 the world was introduced to the Ferris Wheel in Chicago, and in 1939, broadcast television was inaugurated in New York. Expo ’67 held in Montreal left the city with iconic architecture and, for a time, a Major League Baseball team named after it. Themes such as “The World of Tomorrow”, “Dawn of a New Day”, and “Peace Through Understanding” captivated the world with the promise of unimaginable spectacle. But today, with the proliferation of the Internet, there is less need for the Expo. Our present inundation of information about new technologies, new designs, theories, advances, and plans for the future are readily available in an endless stream of images, articles, tweets, websites, and data.

Today our pilgrimage has been reduced to a drooling stare into an LCD screen. And so, I wonder whether there is still value for cities to host the World’s Fair?

Held every five years, the World’s Fair (or World’s Expo as it’s also known) is a six-month long showcase of trade, innovation, and products from around the world. The Expo was held in Milan last year and the next one will be hosted by Dubai in 2020. Lately, and most likely in part because of the success of the Pan-Am Games, there have been rumblings about Toronto bidding on the 2025 World Expo. It is a chance to once again showcase our city on the world stage while continuing to push our mandate as a place rich in innovation, financial stability, and livability.

But still, is it worth the cost? Toronto Mayor John Tory, while not opposed to the idea, has intelligently taken a cautious approach; there are many unanswered questions related to cost and effort – questions that must be ironed out before any sort of decision is made.

Now, cost and effort aside, the other question that must considered revolves around theme. What grand proposition will be used to inspire the world to once again care about the World’s Fair? How are we going to put our stamp on an event that’s become largely irrelevant? How can we harken back to a time when the world of tomorrow was not so easily available through a few clicks? And most importantly, how do we balance the need for commercial capital without an overly branded marketing experience for the companies that foot the bill?

Here are a few areas of inspiration that may help:

  • Apple and Tesla Product Launch Format: the ability to keep new product designs and details under wraps from the media, while driving excitement and anticipation, is the fuel that powers both company’s marketing-driven sales. If the Expo could showcase things that were truly ground-breaking with a hotly-anticipated reveal, it would certainly help drive buzz.
  • Influencer Participation: gathering the best of the best in all fields to not just showcase their ideas, products, and plans, but to buy-in to the World’s Fair concept will help spread the word by association. If the most influential people in their fields participate, the rest will follow.
  • Integrated Projects: gather experts and leaders from a variety of industries to create conceptual works that fit into their unique visions of the future. Don’t worry about feasibility, worry only about inspiring people’s imaginations.
  • What Happens After: when the Expo is complete, what will be left? What types of architecture will remain permanently that future generations will look at with awe and wonder. Let’s build something that lasts.

Regardless of whether or not we bid on the Expo, the process of discussion should provide a valuable template for how we aim to push Toronto into the future as it relates to innovation. The notion of the world of tomorrow is still very much alive today.