Letters to the Editor: May 2021

On surveillance technology, life after death, what makes TikTok so addicting, and more

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As Far As The Eye Can See
In her feature “When Border Security Crosses a Line” (March/April), Hilary Beaumont discusses with admirable nuance the risks inherent in technologies such as iris- and facial-recognition software. We should all be paying attention. The progression of high-tech surveillance—from borders to big box stores, from refugees to employees, and from border agents to police officers—is already well underway. Moreover, it is happening largely without transparency or accountability. We have critical societal decisions to make to ensure that we do not allow these kinds of intrusive technologies to change our world into a place we’d rather not live in.
Brenda McPhail
Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Toronto, ON

In her investigation of unregulated surveillance technology at the southern US border, Beaumont quotes BI2 Technologies CEO Sean Mullin, who believes the intentions of state actors who biometrically monitor their citizens are not “nefarious.” This sense is also implicit in the argument that only law breakers need worry. But current governments will not be in power forever, and whatever surveillance technologies we accept will be available in perpetuity, to all future governments, whatever their intentions.
Greg DePaco
New Westminster, BC

Worlds Apart
Reading Patricia Pearson’s essay on the history of grief hallucinations (“Why Do We See Dead People?” January/February), I was reminded of a description by historian Peter Brown, in The Ransom of the Soul, of how members of the third-century Christian church would eat meals in cemeteries to remember—and be remembered by—dead friends and relatives. These meals, called refrigeriums, were meant to celebrate departed souls. The boundaries between this world and the next were perceived as permeable. Only as centuries passed did the distance between the living and the dead, earth and heaven, material and imaginary, grow further and further apart.
David Tickner
Abbotsford, BC

I found Pearson’s article a wonderful, thought-provoking read. “Reality doesn’t play by our rules,” she writes, quoting anthropologist Jack Hunter. There are many cultures on earth that don’t question or deny the feeling that there exist spiritual beings who are as real as we are. Some Inuit, for instance, place a handful of snow in the mouth of a killed seal to quench its thirst as it continues on its journey. Perhaps our need to understand the world is attached to our need to measure it—and maybe, rather than measure, we should take time to develop relationships with the other side.
Pete Smith
Toronto, ON

Keeping it Real
Sejla Rizvic’s article on the social media generational divide (“Everybody Hates Millennials: Gen Z and the TikTok Generation Wars,” thewalrus.ca) notes that TikTok, the short-video-sharing app in vogue among Gen Z, has a refreshing frankness compared to other social media. But all platforms have an arc: there was a time when blogs, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram were all way more verité and off the cuff than they are now. Sorry, Gen Z, but you didn’t invent being “real.” I think it’s a valid observation that TikTok is a more fun place to spend time than other social media sites, but the better question to ask would be, How do we protect platforms from getting contrived?
Casey Johnston
New York, NY

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“The time has come,” The Walrus said, “to talk of many things.” Send us a letter or an email (letters@thewalrus.ca) or tag us on social media. Comments may be published in any medium and edited for length, clarity, and accuracy. Mail correspondence to: 411 Richmond St. E., Suite B15, Toronto, Ontario, Canada  M5A 3S5