Today, I feel like the main character in a story begun by…

Today, I feel like the main character in a story begun by Douglas Adams and published posthumously (not post-humorously!). As written, Dirk Gently is an out-of-work detective in a cafe, who decides that a passerby must be a case (and that he just hasn’t been engaged by the client who wants the passerby followed).

In my case, I am an almost out-of-work university instructor— one course really doesn’t pay the bills; even EI recognizes that I need help—  who comes to campus every day to help faculty overcome any problems they are facing with the use of Moodle or other computer-based technology in their courses. It’s not something I’m being paid for, but it is work I really enjoy (and I hope someone will eventually notice who can hire pay me).

The ultimate in existentialist job-hunting: find a job and do it until someone begins to pay you. I don’t know that this will work, but then again, existentialism is so tenuous, so emergent, so fragile…

I wonder when people will begin to notice the bedroll stuffed under my desk…

An Infinite Ignorance

One particular problem looms large when I think about doing or learning anything new: There is so much out there, where shall I begin?

Today, I received/synthesized some understanding why this happens (to me). I overheard a comment of a participant on The Current (daily radio show on CBC) to the effect that learning happens on the edges of what we know. 

I reflected back on ready of a couple decades past (Gleick, Chaos Theory) which revealed (invented?) the notion that coastlines are of infinite length because of the existence of fractals where the water meets the land: The more you zoom in on the intersection, the more detailed (and longer) the revealed coast is.

I think this is relevant to my awareness of how ignorant I am (and how infinite the starting points for any (learning) project). Sigh…

The Shape of a Story

I took graduate linguistics courses from Robert Longacre in the early 80s. He often described narrative plot structures in a way similar to Kurt Vonnegut. However, Longacre’s schema was more detailed.

One of the details of plot structure I remember was a discussion of the ‘inciting incident’. Between the ‘beginning and middle’ often discussed as the overall structure of a story, is the occasion where something unusual happens, the event that makes the story begin to be interesting.

What the inciting incident looks like is sometimes called the ‘One day…’ part of the story. So, you begin the story (‘Once upon a time…’ or ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far away…’) where you set a stage. ‘Tom was an unfortunate girl who grew up in the hamlet of Zizzor, just south of London…’ (Added detail—with hat-tip to Umberto Eco): ‘Unfortunately also, she had no need to wear glasses.’) Stage-setting is mostly about description, providing a world for the participants and others to be introduced to readers. But description is not narration. The narration per se begins with the first event of the story.

The inciting incident begins with something like: ‘On one particularly cloudy Tuesday, Tom boarded the bus that would take her to school (or as she liked to think of it, prison). The only available seat was next to an ancient toad-like (gentle)man in a rather rumpled suit of indeterminate colour. Because Tom did not want to stand for the half-hour ride, she sat next to the man. Tom settled herself as the bus pulled away from the stop. Breaking the unspoken law of public transport, the man turned and looked Tom over very carefully, as if considering something that made Tom quite uncomfortable. At the very moment Tom was about to ask her ‘assailant’ not to stare, the man spoke…’ At this point, the story is off and running (or readers have clicked away to something else).

I think different people approach storytelling in different ways, but for me, the story begins with the inciting incident. When I tell design stories, I always begin with the inciting incident. Others may decide upon an overall structure for the story or some moral area they want to explore, but for me, it’s as if the story needs to begin to tell itself to me, so that I can tell it to others. Later on, I’ll figure out what principle the story should illustrate or what the overall plot structure should be and other details.

Then again, I’m not a published author, so following me might lead to misfortune.

Panic Sets In

What happens when you volunteer to do something outside your (safe) area of expertise? Panic, that’s what!

Okay, I thought the course on digital storytelling looked interesting, exciting, and so forth. The problem is, there are a lot of very competent people out there who expect to get serious production underway very soon. I’m not at all sure I can keep up the pace.

The technology is new, and the concepts and procedures are, as well. I may produce a total flop, but we all will just have to wait and see.

Learning is painful… if only in the anticipation!


It is vital to the future of humanity that we embrace our differences, but all differences are examples of inequality. We all differ in our appearance, our genetic strengths and weaknesses, our talents and abilities, and the backgrounds of religion, culture, philosophy, language, and family that have shaped us.

As we all differ, so we all have something of value to bring to our worlds. On the one hand, then, the inequalities that allow and encourage our differences are acceptable and must be maintained. However, in terms of our opportunity to thrive, to pursue goals, to educate ourselves, and to bring value to our world, it is important that we strive for an absolute equality. People must not be put down by others for the differences that make them unique in the world. They must not be held back, and they must be encouraged by others to be all they want to be.

When we consider the inequalities that exist in our world, it is important to note two things: First, different inequalities stand out to different people, and every person’s ‘take’ on the important inequalities is important to hear and consider. And second, inequality is not a phenomenon happening “long, long ago in a galaxy far away”; it is real, current, and local. As an illustration of this, I asked the students in a university class I teach the following question.

  • What are the most important things you can say to the world about the current state of inequality among people in the local area (Central British Columbia, Canada)?

Here are some of the things they said. Each bullet-point segment was contributed by a different student in the class, but they all had access to each other’s comments.

  • Inequality is defined as the condition of being unequal; lack of equality; disparity. Every person will at some point in life come face to face with inequality. It could be in a workplace or while in school. In the workplace, inequality is often in the form of sexism. This could be expressed in talking about “blue” and “pink” jobs, where males and females are not able to cross over and do jobs that are not considered to be their “gender colour.” With this gender role inequality, there often comes a pay difference. Even in cases where women are more qualified than a fellow male coworker, their pay will generally be less.

  • To say we have inequality in BC is to state the obvious. We have child poverty and many people rely on food banks. Many people that work minimum paying jobs cannot afford to live.

  • Equality has been an issue in every society since the beginning of time. If there is more than one person in a room, both of them will feel superior to each other in their own way.  Whether two people or an entire community, inequality is an issue that is still prevalent in our modern society.  No matter how far we think we have come up the evolutionary scale, society holds fast to its preconceived ideas and standards, no matter how outdated and wrong they are.  As individuals, though, we have an obligation to do what we can to correct inequalities when we come across them in our daily lives.  Every correction, no matter how small can snowball and become something bigger.  Calling a bully on his or her behaviour or hiring a qualified person of a different ethnicity or religious belief is a start.  Accepting a person’s sexual orientation or religion as being a part of who they are and not the totality of what they are is one step that could lead to greater equality in the larger world.  

  • Inequality occurs very often in Central BC and all around our country. Some people think they are better than others, creating huge problems, some of which are eventually result in violence. Some people are treated differently because they can not afford some of the greater things in life. Even when someone from a different race is new to a workplace or a school, they are often looked down upon. When someone is constantly being looked down upon, it can really take a toll on that person. I feel like inequality has grown over the last couple years and will continue growing, whether it is based upon sexuality, gender, or age. In addition, teenagers are often looked at like they are complete idiots that just want to mess around and create problems. While some teenagers do that, there are also teens who care about their surroundings and care about what others think and feel.

  • Inequality happens everywhere and can take many different forms. Gender inequality, racial inequality, and economic inequality all happen often and everywhere. Although our western society seems to think that inequality has been mostly removed, I personally think it’s still rampant in interior British Columbia. My hometown has a very serious racial inequality issue, and it’s only impeding the town’s growth. I see many people of other races who look down on First Nations people who are single mothers or youth. This encourages nothing, especially when the First Nations are such a huge part of our history. This is like beating heads against a brick wall when races backstab and hurt each other. It’s not productive and it doesn’t encourage growth in my community. I see another issue of economic inequality, especially with the youth. Many youth who live here tend to hang around the crowd that they and their parents relate with economically. For example, the “rich kids” hangout with the “rich kids”, the “middle class kids” hangout with the “middle class kids”, and of course the “poor kids” hangout with the “poor kids”. This results from the community being small with a large lower and a large upper class. An inequality issue like this can make children with less fortunate home lives feel like they are not equal or capable of living a successful life. Gender equality is very relevant in the workplace around interior British Columbia. Many jobs that require working with tools, power tools, and machinery are considered “men’s jobs”. Although women work in the heavy-duty trades, it’s still hard to get a comfortable paying job in this work force if you are a woman. We have all experienced a form of inequality in some way in our lives. The only way to put a stop to inequality, is to talk about it and deal with it for what it is.

  • Inequality is a state of being unequal. In BC and other parts of the world, inequality is a huge deal.  Everyday there are people who suffer from not having enough money or resources to survive.  In BC, there is a huge gap between rich and poor.  People are judged on the amount of money they have and the toys and accessories they are able to buy. People like to believe that this problem doesn’t exist any more, but this just isn’t true. In our everyday lives, each of us as individuals will one day be faced with inequality.  For example, single moms (or even single dads) may be stereotyped because of the way they raise their children and the mere fact of not having parents of both genders to raise their children.  Or if they do not have money to put their children in sports like other children, other people may criticize them since their children aren’t practicing their social skills or getting physical activity.  There are many different kinds of inequality and different ways inequality may affect people.

  • Since coming to live here in Williams Lake, l have seen lots of inequality with everyone, no matter the race. I have seen it from both sides. There are those that think others have it better because of the colour of their skin, but little do many know the real story of what it is like for those who are thought to be better off. There are those that say “She was hired because she is white” (or maybe “…because she is First Nations”), and they don’t see how hard she had to work to get the skills needed for that job. There are times people don’t give others a chance to succeed because of their race, and this can be particularly hard when the person being so despised has troubles at home and just needs this job to make a big difference. We never know what is happening behind closed doors;  we all sometimes just need a real smile, not a fake one given only to move us along.

  • Inequality has many forms from math to humans.  Human inequality can be measured in money or family backgrounds.  ”All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” People think they’re higher up in the social scene because they make more money and look down on people who make minimum wage.  I see a lot of this with First Nations people. First Nations moms are stereotyped as as single moms on welfare.  As a single mom myself, I find  this unfair.  Most single moms try hard to get out there in the world and look for jobs, but as soon as an employer sees you are single, you are automatically labeled as a drunk mother who won’t last on the job.  Inequality comes in many shapes and forms.  

  • Inequality is presented in many forms in the modern world. People like to think that society has eliminated this problem for the most part. However, while we have overcome a variety of obstacles, inequality still exists in many forms in our world. For example, I know many people who find it hard to accept foreign workers that come to Canada to take advantage of better opportunities here. In addition, there is still gender inequality present in the workplace, whether it be in an office setting or out in the oil fields. In everyday conversations, generalizations are made about specific groups, often breeding hatred and ignorance. I feel that though humanity has made very significant leaps to accept and embrace the differences that cultures, ethnicities, etc. contribute to society, there is still much that needs to be changed in our thinking and our talk, in order to eliminate the stereotypes and prejudices that result in inequality.    

  • In our local community there is inequality for members of the LGBT community.  It is unfortunate for all of us that it is unwise and unsafe for people to appear different than the conventional norm for sexuality.  Employers are not eager to unsettle their customers by forcing them to be served by a person they cannot identify with.  I was surprised to see the difference in how people dress and express themselves when I moved here from the Lower Mainland.  I hope that this inequality will be addressed soon.

People have unequal perspectives on the subject of inequality; this is a good an essential aspect of inequality. However, there are important inequalities that must be studied and eradicated in the world—and not just the far-away world. We need to address and change the rampant inequalities in the world that we ourselves inhabit everyday: our homes, our villages and cities, and our regions. As we address inequality, we need to follow the advice of Mahatma Gandhi: Be the change you hope to see in the world!

For readers of this blog post who are well-established in life, whose careers are well along (or perhaps mostly behind them), please note that the ideas expressed in the body of this blog post were written by students whose careers lay mostly ahead of them. Most, if not all, of these people will be leaders at the community, regional, provincial, or even national level within a couple of decades. We do well to listen to them and to encourage them to build a better world than the one we have brought them into.