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How cell phones and Facebook are changing remote Nunatsiavut

Enlarge / The town of Nain.Dennis Minty/Adventure Canada
Moravian missionaries arrived in Canada in ..



Enlarge / The town of Nain.Dennis Minty/Adventure Canada

Moravian missionaries arrived in Canada in the 1700s, forever altering the future of the country's Inuit population. Beginning in the 19th century, Inuit children were taken away from their families and forced to attend residential schools (boarding schools), where they were not allowed to speak their own language. In the 1950s, thousands of Inuit in Nunatsiavut (the easternmost of Canadas four Inuit regions) were forcibly removed from their land and stripped of their native language and customs. As a result, a generation of students that lost their culture gave birth to children who are now, themselves, searching for new ways to reclaim it.

Restoring that culture is a challenge, because many Inuit currently live in remote communities that lack roads and transportation infrastructure, leaving them isolated from each other. But technology has started helping them to connect with other Inuit across the country, to preserve traditional cultural practices, and to create a space for young people to learn about and participate in their heritage.

Of the 65,000 Inuit spread across Canada, about 7,200 are Labrador Inuit. About a third of these Labrador Inuit reside in Nunatsiavut, which has five major Inuit communities scattered along the coastline of Newfoundland Labrador province. None of the communities are connected to each other—or to anywhere else for that matter— by road, and they can only be reached by airplane or boat. Nain, with a population of approximately 1,200 people, is the largest and northernmost Inuit community.

But Nain has a key advantage in terms of integrating into the wider Inuit world: its the only one of these communities with mobile cellular service. Up until a year ago, web surfing and social media usage was largely confined to the home in Nain. In July 2019, however, mobile phone service arrived in Nain.

Some Inuit parents have the same concerns as parents in more connected regions, such as whether their children are spending too much time online. But some of those children are using the technology to connect with Inuit communities—and their traditions—that they might never experience otherwise.

Life before cell coverage

I arrived in Nain in September 2019 on an Adventure Canada expedition ship, just two months after cell service arrived in the city. We were the first (and only) expedition ship to visit the town of 1,100 people all year. After seven days of sailing and hiking without Internet access, the towns new cell service was a very welcome surprise to the mostly Canadian and American passengers on board. Many of those passengers immediately logged on to social media.

Even though cell phone coverage wasnt available until recently, some Nain residents had cell phones that they used to connect to the Internet using home Wi-Fi connections. But until 2019, they had no reason to take their phones with them outside the house unless they were traveling to another part of Canada that had service.

Many residents—the younger ones, especially—had learned to work around the limited access. Megan Dicker, a 20-year-old geography student from Nain, said of the new cellular plans, “It wasnt really that big of a change from before. We knew all the houses with Wi-Fi so wed just stop to connect along the route to wherever we were going.” Dicker firmly believes that the new cell phone service is a good thing, but she noted that it must be used “in moderation."

Megan Dicker shows off her traditional tattoos.
Enlarge / Megan Dicker shows off her traditional tattoos.Cassandra Brooklyn

According to Bert Pomeroy, the Nunatsiavut Governments Director of Communications, Inuit communities have long struggled with not only access to cellular coverage, but to adequate Internet speeds. As recently as two years ago, bandwidth was so limited in Nain that even the local government employees had difficulty sending files among each other. “Someone trying to send time sheets or a PDF to the payroll department may have to wait a few minutes for it to go through," Pomeroy said. "It got even worse in the afternoon when kids got out of school and got on Xbox or Netflix.”

When cell service arrived, Nains new mobile phone plans included data usage limits, so there was a need to educate the community on how these plans worked. Until this time, the only experience most people had with the Internet was with the unlimited access they enjoyed on a home Wi-Fi connection.

To help their neighbors avoid overage charges, the local Nunatsiavut Government and some individual citizens took it upon themselves to inform the community. Local residents who understood the data plans began posting explanations on their personal Facebook feeds to help inform their friends and family. In other words, they were using technology to educate others about technology.

The social media debate

There are some obvious practical benefits to the expanded access. The Inuit-led Nunatsiavut regional government in Nain has also embraced social media, sharing posts about upcoming cultural commemorations and doctor visits. Optometrists and dentists only visit the community every month or two, so its crucial that residents know when they can make appointments. When COVID-19 hit Canada, the Nunatsiavut Government and local politicians used social media to share information about social distancing.

Though Facebook and social media had already been available on desktop computers, locals in Nain have noticed a significant increase in its use since mobile phone service arrived. Some parents and elders are upset to see their children and grandchildren whipping out their phones during community events. They lament that instead of engaging with their neighbors and participating in celebrations and sporting events, some youth now prefer to stare at their screens.

At least half a dozen community members I spoke with expressed concern with the increasing amount of time they and their neighbors now spend online. One woman said she enjoys browsing her family and friends Facebook pages for about 15 minutes, after which she begins feeling depressed. Several residents also expressed concern with “over sharing” and “inappropriate” Facebook posts—a symptom of social media culture that just about anyone with a Facebook account has witnessed firsthand.

Wayne Broomfield worries that a focus on devices will lessen the younger generation's connection to the land.
Enlarge / Wayne Broomfield worries that a focus on devices will lessen the younger generation's connection to the land.Cassandra Brooklyn

Young people see the experience a bit differently. They are finding Inuit peers in other communities through mutual friends on social media. Teenagers search through their friends Instagram followers and Facebook friends to find other Inuit youth with similar interests. They follow each other online and then share cultural information with each other, sometimes by live streaming from community gatherings.

Wayne Broomfield, the assistant expedition leader on Adventure Canadas tours through Nunatsiavut, accepted the good aspects of social media but voiced a different worry. “A lot of young Inuit arent connecting with the land anymore because they can do it so much more easily online,” he said. “Its good that theyre learning more about their culture on social media, but you cant get the same connection online as you can from actually going out on the land.”

Social media as culture-sharing platform

While the land may be a central feature of Inuit culture that cant be replicated online, others aspects do translate. Belinda Webb, the Deputy Minister of the Nunatsiavut Government, says her team saw a noticeable increase in Facebook followers and post engagement when they introduced a “word of the day” program in Inuttitut (the Inuit language thats also sometimes spelled Inuktitut). Webb, a mother herself, is also concerned with the potential negative consequences of youth spending more time online, but she supports the live streaming of community events.

“The more we can share our cultural experiences with each other and the rest of the world, the better," she says.

Inuttitut-langauge Facebook pages serve as a not-judgmental zone where Inuit can ask translation-related questions without feeling embarrassed or being teased for misspellings or lack of understanding.

Youth and some parents I spoke with noted that the ability to access Internet at social gatherings was allowing them to connect and share important cultural moments with Inuit across Canada. While some young people may be “guilty” of mindlessly scrolling through their social media feeds at a community event, many are actually streaming the event so that Inuit who live hundreds or thousands of miles away can also participate. Given the remoteness of most Inuit communities, where lack of roads means that travel is costly and only possible via airplane or ship, the significance of this increased connection cannot be understated.

A mother uses cell service to watch her child's cross-country race.
Enlarge / A mother uses cell service to watch her child's cross-country race.Cassandra Brooklyn

Krissy Holwell, a mother of three in Nain, kindly drove me to interview a non-profit social youth enterprise in town. She waited in the car while I conducted the interview, and when I hopped into the back seat, she was staring at her screen, cheering. She was watching a live stream of a cross-country competition in Happy Valley-Goose Bay—a three-hour flight from Nain. She had just watched her son cross the finish line.

Flights to Happy Valley-Goose Bay run about $1,000 Canadian dollars (~$750 USD), a prohibitive sum for most parents. During a family trip to Toronto the previous year, Holwell and her husband spent nearly $20,000 to bring their four children to watch a hockey tournament. Live streaming can never fully replace real-life experiences, but it can be an excellent option for the majority of Canadian Inuit that dont have the means or opportunity to travel.

Social media as an educational tool

Youth are not only using social media to connect with other Inuit people across Canada—theyre also using it to learn about Inuit traditions like throat singing and female tattoos.

Inuit women are known to have tattooed their bodies for generations, a practice that was virtually wiped out by colonization. The significance of some tattoos remains unclear, but many believe that vertical lines down a womans chin and markings on her forehead and cheeks may have indicated that a girl was ready for womanhood, or that a woman had borne children or lost her husband.

Chin tattoos are returning slowly, more so among Greenlandic Inuit women and Alaskan Inuit women; wrist and thigh tattoos are more common among Inuit women in Canada. Youth in small Inuit communities research tattoo designs and their meanings on Instagram, then fly to Ottawa, St. Johns, and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, where tattoo artists like Jessica Coffey apply the tattoos using the traditional poke method.

Moravian missionaries from Saxony, Germany, arrived in Labrador in 1752 and considered traditional Inuit drum dancing and throat singing to be un-Christian. They actively prohibited the practices, and some older Moravian Labrador Inuit still frown on these “heathen” activities. Young people, on the other hand, are taking drum dancing and throat singing classes in their communities and searching for related videos on YouTube. Lena Onalik, an archeologist in Newfoundland and a culturalist with Adventure Canada, learned throat singing from her grandmother but now looks to YouTube to learn new songs.

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Google suspends ‘free speech’ app Parler




Google has suspended “free speech” social network Parler from its Play Store over its failure to remove “egregious content”.

Parler styles itself as “unbiased” social media and has proved popular with people banned from Twitter.

But Google said the app had failed to remove posts inciting violence.

Apple has also warned Parler it will remove the app from its App Store if it does not comply with its content-moderation requirements.

On Parler, the app’s chief executive John Matze said: “We won’t cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech!”

Launched in 2018, Parler has proved particularly popular among supporters of US President Donald Trump and right-wing conservatives. Such groups have frequently accused Twitter and Facebook of unfairly censoring their views.

While Mr Trump himself is not a user, the platform already features several high-profile contributors following earlier bursts of growth in 2020.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz boasts 4.9 million followers on the platform, while Fox News host Sean Hannity has about seven million.

It briefly became the most-downloaded app in the United States after the US election, following a clampdown on the spread of election misinformation by Twitter and Facebook.

However, both Apple and Google have said the app fails to comply with content-moderation requirements.

Analysis: Necessary or draconian action?

By Shayan Sardarizadeh, BBC Monitoring

For months, Parler has been one of the most popular social media platforms for right-wing users.

As major platforms began taking action against viral conspiracy theories, disinformation and the harassment of election workers and officials in the aftermath of the US presidential vote, the app became more popular with elements of the fringe far-right.

This turned the network into a right-wing echo chamber, almost entirely populated by users fixated on revealing examples of election fraud and posting messages in support of attempts to overturn the election outcome.

In the days preceding the Capitol riots, the tone of discussion on the app became significantly more violent, with some users openly discussing ways to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory by Congress.

Unsubstantiated allegations and defamatory claims against a number of senior US figures such as Chief Justice John Roberts and Vice-President Mike Pence were rife on the app.

Google and Apple say they are taking necessary action to ensure violent rhetoric is not promoted on their platforms.

However, to those increasingly concerned about freedom of speech and expression on online platforms, it represents another example of draconian action by major tech companies which threatens internet freedom.

This is a debate which is certain to continue beyond the Trump presidency.

In a statement, Google confirmed it had suspended Parler from its Play Store, saying: “Our longstanding policies require that apps displaying user-generated content have moderation policies and enforcement that removes egregious content like posts that incite violence.

“In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.”

Apple has warned Parler it will be removed from the App Store on Saturday in a letter published by Buzzfeed News.

It said it had seen “accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate” the attacks on the US Capitol on 6 January.

Mr Matze said Parler had “no way to organise anything” and pointed out that Facebook groups and events had been used to organise action.

But Apple said: “Our investigation has found that Parler is not effectively moderating and removing content that encourages illegal activity and poses a serious risk to the health and safety of users in direct violation of your own terms of service.”

“We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content.”

In a related development, Google has kicked Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast off YouTube, saying it had repeatedly violated the platform’s rules.

The ex-White House aide’s channel had more than 300,000 subscribers.

“In accordance with our strikes system, we have terminated Steve Bannon’s channel ‘War room’ and one associated channel for repeatedly violating our Community Guidelines,” Google said in a statement.

“Any channel posting new videos with misleading content that alleges widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 US Presidential election in violation of our policies will receive a strike, a penalty which temporarily restricts uploading or live-streaming. Channels that receive three strikes in the same 90-day period will be permanently removed from YouTube.”

The action was taken shortly after the channel posted an interview with Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, in which he blamed the Democrats for the rioting on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

One anti-misinformation group said the action was long overdue after “months of Steve Bannon calling for revolution and violence”.

“The truth is YouTube should have taken down Steve Bannon’s account a long time ago and they shouldn’t rely on the labour of extremism researchers to moderate the content on their platform,” said Madeline Peltz, Senior Researcher at Media Matters for America.

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20 years of tech with Jeff: From green iMacs and DVDs to the iPhone era




When I started covering technology here two decades ago, I didn’t own a cellphone, nor did my company deem it in their interests to buy me one.

My tenure at USA TODAY pre-dates text messages, soundbars, talking speakers, QR codes, video chat, Uber, DoorDash, Zoom calls, YouTube, Wi-Fi, affordable flat-screen TVs….you get the idea.

So many changes in such a short period of time! This is my last column for USA TODAY as your Talking Tech columnist. Let’s say goodbye by celebrating how far we’ve come through the years.

My stint started in 2000 – I began at USA TODAY earlier, covering entertainment – at a time when we spent a lot of time talking about the big three tech companies: AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft. AOL had just shocked the world by buying Time Warner for $165 billion. (You know how well that turned out. But I digress.)

We did use computers, yes indeed, mostly desktops, and they were Windows machines with black-and-white monitors. We weren’t online; we went online, with a phone line attached to our computers. You know, the type we used on our landlines. Remember them?

Apple back then had less than 3% market share. It wouldn’t start its evolution into the world’s most valuable $2 trillion company until 2001, when it introduced the iPod MP3 music player and helped bring digital music to the masses. This is after the short-lived Napster popularized MP3s by showing how easy it was to copy licensed music. In 2003, the iPod shifted into a mainstream product when CEO Steve Jobs (who rejoined the company in 1997) opened it up to be used on Windows computers with the iTunes music store, the first easy to use, legitimate avenue for buying music, back then at 99 cents a song. Streaming and the celestial jukebox was a far off dream.

We started Talking Tech in 2006 as a weekly, ahead-of-its-time video series, produced bicoastally on two webcams. The first episode – with my former partner, Edward C. Baig – was a review of the Flip Video camera. Remember that one, kids?

By 2010, Flip was soon to be gone, as Apple introduced the iPhone 4, the first iPhone with a decent camera. Kodak became a memory, Canon, Nikon, Olympus and other mainstays of the camera business saw their sales tumble, as people preferred the camera that was in their pocket, their phone.

But I have to admit, I never foresaw just how great the smartphone cams would become. I always loved using them, but there was a stigma to “cellphone video.” Now we can shoot 4K video that looks nearly as good as what you get from a traditional camera, mostly due to computational photography tricks. But I’m not complaining. Have you seen my iPhone sunsets?

Then there’s Google and Facebook.

It was in 2000 that Yahoo handed over its search keys to a scrappy startup that said it had a method for more effective online searches. From there, we got Google stepping out onto its own in 2003 by sending people to its website and popularizing the verb, “Google It.” We got Google Maps (remember life without it?), Gmail (free e-mail without being tied to our internet provider), Google Translate, Google Photos and so many other features that I don’t think we could live without today.

That’s the good side.

There’s also Google tracking our every move, in order to put personalized ads in front of us everywhere we go, and saying goodbye to our privacy. Google will claim that much of the privacy invasion is “opt-in” and that we agreed to it when we signed up for services. But who remembers doing that?

Facebook took the snooping to an even greater level. But today’s column is about celebrating tech. So let’s bypass the misinformation and online rage that erupted from the social network and instead just give props to a site that reconnected some 2 billion people with old friends and family. I announced my pending exit on my newsletter, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook. You know where I got the lion’s share of responses? Facebook, hands down.

Amazon. Who believed you could order anything you ever wanted with one click, and have it arrive the next day? By 2001 Amazon had announced its first profit, but it was more recently that we saw Amazon really showcase what was it was to become, by acquiring Whole Foods and launching Amazon Fresh, the supermarket with a radical cart that automatically tallied up your purchases, launching the smart speaker craze with Echo and Alexa and being a dominant force in streaming with Fire TV.

But Amazon missed out on phones. Google got in early, in 2008, with the Android operating system, which it grew by giving it away for free to companies like Samsung, LG and Huawei. That business model would enable Android to claim a whopping 85% market share, where it’s featured on so many low-cost phones.

If I had to pick the most influential tech device of my generation, there’s no hesitation. It’s the iPhone, hands down, even bigger than the VCR or the personal computer.

Because the iPhone (and other smartphone brands to follow) put the computer into our pockets, untethered and presented in a easy, intuitive way that appealed to the masses. Listen to music, answer the phone, watch TV, surf the net, all on one device. One in which we can also monitor our daily steps, show us how to get around and take amazing photos. (Again, those sunsets!)

I love my laptop, but it didn’t change my life.

So what of the future?

In 2016, I did a column quoting analysts saying that the smartphone as we know it, would cease and morph into some form of eyewear within the next few years. I didn’t believe it then, I don’t believe it now.

Having stuff flying in front of your eyes as you walk down the street is a distraction. (Take that, Google Glass.) We watched screens in the 1950s. We’re going to be looking at screens in the 2020s and 2030s.

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Are you willing to pay for email? How about podcasts? Here are our tech predictions for 2021




It’s that time of year when we make predictions about what to see from technology in 2021.

We already know we’re good for new iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones, new smart speakers from Amazon and beautiful new smart TV sets that will have higher resolution than ever before – at a lower cost.

So let’s offer up some tech predictions about what else we’ll see, or just might.

Let’s start with a given:

You’ll be paying for email in 2021

The world’s most popular email program Gmail, is owned by Google, which has decided to follow in Apple’s footsteps by getting more people hooked on monthly subscriptions. (Apple’s Services – which includes Apple Music, News and iCloud – is now its second-highest revenue generator, above Macs, iPads and Apple Watches.)

As of June 1, Google will no longer allow users to upload their photos and videos to Google Photos for free. Google offers 15 GBs of free storage for photos, but that also includes Gmail and Google Drive backup. The ask is that you pay for storage, which starts at $1.99 a month – but for just 100 GB of storage.

I don’t know about you, but my Gmail is 41 GBs worth now, I have 15 GBs worth of photos in Google Photos and 1.7 TBs on Google Drive.

Sure, I can clear out Google Drive, but the thing is, my email is a living, growing thing that is just not going to get smaller, no matter how hard I try to clean it up. It grows every day. So if you like your Gmail, get used to it – you might be paying.

Microsoft and Yahoo still offer free email, but they’re littered with ads, and you’re encouraged to step up to the “premium” versions, which starts at $5 and $3.49 a month, respectively, to go ad-free. Yahoo is eliminating the ability to automatically forward emails from Yahoo Mail beginning next week, unless you spend $34.99 a year for the service.

Big tech won’t find the new administration any friendlier

Facebook and Google’s woes in Washington, D.C., won’t change with a new Biden administration, we believe. The companies will continue to be hauled into Washington to defend against being broken up. President-elect Joe Biden has complained to the social network many times about all the disinformation coming out about him on Facebook, and the company declined to act. That certainly isn’t likely to play well in the Biden years.

The streaming wars will lose a big player

Many new streaming networks launched in 2020, most notably HBO Max and Peacock, and many more are on the horizon for 2021, including Paramount Plus and Discovery +, but at least one of the new networks will go down. Or so says my USA TODAY colleague Brett Molina, who puts Paramount Plus as the most likely victim.

Paramount Plus is the soon-to-be new name for what was CBS All-Access, with the addition of movies from the Paramount Pictures library and TV shows from the Viacom (MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon) vault. “There’s just too many of them,” Molina says. “I can’t see it lasting.” (You will see many more first-run films on streaming channels in 2021, as Warner Media has announced its entire slate for HBO Max and Disney + has first-run fare scheduled as well.)

5G won’t get any better until late 2021

The launch of new phones with access to the supposedly faster wireless speed of 5G, and the wireless carriers’ breathless hype about speed left many consumers scratching their heads. The promised speeds were no faster than 4G. One day 5G will live up to the hype, but not until late 2021, believes Gene Munster, an analyst and investor with Loup Ventures. For real progress, we’ll have to wait for 2022.

Local retailers will find a way to compete with Amazon

It’s an aspirational wish, but “someone will solve the need and find a way to fill it,” says Kieran Hannon, the chief marketing officer for OpenPath, a company that offers next generation office entry technology. He believes a service will be developed to help local retailers compete with the Amazons of the world by letting customers order from a direct website serving locals and have products delivered to them at home, thus keeping sales in the neighborhood.

Zoom and video meetings will only get bigger

Business travel may start to come back from the dead in the second half of 2021, but all the companies that saved money from the trips won’t likely be as eager to send staffers traipsing around the country when meetings can be done cheaper and more efficiently via video.

Students will one day return to the classrooms, but company meetings, seminars, webinars and the like will likely continue. No need to return those ring lights to improve your appearance yet.

Speaking of Zoom, a possible acquisition?

The video networks is one hot property that saw its usage numbers climb from 10 million to 300 million amid the pandemic, making it one prime acquisition target. Who better to buy Zoom than Amazon?

The companies already work together, with Amazon Web Services providing the server backbone for all those Zoom meetings. Unlike Google, Apple and Facebook, which have their own well-established video networks (Google Meet, FaceTime and Messenger), Amazon doesn’t have one.

So with Zoom in the company, and all those meeting minutes (about 2 trillion in April alone,) what an attractive target that would make for Amazon to remind us to use Alexa and buy more stuff, right?

Pay for podcasts?

Finally, Munster from Loup Ventures believes Apple will follow its smash success with the Services division by introducing a new way for podcasters to make money on their shows by charging admission. He sees a “Podcast +” that sees everyone’s favorite audio shows (like Talking Tech) added to the Apple One bundle with Apple Music. “Good news for podcasters, who may see Apple as another avenue to monetize their listener base.”

We love it.

Happy New Year, everyone!


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