Be a misfit (republished from v2)

I originally wrote this post back in July 2012. It appeared on my disjointed old blog, but I love it and decided to republish it on here. I hope you enjoy!


In grade 9, I had my high school’s most unpopular English teacher. My fellow students seemed to uniformly hate her. However, in my mind, she could do no wrong. She forced us to use our brains, exposed us to wonderful literature (I’ll never forget when she asked Ken Mitchell to come talk to our class), and encouraged us to think about our places in the world. And the best part, she made us read The Chrysalids. That book was the first time I ever felt myself thinking critically about my place in this world.

At its core, The Chrysalids is a story about post-apocalyptic Labrador. The people of Labrador have fallen under the influence of a powerful religion that considers perfection holy. The counterweight to this is the fact that anyone with any sort of deviation is an enemy, fit to be cast out…into the Fringes.

I was a normal boy, growing up in a normal way, taking the ways of the world for granted… It is hindsight that enables me to fix that as the day when my first small doubts started to germinate. (John Wyndham)

The Chrysalids came at the perfect time to shape me and the way that I think. My family had just moved from a town called Carlyle, where I was an abject freak. Being the shy kid with the stutter kind of sucked, but it gave me a powerful insight into the Chrysalids and it helped me identify with the Fringes.

That initial foray into The Chrysalids lead to other powerful books. And my interest in books lead to some friendships with adults who influenced and encouraged me in my quest to learn. A kind librarian at the Main Branch of the Regina Public Library once said, “If you loved 1984, you really should read Brave New World.” I read it, and I was hooked.

With that upbringing as background, I would like to draw your attention to something a friend and colleague wrote. “Who to follow: Top Tweeters in Saskatchewan” should have been a compliment. Heck, I made the cut. But, the compliment paled when I realized that some wonderful, wickedly intelligent people did not make the cut. My friend Jason did not make the cut. Nor did my friend Wade. My friends Tim, Elan, and Charity were also all excluded despite consistently publishing interesting content.

The problem with lists like this is that, by definition, some people are excluded. In some cases, people are excluded for good reasons. But in other cases, people are excluded because they refuse to play by the rules of the list. And, in my experience, people who don’t play by the rules are the exact same people you want to know.

The problem with playing by the rules is that rules become a form of censorship. And censorship, more than anything else, is the death knell for social networks. On Friday, I wrote about the decline of Digg and placed part of the blame on how easy their system was to game. The moment that Digg was censored (by a group of ultra conservative people), the community lost trust in how authentic the results were. And that hastened the death of what was once a great community.

As I look over the Twitter landscape, I see no lack of censorship. I see people berating others (and calling them socialists) for daring to challenge the status quo. I see an entire Twitter community (myself included) jumping up and attacking someone who ran for mayor. I see people who unfollow “smart social marketers” because they choose to tweet about political issues. I see roving gangs of self proclaimed experts attack corporate accounts for daring to tweet a link to a Facebook competition. I see a whole lot of groupthink and a whole lot of pressure to conform, be a mindless cheerleader, and go to every tweetup.

Social media is about chaos. It is about being offended (sometimes) and it is about being authentic. Social media is about calling out the people who offend you (and accepting criticism when you offend others). The moment it becomes about conforming to an arbitrary norm, it loses its effectiveness. The internet has the capacity to change the entire world, to change the way we think, and to change our minds. Alas, we are using it to become mindless automatons, go to the same events, carry favour with the cool kids, and obey, obey, obey.

This is not high school. Be a rebel. Be a misfit. Be authentic. Be a square peg. Be a pirate. Do not conform. Be true to you. Remember, you are the only critic that should matter to you - if you can look yourself in the mirror, you win.

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars. (Jack Kerouac)

Written on December 27, 2015