A book of es­says? What is this? The ’80s?

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS - By Bartley Kives

IN a me­dia en­vi­ron­ment dom­i­nated by six-sec­ond video clips and 140-character ideas, Chris Turner is an ex­treme anom­aly. The Cal­gary au­thor and jour­nal­ist has made a name for him­self in Canada as a pur­veyor of long-form, es­saylength non-fic­tion — a popular for­mat dur­ing the golden era of mag­a­zines in the 20th cen­tury, but about as common to­day as ro­tary tele­phones and TV sets with rab­bit ears. Since the late 1990s, Turner has writ­ten award-win­ning pieces in pub­li­ca­tions such as Shift mag­a­zine, Time and Utne Reader. He’s also au­thored five books, in­clud­ing The War On Sci­ence, a 2013 evis­cer­a­tion of the de­mo­li­tion of Canada’s re­search ca­pac­ity un­der the Harper gov­ern­ment. Turner’s new­est book, How To Breathe Un­der­wa­ter, gath­ers 15 of his es­says and ar­ti­cles — almost as an act of de­fi­ance against the di­min­ish­ing at­ten­tion span of the mod­ern me­dia con­sumer. The col­lec­tion of long-form works, pub­lished by Wind­sor, Ont., im­print Bi­b­lioa­sis, fo­cuses on three ar­eas that have un­der­gone what Turner calls “rad­i­cal change” over the past two decades — tech­nol­ogy, pop cul­ture and cli­mate change. “If you look at where all three of those things were when I was a teenager in the ’80s and where they are to­day, they’re almost to­tally un­rec­og­niz­able,” the 41-year-old Cal­gar­ian said ear­lier this week in Win­nipeg, where he was speak­ing about fed­eral sci­ence pol­icy. “A phone was a thing at­tached to a wall. There were five chan­nels on TV and you had to be phys­i­cally in front of it. It’s still a liv­ing mem­ory.” In an in­tro­duc­tory es­say in How To Breathe, Turner muses he was un­wit­tingly as­signed to a “rad­i­cal change beat” when he started work­ing in Toronto for the now-de­funct Shift, which was at the fore­front of the dot-com ex­plo­sion when few other me­dia out­lets cov­ered tech­nol­ogy. He said he wound up in the right place at the right time in jour­nal­ism “com­pletely by ac­ci­dent.” At a time when in­terns strug­gled to do more than per­form me­nial tasks, his first pub­lished piece saw him travel to the Caribbean to cover the rise of on­line gambling. “I didn’t re­al­ize this was the case at the time, but I found this tem­po­rary, open win­dow,” he said. He’s still work­ing in that long-form space, which has out­lasted the ’90s tech bub­ble.


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