On Phones In Schools

Today’s child is bewildered when he enters the 19th century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns subjects, and schedules.

Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage

My eldest child just had their first day of grade 10 and informed us that phones are banned this year, outright1.

On the face of it, I can’t help but feel like these rules are the result of an outdated system trying to reign in progress, flailing for relevance. Administrators overreacting to a technology their outdated system can’t cope with. Those phone hold the keys to more information than could ever be taught in school.

IMHO allowing most kids to keep their phones in most circumstances2 is perfectly reasonable. I might even consider it a right.


The primary argument that parents often cite in Facebook groups, etc when demanding their kids be allowed access to their phones in school is safety.

Parents want to be able to message their children to check up on them or to make sure that they’re where they are supposed to be with apps like Find My.

In the 21st century, it’s entirely normal for parents and children to be in constant communicate — it’s almost like having a telepathic superpower. Removing this ability can be unsettling.

The counter argument from school administration is usually that any genuine3 emergency or concern can always be routed through the school office, which is a valid point. However…

Safety From The School

A more compelling safety argument is that of students’ safety from the school itself, when they are being harmed by or feel unsafe at school.

Phones are powerful, impartial data recording devices. Consider the numerous instances where cell phone videos exposed misconduct by teachers or documented unruly student behaviour. Without documentation it’s a kid’s word against and adult in a position of authority.

Despite the inspirational quotes adorning school walls and the well-intentioned staff we hope for, the system generally resists believing students who report issues against it.

The level of accountability enabled by allowing students to keep their phones with them at all times is a very compelling argument in favour of this practice.


The current generation has grown up with screens in their hands from birth. We can debate whether this is good or bad for society4 but at this point in time it’s simply a matter of fact. Kids are innate multitaskers.

This reality means that many kids are totally capable of rapidly switching contexts. They can legitimately be engaged with a group chat on their phone and a classroom lecture during the same time-frame.

Multitasking at Work

If the goal of school is to prepare kids for the workforce, then schools need to grapple with the fact that many employers allow their employees to take their phones to work.

Why not take the opportunity to teach kids some skills that will come in handy in the workforce and be better humans.

Maybe something like a “healthy online behaviour” class, as part of the health curriculum?

It could cover things like:

  • How to avoid doom-scrolling yourself into oblivion.
  • Using focus modes to avoid distraction during crunch time.
  • How to report non-consensual intimate image distribution.5
  • How to not feed the trolls.
  • How to not be a troll aka how to express yourself in short text.

…that sort of thing.

Nefarious Behaviour

Obviously, a global communication device enables, amplifies and accelerates the harm children cause each other. I’ve heard some horror stories about tiktok adjacent cyberbullying. And it would be ridiculous to suggest that a child has any right to continue to this sort of activity during class time.

But most kids are good, most of the time.

When a school proactively bans phones for everyone, the school is communicating that it believes most kids are bad, most of the time. And I strongly believe that is the wrong message to be sending.

Should be Allowed by Default

In 2023, the little always on global communication device has become an extension of our minds; like another limb or a super power.

We use it to learn things more efficiently than we could ever learn anything in a classroom.

We can reach out to friends across the world for moral support when we’re in need.

We can record and report wrongdoing instantaneously and definitively.

We can hear bad news directly from our parents, without a layer of bureaucracy.

We can be reassured that our children are in fact on the bus on their way home, even though it’s 4:30 and it’s getting dark with a blizzard setting in.

A globally connected supercomputer in your pocket is an immense good. Banning them is wrong.

That said, a school should be a safe space for learning and collaborating. If students are using their phones to spread harm, definitely ban them from using it on school grounds. I wouldn’t expect any less.

And obviously, there are probably some other carve outs for disruptive or extremely distracting behaviour, that — while not harmful — should probably result in temporary phone bans. Things like playing immersive video games, creating complex social content, listening to music, etc.

But by default, students should be allowed to take their phones to class.

  1. Though in a later conversation it sounded like teachers may still have the ability to suspend this rule on a class-by-class basis. ↩︎
  2. Except tests, you probably don’t want kids looking up answers to tests. Or maybe you do? Testing itself is a largely outdated concept anyways. ↩︎
  3. “House is on fire,” or “Dad was rushed to the hospital” kinda thing. ↩︎
  4. After years and years of FUD, the current thinking seems to be leaning towards “it’s probably fine” (see Screen Time Is Not As Dangerous As You Think—And It May Help Your Child Make Friends). ↩︎
  5. The Canadian Centre for Child Protection will actively help remove images online, see ↩︎
travel WordPress

WordCamp US 2023

I attended my first WordCamp US this year and it was great!

The Travel

WCUS 2023 was held in National Harbor, Maryland. It was my first time visiting the DC area.

DC is such a well documented and important city that I felt like I knew exactly what to expect and it delivered. Basically to the extent that my own personal experiences feel a little trite given the vast amount that has already been written about the city.

Personal highlights though were finally meeting some of my teammates IRL and biking around DC with them on the Sunday (also frisbee).

So I’ll forego the usual travel blog and jump right to the talks.

The Talks

Videos of the talks have just been posted online (full playlist).

Here are my highlights

Most Groundbreaking

The WordPress Playground has existed for a little while now and it’s one of those things I filled away in my mind to check out later.

It is absolutely incredible.

It’s literally a copy of WordPress running PHP in your browser! It’s not a virtual machine you’re remote desktop-ing into, it’s actually running in your browser! There’s a tonne of potential applications.

Antonio Sejas talks through some of them.

Check it out, I have a feeling this could be the future.

WordPress Playground, present and future applications

Most Engaging

How do you make a dry topic like core web vitals engaging?

Enter Henri Helvetica.

Easily one of the best talks on any subject that I’ve ever seen. It’s fun and you might even learn something.

Core Web Vitals 2023: User Experience and Performance Evolved

War stories

Two talks I am putting under the “war stories” slash “how we built this really cool thing” category.

If you’ve ever worked on client projects I think you’ll find these two talks validating.

For All Userkind: NASA Web Modernization
All The Presidents Websites

Contributor Day

The Thursday before the event was set aside for “contributor day.”

Essentially, anyone interested working on WordPress itself could break into small groups to contribute to a specific area of the project (be it core, documentation, infrastructure, etc.). Apparently, at previous WordCamps the contributor day was held after the main conference when everyone was tired/hungover. The day before definitely seems like the right choice to me.

I fell in with the group making a renewed push for a core fields API.

Read Scott’s post.

And check out the repo:

I’m actually semi-interested to start a local regular contributor day, if I can find any collaborators.

Oh, And The Swag…

I got some.


I met a lot of cool people, had a lot of great food and conversation.

10 out of 10. Would WordCamp again.

Get Involved

So hey, if you’re local to me in the Winnipeg area and you’re interested in WordPress, check out the monthly meetup.

It’s not just for developers, in fact most of the attendees are often end-users.

It’s the on the first Wednesday of the month at 7PM at Red River College downtown campus, more info and RSVP on eventbrite.


Time Travel

I often think about what it would be like for teenage Ryan to be transported 25 or 30 years into the future… as you do. What aspects of culture or technology would surprise him the most?

The two things I come back to over and over again are tattoos and FaceTime.


I don’t even know how to explain to my children just how much of a taboo tattoos were when I was their age. Teachers, parents, adult authorities basically looked down upon tattoos (and piercings to a lesser extent) as a death sentence.

“Nobody is ever going to hire you if you’ve got arms full of tattoos and your head full of holes,” they’d say.

I am genuinely and pleasantly surprised just how wrong they were. Even many of the most conservative people I know seem to be generally accepting of tattoos. It’s legitimately surprising.

TBH I’d love to see a good documentary on the normalization of tattoos.

It almost doesn’t make sense.


Global. Instantaneous. Free. Video calling.

We completely take it for granted that we can have a video call with anyone in the world, for free!

As a teenager, a future with video calling seemed plausible. That it would be high fidelity and instantaneous, also seemed plausible but maybe more of a stretch goal.

The fact that it’s totally free I think would blow my mind.

When AT&T said they would bring us the future, IMHO there was a strong implication that we’d have to pay (a lot more) for it.

I’m looking forward to finding out what my children’s equivalents to these are. Cyberware and space travel? Who knows.


The Implicit Contract of The Internet

Earlier I posted this…

…and I’ve realized that this is actually something that’s been bothering me for some time.

I’ve been living in public online – posting details about my life that might have historically been seen as private, right out in the open – for decades now.

Especially during the heyday of web 2.0. Want to see where I’m eating ice cream right now, sure why not. Care to know every single song I’ve been listening all day, every day? There’s an app for that.

During this era, I even thought it would be cool to correlate all of these activities into a history I could look back on. Being reminded in 2032 that I listened to Architecture in Helsinki while riding the tram in actual Helsinki 10 years earlier would be neat. Or correlating all my tram rides around the world with music, or mood, photos, weather, words, etc. (I’m hopeful that Apple’s upcoming journaling app will fill this niche but that’s a post for another day)

That was a tangent, here’s what’s been bothering me all these years.

Even though a tweet, photo, a bike ride, workout, check-in, etc is posted publicly, it does not mean that it was intended for a broader audience.

These blog post are, I love it when people engage with me about the words I’ve spent time crafting for this site. IMHO this is one of the things that makes blogs unique (another tangent for another day).

Social media is different, context is important. If you’re only flying by @ohryan on twitter every once in a while, you’re missing a lot about me personally and about the medium that is Twitter (or X app 69 or whatever its called today).

If you’re keeping tabs on my peleton app to see how often I’m working out, please don’t. That’s gross.

You might be saying “but Ryan, if you don’t want people to see your posts, make them private.” While technically true, private accounts are not very social. I’m been introduced to lifelong friends (locally, virtually and internationally) by mutually engaging with relevant content. That’s just not possible with a private account and really defeats the purpose of social media.

The implicit contract of the internet is: mutual follow.

That’s it.

If you want to read my tweets, create an account and follow me.

If you want to compare workout habits, grab an Apple Watch and friend me on the fitness app.

Don’t be rude.


Bemidji, Minnesota

Alternate Title: Fuck North Dakota and their bullshit. Let’s do our cross-border shopping in Bemidji!

For the uninitiated, it’s quite common for Winnipeggers to take weekend trips to Grand Forks or Fargo, North Dakota to stock up on weird American junk food variations not available in Canada, cheap booze and (historically) good deals on just about everything (more on this later).

Pre-COVID my family would typically do one or two road trips down there every year just as a little weekend getaway. Often at the end of August to stock up on school supplies and clothes; that sort of thing. COVID killed this tradition.

Unfortunately recently, North Dakota has shown its true colours, enacted a barrage of hateful anti-trans legislation that have caused us to decide to boycott North Dakota until they are reversed.

Conversely, the state of Minnesota has passed a number of “refuge” laws.

Enter, Bemidji.

Bemidji, Minnesota: birthplace of Paul Bunyan; headwaters of the Mississippi; and most importantly, location of the next closest Target store outside of North Dakota.

It’s located under 400km southeast of Winnipeg, in north-central Minnesota. It’s not a place that I’ve ever heard many Winnipeggers talk about visiting. The last time I’ve ever heard anyone mention it might have been a band trip in grade 8.

So, when Odessa and I were first talking about this trip I didn’t have the highest of hopes. Bemidji is less than half the population of Grand Forks (a 10th Fargo) and well outside any major centre. I was picturing something like a Steinbach or Altona, except with more American flags.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Bemidji is one of the most unique places I’ve ever visited.

The Drive

The drive ahead didn’t hold much appeal for me. Endless hours on an undivided two-lane highway is something I strongly dislike. In fact, it’s the main reason I’ve always avoided visiting this particular area of Minnesota.

Another concern I had was the potential lack of amenities typically found on Interstate Highways. In Manitoba, secondary highways like this tend to be quite desolate. It’s not uncommon for gas stations and businesses to be closed when you need them due to the scarcity of towns along the way.

To my surprise, however, this region seems to have a small villages every 30 or 45 minutes. And to top it off, these places are actually open for business! It was a type of “rural” that we don’t really have in many part of Manitoba.

The roads themselves where nearly empty and the scenery was a little more varied than the flat plains of Manitoba and North Dakota. I don’t think we saw more than a handful of cars between St Malo, MB and Thief River Falls, MN which lead to an entirely stress-free drive..

10 out of 10, would drive again.

The Vibe

Bemidji is not quite like anywhere I’ve ever been before.

The people were incredibly friendly. Every single encounter I had with a stranger was more pleasant than anything I’ve experienced at home. I chatted with one lady in the Paul Bunyan Park parking lot and she was so happy to see Canadians down for a visit!

It’s part tourist town. Almost like a Jasper or Banff, except more low-key and chill. There are several beaches right in town. And plenty of camping near by.

The downtown has a bunch of great looking bar & grill type restaurants. More than I would think a town of under 20,000 would be able to support.

Speaking of their downtown, it’s declined like every other downtown in North America. The once grand department stores, theatres, shops, etc are no more. But unlike elsewhere, they’ve not dead.

Every vacant retail space seems to house an antique or thrift store. Or what I would describe as an “indoor yard sale.”

It’s also part college town. Bemidji State University hosts about 5000 students. Not huge but I’d bet this goes a long way to support those restaurants and bar; and the national brands like Target and Walmart.


If you’re thinking of a road trip down the the US this summer definitely consider Bemidji.

P.S. On Cross-Border Shopping In 2023

Now, the question of whether you should take a cross-border shopping trip is a different story.

In short, in the current economic climate of near-hyper inflation, it’s basically not worth it.

Ten or twenty years ago, you could get a good deal on plenty of things: clothes, video games, electronics, food, books, and just about everything else – even when factoring in the exchange rate of the weaker Canadian Dollar.

The economic situation is basically the same as it was during our trip to Minneapolis last year.

Basically the only things that are still cheaper are gas and booze. That’s it.

Eating out is extremely expensive.

The grande ice shaken espresso I ordered at Starbucks was $6.06 on the US menu or roughly $8.50 CAD. On the Canadian menu, it’s only $6.56 (or US$5).

Four meals at nearly any fast food chain will run you >CA$50.

Even groceries and household goods are more expensive down there now. I made a point of taking a look at the prices of things like toilet paper, cat litter, chips, pop, and other things I regularly buy at the grocery store. The sticker prices were all the same or higher than down here. In other words, roughly 30% more expensive when converted to Canadian dollars.

So essentially, the only reason to cross-border shop in 2023 is for access to variety. You want 85 different flavours of Mountain Dew, they’ve got it. Better selection of “better” clothes for the same price, yup sure.

But that’s about it. At least for now. Hopefully things go back to normal if/when inflation ever settles down.

But until then, exploring our own backyards is a better use of our dollars.