Interview with Oren Weisfeld, Toronto Journalist and MIT Grad

Oren Weisfield is a 25 year old freelance journalist from Toronto, Canada. He graduated Western in 2017 with an Honours Specialization in Media, Information, and Technoculture with a Certificate in Creative Writing. During his time at Western, he worked as a volunteer, intern and senior writer for The Western Gazette, focusing mainly on sports stories about Western athletics. He also co-hosted the radio show “Mustang Nation” at CHRW 94.9FM, interviewing athletes about their experiences as student athletes. I got the chance to interview Oren about his time at Western, his experience in journalism post-graduation, as well as his new creative project: The Tech Effect.


Vic: Hey Oren! Thanks for chatting with me today. It would be awesome if you could introduce yourself and explain a bit more about yourself and your time at Western.


Oren: Absolutely! I’m Oren, I’m 25, and I’m currently a freelance journalist in Toronto. I also graduated from the MIT program in 2017. Although Western is known as a party school, and that is how my body will remember it, I loved MIT and enjoyed taking advantage of the various opportunities around campus such as the newspaper and radio station. Constantly meeting new people within the Western community was something I took for granted at the time, but once you’re out in the real world, it's a lot harder to find that sense of community.


Vic: What made you choose Western, and specifically MIT?


Oren: For myself, it was between a general Bachelor of Arts at McGill, Queens, or MIT at Western, and I chose MIT partly because my brother attended MIT in his first two years at Western before transfering to Ivey Business School. so there was some familiarity there, and partly because it was more specialized than a general B.A., which attracted me as I knew I could always go from MIT to the social sciences, but not the other way around. Truth is, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought I would attend MIT and then get into marketing, which a lot of people do, but I didn't realize how intense the program is or how much writing was involved. I also didn't realize that marketing wasn't for me.


Some of my earliest MIT professors such as Tim Blackmore and Warren Steele opened my eyes to some of the fundamental worldviews I hold to this day including my anti-war sentiment (developed from Blackmore's study of the Vietnam War) and the dangers of capitalism (developed from Steele). All together, MIT trained me to have a more critical eye towards emerging technologies instead of glamorizing them, and today I see a lot of the warnings we studied in MIT coming true in the real world, where technology is influencing every facet of our lives and taking away on freedoms we always took for granted.


Vic: What inspires you in terms of journalism? What do you like to write about, and why?


Oren: Going back to MIT for a moment, I really didn't have any interest in journalism when I entered Western. But MIT forced me to write so many essays, and my professors and TAs were nice enough to give me critical analysis of those essays (gone were the days of earning As like in high school), which I took to heart and learned a lot from. I started the program as a pretty bad writer — I was always better at multiple choice exams than essay ones — but I slowly improved and realized I enjoyed writing, especially when I got to pick the subject I wrote about (which you get to do a lot in years 3 and 4 of MIT). That's why, half way through my degree, I started volunteering as a writer at the Western Gazette.


In terms of writing specifically, I love the creative aspect of it. I love that there are infinite ways to start and end a story, and that only the writer gets the creative freedom to decide how to structure what goes inside. I'm really bad at most art — singing, drawing, sculpting, you name it — so I'm really relieved to have found a creative practice, one I would classify as an art, that I am good at. I also love telling stories about people and things that readers would otherwise not know about, and I take pride in telling stories about people and things that are underrepresented in traditional media. As a journalist, you have the power to determine what stories are worth telling and which ones are not, which is hugely important, but a lot of journalists have betrayed public trust by only telling stories about one faction of society and disregarding the rest. I hope to be partly responsible for changing that pattern.


This sounds corny, but I have always been attracted to journalism because of its power to change the world for the better. MIT is at least partially responsible for shaping my cynical worldview, but journalism is the avenue through which I use that cynicism for good, questioning the systems we take for granted while exploring new approaches to the future of humanity.


Vic: Introduce and explain a bit about The Tech Effect. What is it, why did you start it, and why do you think it’s relevant to today’s society?


The Tech Effect is a free newsletter I started in September on Substack that explores technology’s impact on society. It aims to uncover some of the truths hidden behind the technological curtain while revealing the most important myths about technology that our society perpetuates, giving readers a new perspective on the effects technology has on our lives.


I got the idea for The Tech Effect newsletter after watching the popular Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma.” For about a month of quarantine, it was all the rage, and several of my friends and family who knew about my background in media studies (and my distaste of social media) recommended it to me. I was shocked by peoples’ reactions to what I thought was common knowledge: namely, that we are the product social networks sell to advertisers.


Having just read Shoshana Zuboff's book Surveillance Capitalism, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the future of technology, but also from having studied MIT, I knew all the information “The Social Dilemma” presented and was unimpressed by the documentary’s unwillingness to dive deeper into the subject. But how could I blame it? Most of my friends and family loved the documentary and learned a lot from it. That was a problem, I thought, because it showed that most peoples’ knowledge regarding technology lags far behind where it should be by now given how much these technologies shape our lives. They say the things that are closest to us are the hardest to see, and that is certainly the case with technology.


I immediately understood that there was not only a market for this type of critical analysis on technology, but also that people didn't know nearly enough about the inner-workings of the technologies and only platforms they use daily. I created The Tech Effect to mend the disconnect between our technology being everywhere but people seeming to know very little about it.


You can read more about why I started the newsletter and what it explores in the introductory post here. https://techeffect.substack.com/p/coming-soon


Vic: How does your creation of this newsletter relate to your MIT background?


The truth is, it’s impossible to separate the work I do now and my education at Western, because MIT shaped so much of my worldview. A lot of people these days criticize our educational institutions for their “left-wing bias,” and some MIT professors are definitely socialist thinkers with extreme politics, but MIT classes were a collaborative space where discussion was open and I remember several times where I publicly disagreed with a professor. In fact, it's that environment of open discussion and debate that I yearn for in today's polarized society (and in my remote job as a freelancer), and the in-person aspect of those discussions was crucial because it allowed us to talk without mediation and to learn debate skills, which is why I feel bad for students who are learning remotely due to COVID.


Anyways... A lot of the themes I explore in The Tech Effect are things I originally learned in MIT, such as technological determinism, the myths of technological progress and utopia, how the technological status quo disproportionately affects women and people of colour, and more. What makes it unique, though, is that I explore these themes through news and current events, especially ones pertaining to young people.


For example, I have already written about how Amazon exploits workers, how athletes are using technological platforms for political advocacy, how remote work negatively impacts mental health, how social media influences elections, and why it's stupid to think that humans have a destiny outside of Earth. You can find all that here: https://techeffect.substack.com/


Vic: Do you have advice for students who are interested in pursuing their own startup company, in journalism, marketing, or other related fields?


The Tech Effect is a passion project of mine. I've wanted to write about technology and its effects on society for a long time, but I had been mostly unsuccessful placing these stories in renowned media outlets. The Tech Effect gives me a platform to write about these subjects for an audience I care about while giving me more writing practise, which is always important. I also think it will eventually lead to me being seen as a more reputable figure on the subject of technology and therefore will help me place more articles on the subject down the line.


Having not reached many of my ultimate career goals, I feel slightly at odds giving professional advice to students. But I will say do what you love: find what it is that you are passionate about and then figure out how you can make a career involving that passion. It's not going to be easy, especially if you create your own startup and do it yourself, and it will likely be a long, long process before you get to where you want to be.


But as Kobe Bryant said in his retirement speech, “It's not the destination. It's the journey.” The key is to enjoy the process instead of longing for the results. As long as you enjoy the process — the grind — you will find meaning in the little things, and that should keep you going.


If you want to take a look at The Tech Effect and see Oren’s work firsthand, head to https://techeffect.substack.com.



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