We are all Big Brother

And we are all Winston Smith.

Those, of course (or maybe not of course if you have not read the book), are aspects of one of the great novels of all time – 1984. Published in 1948 (hence where the title comes from) and written by George Orwell.

I have read it a couple of times – the first being in High School. The second after college – which I appreciated more than the first read. Not sure if it was because I was older – or because it was my choice and not part of a course curriculum. I was fascinated by the hyped idea of predictions. I was sadly disappointed when there were no outright predictions during the first read. Again, it wasn’t until the second read that I saw the predictions for what they were – amazingly insightful narratives put forth by Mr. Orwell.

I think to a lot of people the power aspect was Room 101, Big Brother and the spin used in selecting words for description – Ministry of Love (read torture), DoubleSpeak, etc. Yes, those three main aspects were controlling and all powerful – in an omnipotent kind of way.

In looking back on the novel and seeing where we are (30 years past the time the novel took place) 66 years after it was first published I see some other more disturbing predictions. Here are a couple:


The premise in the book to ‘erase’ someone from history. No evidence, no existence. Orwell based this aspect on a Stalin practice – where photos were re-touched to remove people that had fallen out of favour (read killed). For the longest time this was in the hands of experts. People that could do this with skill. Not today – anybody with PhotoShop or any online Raster-based image-editing software can have access to a massive erase button. And it’s not limited to still images. Video is vast becoming the next realm of adding and deleting for content.


Winston Smith’s neighbour (Parsons) was turned into the authorities for having thoughts against the state (while he was sleeping no less)  – by his own daughter. He admits to Winston that he is relieved to have been caught and his thoughts corrected. We don’t need people we know to do this anymore. It can, and is anyone. We have smartphones and CCTV feeds that allow any of us to collect data (ideas and photos) and distribute them without any inkling of understanding to the situation they’re reporting. Some make their way to group-judgement websites. Now, I’m not defending or condemning these site – these are just examples.

You park like an asshole.

People of Walmart.

Clients from hell.

We are all in the same boat – we are all Big Brother by judging and being a voyeur (and recorder) to the lives and apparent missteps of others (guilty-pleasure confession – I love the sites listed). And we are a text or photo away from being Winston Smith – unaware of that telescreen behind the painting.

I think it’s time to read 1984 again.

What’s your biggest social media (big brother) fear?



Is advertising an option?

There is a tremendous amount of focus on social and digital media – relative to pushing a brand forward in these turbulent times. Many books have been, and will be, written about this topic – from Seth Godin to Mitch Joel. Including relative newcomers with such lofty titles for their books like Social Media is Bullshit.

It would be great if all the hurdles of marketing could be solved by applying just digital and social media (d&sm). It would be. But ultimately impossible.

There are a lot of positive stories associated with d&sm – kickstarter, warby parker and many more. But the biggest companies are still the biggest companies – Starbucks, McDonalds, Nike – you know the rest of the list. You know the list because they never stop advertising. I’m sure there are people in this world that do not know the companies I’ve listed. There has to be. Surely, somewhere – people don’t know what Nike is, or what they make.

But for the other 98.4%* of this water-based sphere – those companies are ubiquitous. And one of the main reasons – advertising. Sure they are getting busy in the d&sm space – but their world-wide presence is cemented by hard-core advertising.

It’s not just that they advertise – they Advertise. All the time.

And I think the take away on this for all is – whatever your channel of promotion – fill it all the time. The areas of d&sm are like children – and what I clearly remember the judge saying is that children need (read are legally required) to be feed.

*this stat may, or more likely may not be accurate.

Two problems with one project

Recently, a York University student requested to not work with women on a group school project. This request was based on the students’ strict religious beliefs. I take two issues from this exercise in delicate manoeuvring – both on the part of the student and the administration of York.

I’ll get this out of the way – I don’t care if you want to work only with guys, women, characters from Avatar, etc. I think that is what freedom allows you to do. And if that is truly the case here, the student should not have picked a post-secondary institution that is close to 70% women in population. He most likely should have gone to an all-male school, in an all-male country – that of course being The Vatican. Although I get the feeling the student would have had other issues. Just guessing.

A lot of people have and will write on this topic – whether it be religious expression or a misogyny adventure.

My other issue – and one that is becoming a big issue – is of course Group Projects.

Can we, now, start the process of eliminating 90% of all group projects in schools. Please.

Firstly, I’ll ask as a parent. Watching your kids struggle with groups projects is painful. Knowing that not everyone contributes equally, knowing that a group of four or five will have the lions share of the work done by two. Trying as you can as a parent to quell stress and calm fears. Hoping that there will be some sort of benefit to this exercise – but there isn’t.

Secondly, I’ll ask as a professional in an industry that hires individuals. Schools, stop allowing teachers to assign group projects. I understand that it’s far easier to mark six assignments than 30. I get it. But as a person that sees the portfolio of potential employees I am encountering far too many group projects. In some portfolios it’s been over 50% of the work been presented. How can I evaluate the potential skill and ideation of someone if their work is clustered in with masses?

Lastly, as a former college instructor, I hated the thought of giving out a group assignment. And therefore I didn’t. Here’s why from a teaching standpoint group projects suck. All of those students will leave and go searching for employment (or maybe graduate school) as individuals. At no point will that part of the journey be in groups. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the thought of a group project. Getting people to understand how to interact in a group dynamic, to get along – not kill someone. Yep, I see it. Cause more often than not you’ll be working in an office – not alone – with other carbon-based lifeforms.

But, in the real-world, you tend to work with people that have different skill-sets. Designers work with writers, account people work with media buyers. Teams are people that play different positions – if you had a hockey team of all goalies – well, you can imagine how that would not work out at all.

If colleges and universities truly want to expand the experience of group projects and make it remotely applicable – then the groups need be made up of students from different disciplines. But that would require a group effort from the administration – which seems to be the stumbling block. Ironic.

(what is a) User Experience

  • User experience (UX or UE) involves a person’s emotions about using a particular product, system or service. User experience highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership. Additionally, it includes a person’s perceptions of the practical aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency of the system. User experience is subjective in nature because it is about individual perception and thought with respect to the system. User experience is dynamic as it is constantly modified over time due to changing circumstances and new innovations. As defined on Wikipedia.

I find this a bit confining and misleading.

To hyper define User Experience as completely related to computers is – well – limiting. I believe that any form of communication is, on some level, a user experience. Whether it be a business card or poster, retail outlet or wayfinding. Any time a user has to engage and react to information is a user experience.

When you are looking up that business card for that guy you meet – user experience. All the way.

The act of identifying the card (shape, colour, typeface) is the beginning, but is not remotely the end of the experience. How is the information presented – how easy (or difficult) was it to get the information you required;

  • Phone Number
  • Title
  • Address
  • E-mail

That fact that user experience has been a strong part of design (all disciplines) needs to be considered when looking at User Experience in the modern, computer realm. Understanding how people move through a space, how they retrive information, retain information, etc. bodes well in considering the dynamic aspect of screen design. I’ll call it screen design because saying computer, tablet, mobile, etc. becomes too cumbersome. User Experience in today’s emerging markets can greatly improve with the Disney (Alcoa-originated) approach to problem-solving – Imagineers. A group – blended together from different areas of expertise meant to push the limits of thinking (engineers to poets, designers to psychologists, etc.).

Too often screen design can get hand-cuffed to either the technical or design prowess of teams. But expanding teams to include secondary thinking can only improve the process.

What skill-set would you like to see added to computer-based user experience teams/projects? 

message delivered (maybe)

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, 4Square, E-mail, etc.

There are now so many ways to connect and broadcast that it’s time consuming just to list them.

At what point does it become burdensome to just to try and keep up. There are some services that connect and cross broadcast (like this Blog – it gets publicized through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, e-mail list and Subscribers once I press the publish button). The idea of one button pushing out content to a myriad outlets is ideal.

But once we get the message out – how do we know that it gets to where it needs to be (in front of a pair of eyes – man I’m going to get a load of hate-mail from the cyclops Society of Canada). How do we really measure that result? It’s not just a question of broadcast math.

My blog is (according to my WordPress stats) broadcast to 750+ people on Facebook, 50+ followers on Twitter and 300+ connections on LinkedIn. Plus about 15 people have subscribed to this Blog. That’s the broadcast math. My daily viewing stats are much more humbling – in and around 10-20 views per day when I’m generating new content.

So – that’s a big difference. I would love to be in a better position. One day. But producing content (and content worth reading) is key. Above and beyond that sometimes it’s luck, finding a niché, or getting recognition in other venues (speakers, being quoted in an article, etc.). Which ultimately becomes a weird vicious circle.

How often do you check or block content from people that constantly are broadcasting? Do you find yourself using curating apps/sites (like Zite, FlipBoard, Currents, etc.) to help filter and consolidate topics or areas of concern and interest?

Fresh brewed social

A curious thing has happened to the coffee shop – whether it be Starbucks, Tim Hortons (if american insert Dunkin Donuts) or a local place like Planet Coffee in Ottawa.

The shift in social has been amazing, on a couple of levels. The fact that some of these places (like Starbucks) that have their own apps and/or are piggybacking on outside technology (like passbook from Apple) is astounding. On top of the fact that they offer free wi-fi. Free, of course, being relative to the fact that you tend to be making a purchase. But those are the shifts in offerings that coffee shops have to present to play level with others’ offering the same product (whom are offering free wi-fi as well).

This presents coffee shops with the other social change – the systematic overall haul of what it means to be social in a coffee shop.

At one point in time they were the location people gravitated to be social – as in having a face-to-face conversation. More and more people are forgoing the arduous task of verbally communicating and letting their fingers converse with the fingers of others. Soon maybe the apps will even allow us to order our drinks before we arrive – again saving us from certain eye contact.

Social media, as I and myriad others have spouted about, is a lot of good, interesting things. But it can’t replace real conversation. Because real conversations are where we see and feel the words – which give the message it’s context. Because without context, is communicating social at all?