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?



When you need a map

A dream is a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a timeline.

I had this wisdom presented to me on a piece of white, 20lb bond paper – in the exact size and shape of a Chinese fortune. Found in, of all places, a Chinese fortune cookie.

Every once in a while we are presented with a glimpse of what could be – little tidbits of gold. Like the aforementioned statement – I always like to self reference The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz – and I’ll be adding Linchpin by Seth Godin (more on that in another post). I’ve had mental pushes from friends, other books, movies and most recently in a Blog by Mitch Joel that seemed to speak to me directly.

These soundbites, these philosophical bursts are great fuel. Sometimes they are the banana peel for the flux capacitor – helping you get to 88 miles per hour. Fuel and speed are great – when you have a destination. If we don’t have an end game – why are we doing what we do? That end game can be as straight forward as paying the bills, or as complicated as actually building a flux capacitor.

I want to thank all the people that have helped fuel my trip – people like Lesley (my wife) and my kids. Mentors over the years – Don Niven and Chuck Muli are a couple of examples – to colleagues in the world of Comedy – like Darryl Purvis and Winston Spear, and to the audiences that laugh at my musings. By no means is this list definite – there are lots of people to thank – a lot of fuel is needed for any journey. But all of that fuel is moot if you don’t have a place to go.

I think I finally have a place to go. And that place does not include comedy or photography per se. That’s not to say that comedy and photography will be vacant from my life – they just won’t be things I focus on. I have, for too long, tried to be a jack-of-all-trades – creative direction, photography and comedy. I think I’ve been pretty good at all three – I need to be exceptional at one.

I have a couple of gigs for each, comedy and photography, upcoming – these will be my last. I will complete these with the same level of professionalism I always have in the past. But, they will be my swan songs.

Here goes nothing – or more importantly – here goes something great.

What’s your destination?

Does your job have homework?

I want to be clear – I don’t mean are you so busy that you need to complete work after work – at home, on the train, etc.

I’m talking about a job where you don’t stop thinking about what it is you do – or how others’ are doing a similar job. As a creative professional I carry my job with me everywhere. From thinking of solutions to existing projects to mentally adjusting the kerning on posters and billboards. I’m often re-solving design that I see in the world. Whether it be print, web, wayfinding, whatever I feel has been left unsolved (or not solved at all) – or might be missing something.

Every once in a while – I wish I had a job that didn’t do that to me. That I could clock out and just go on with my day, but I can’t. Often, I wonder what it would be like to be in a job, career, profession that afforded me that chance.

The more that I ponder that the more that I have come to understand that it’s not what I do – it’s who I am!

I was drawn (pun sort of intended) to work in a problem-solving environment – regardless of the problem. So for any of the things I do (creative direction, photography, stand-up comedy or teaching) part of it involves me always thinking – can I do it better, different? So, as much as I sometimes hate being able to turn it off (I’ve even dreamt about typography) it’s something that defines me and therefore the vocations that I gravitated towards.

How much homework do you carry?

Delete button

If you have not read my Bio – I’m a bit of a three-headed (sometimes four, could be five) beast. I’m a full-time creative director – and when not doing that I’m on stage doing stand-up comedy, and I also dabble in photography (see side link). Oh yeah, I have a wife and three kids (if this was Wheel of Fortune, they’d be fabulous and wonderful).

On top of that, in the past, I have taught design at various colleges in Ontario. Depending on the students you converse with I was either great or an asshole. I recently wanted to get back into the teaching game – I really enjoy it and love passing along information. I was offered a part-time position at George Brown College in Toronto. At first I accepted – I had contacted them, I was looking to do this again. I think the program at GB is a good one – it offers some great basics and foundations to the overall arc that is graphic design.

Thinking time

Taking a weekend to reflect about how busy I am at work (creative director – and how busy I know we’re going to get) and already having those too other side projects – I made the difficult choice to not accept the teaching position. Ultimately I decided that I need to start playing the minimalist game. To start thinking about what I can remove from my life/activities and make the remaining aspects more enjoyable.

A challenge

In this hyper-accelerated, socially-connected, über-ubiquitous society can we remove one thing from our lives that opens up time. It can be as simple as shopping for groceries online and having them delivered, getting your laundry out-sourced. It can be to not enrol your kids in activities every day of the week – maybe just a winter and summer sport. Some might save you money, some might cost some money – the deal here is to gain some time. And your time is always worth something.

So, how much time do you need back every week? And how much is that time worth to you?

Paper(less) society

The internet is a wild and fascinating place – constantly changing, always evolving. Which makes for some awkward concepts to grasp – especially based on age and background.


The great thing about paper is that it’s tactile, it can be used to print, cut, shape, fold, etc. It can be destroyed and it can be wondrous (think Gutenburg’s Bible). And as much as it’s all those things, it’s also mortal – it can exist in one place at one time. Sure, Stephen King sells millions of books, the same book, but each copy can only exist in one place. You can have two beside each other – but they cannot occupy the exact same space and time. Ever. Regardless of what any of the X-Men claim.


The internet has somewhat changed some of that thinking. With the advent of the ‘net – the explosion of the amazing behind-the-scenes hero Database has never been more dramatic. Databases are the way that data is stored – and more importantly how data is accessed. Basically, a good database allows for excellent storage and retrieval of information. Understanding that one piece of information can te related to other pieces of information through a common conncetion. For example – Adobe Photoshop Elements, Or iPhoto, allow the user to create a myriad ways to organize and label the digital assets (a.k.a. photographs). Some are built into modern image files (date, time, photo data – ƒ-stop, aperture, etc.) and others are user-applied (people, content, location, event, etc.). Once an image (or file) has those labels, it becomes digitally the opposite of paper. Sure that file can exist in only one location – but how that file is labeled and referenced mean that it can virtually reside anywhere.

It’s a hard concept to understand and grasp. especially for people that grew up in a paper society. My dad has over 10,000 slides (actual slides, mostly kodakrome), not slides like a PowerPoint deck. Those tiny, brilliantly colourful pieces of photographic history. You know the slide.

Over 10,000 – that’s a lot. And they each reside in their own space and time. My Dad has them organized by yellow boxes – based on the roll shot. Which also means that they’re organized by date. And that’s the end of the organization. Granted my Dad loves FireTrucks, so 91% of the images are of FireTrucks – so I guess there’s another level of organization. But beyond that – nothing. And really – short of scanning every one and adding them to Elements – it’s the way they’ll be organized for long time. But, he hasn’t stopped taking pictures of FireTruck. He is, however, using digital cameras, and storing those photos on his computer.

Paper collides with less

Unfortunately – he tends to store them as if they’re slides. He has created folders, within folders, trying to catalogue his digital collection. The problem of course is that having them in these folders means that you can only have the one label (whatever the name of the folder they sit in is called). Or he could have multiple folders with different attributes (like city, FireTruck class, FireTruck colour, etc.) but he would have to keep multiple copies of each photo. And, then hope that he remembers to copy the photo to each of the locations that he wants noted – let alone if he made a change or edit – having to remember each folder that the photo ‘file’ occupied.

This is not specially about my Dad – but more about a mindset. Trying to get a generation (or three) to think about data in a new way – in a way that shows connections, makes connections and future proofs for unknown connections.

Lady MacBeth would be proud

Over the weekend I was in attendance at the Bluesfest in Ottawa – it’s just a name – as headliners The Tragically Hip (Saturday) and A Perfect Circle (Sunday) prove.

As a photographer, I happen to like to take my camera to events like this. I have a good little collection of some great concert shots – which goes no further than my computer and a few posted on my Facebook page. Which brings me to how certain bands can be complete jerks and – more importantly – how digital channels are allowing brands (corporate and individual) to wash their hands of really getting the message out.

My Nikon and my 70-200 lens were not forbidden from entering the grounds for the 2011 Ottawa Bluesfest. I held the Camera in plain sight. No one stopped me. I was allowed to venture to the front of the stage (there were five), to get a better vantage for my images. I was witnessed by staff, security, road crews, etc. That was until A Perfect Circle played their late-starting-finish-early headlining set on Sunday. I was about 10 metres from the stage almost dead centre (where a fenced channel existed to link the control booth and the stage). About 22 minutes into the show – which was underwhelming – a roadie from APC told me my lens was too big, I’d have to switch to a 50mm (he actually said that). I asked why – his response ‘it’s on the Web site’. And all I could think was – The Web site. THE Web site. I know I’m not an expert yet – but on last count there were more than 7 Web sites. THE WEB SITE.

I don’t need to give missing-link type people (read roadies) an excuse to roughly remove someone from the premises – so I told the guy I’d not take any more photos – which I didn’t. Oh, here’s my point.

When did the Internet become mandatory?

Let’s pretend that there was information regarding photography on The Web site. Which Web site: Ottawa Bluesfest (show/promoter), A Perfect Circle (Performer), National Capital Commission (Land Owner), etc.? There is nothing on the Ottawa Bluesfest Web site – if it is, it’s buried. Is it now the responsibility of each participant of any event to check The Web Site for any conditions that might apply to any situation, e.g., photography.

If the band has an issue with photography (or video – they were the only band not utilizing the Jumbo Trons) they had able opportunity to express that over the sound system, before the concert, alerting those that might be affected.

And I guess that’s the main burn. We, as a modern, current society think we need to be so current that we overlook the most appropriate and common-sense solutions – even if it’s so simple – like using the sound system, or putting up signs.

This bleeds into other digital areas. How often have you heard, or said – I sent the e-mail. Thus, basically removing liability for any further information. Before the digital channels, you would never here someone say – it was on our radio commercial.