Big Data: A Brief Look

Screenshot of the Big Data App, by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt.
Screenshot of the Human Face of Big Data App, by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt. The app is recommended for a comprehensive understanding of the Big Data revolution.

According to The Human Face of Big Data, an app by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt, “Big Data is an extraordinary knowledge revolution that’s sweeping, almost invisibly, through business, academia, government, health care, and everyday life.” The app suggests that one day Big Data may be more transformative than the Internet. It’s transforming lives—it’s being used as a tool in health care, research and government to solve many challenges that humans face.

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Our Online Masks, What Jung Wants you to Know About them

Picture of Carl Jung.
What would Carl Jung have to say about the online masks we wear today? Perhaps that they reflect a self twice removed. (Photo, World History Archive.)

As someone who considers himself to be a very amateur Jungian, I kind of smile when I hear, or read about, people who suggest that our offline personality is our true self, whereas our online personality–our online masks– is a persona.

Nancy Baym, in Personal Connections in the Digital Age, suggests (although she doesn’t exactly articulate it this way) that in the early days of the Internet some believed that assuming an online presence would be in effect to remove our masks so that our true selves could shine through. Baym writes, “On a societal level, [online] anonymity opens the possibility of liberation from the divisions that come about from seeing one another’s race, age, gender, disabilities and so on.”

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The Storytelling Covenant, Part 2

Theatre masks.
(Drawing by Ikiyuzlu)







[Scene: Audience member is at home chilling on the sofa with his laptop. He surfs to Enter Jason Dean.]

AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Skeptically) Why should I read your post?

JASON DEAN: (Enthusiastically): If you’re open-minded and read it from start to finish, I promise you’ll find it interesting. You may even find it informative. What do you do?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m a content marketer.

JASON DEAN: Great! You may even find this post useful and applicable to your professional practice.

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The Ethics of Online Trust Indicators

During my 2018 trip to Costa Rica, the group I was travelling with stopped at the gorgeous Los Lagos Spa Resort near La Fortuna. We were there to soak in the hot springs and to have fun zipping down the intricate waterslides. The pools had bars you could swim up to and order a drink without leaving the shallow end.

People playing in water slide and pool at Los Lagos Spa Resort in Costa Rica.
Water slides at Los Lagos Spa Resort in Costa Rica. (Photo by Jason Dean Spence)








But I stayed out of the water.

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Technology and the Rise of Values-Based Consumerism

As a communicator, I’m interested in the various ways technology affects the way we all access, consume and distribute information. The affordances of smartphones and social media, for example, give consumers a window, like never before, into the behaviour of businesses they deal with. All of this has given rise to what can be called “values-based consumerism.”

Man's hands shown holding tablet.
Technology, such as smartphones, tablets and social media, has helped with the rise of values-based consumerism. (Image by Ponsulak Kunsub.)

In an interview Liz Oke, of Liz Oke Marketing INC. and marketing instructor at the University of Toronto, argues that smartphones have fundamentally changed our lives. “These aren’t even phones anymore,” she says holding up her smartphone. “They’re mini computers. No matter where you are you just have so much access to information. And depending on the person, they have their own set of values. If businesses are resonating with those values, consumers are going to continue on with the customer journey beyond awareness.”

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A Rat in the White House

Book cover of Wind in the Willows with Frog, Mole and other characters.
The Wind in the Willows teaches us that communication can be found everywhere and in surprising places. (Cover design by Ernest H. Shepard.)

In chapter five of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, Mole and Rat are returning from their adventures when the environment begins to “communicate” to Mole. Grahame describes it not just as “smell” but an “electric thrill” that somehow reminds Mole that his neglected home is nearby. Mole wants to stop and visit the home he abandoned, but Rat is too far ahead and too preoccupied with his own motives to indulge poor Mole.

Reading this delightful little novel recently has reaffirmed my belief that communication is probably the most powerful force in the universe.

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A Communication Professional, I am

Black couple having a conversation at a cafe outdoors in the spring
Communication professionals speak more precisely when they refer to their discipline as communication, not communications.
Copyright, Iangstrup

I met her on Tinder. We agreed to meet for coffee on the Danforth. A communication professional and a human resources employee. Who knows? it could work, I thought. My initial impression, though, was that were so different. I like to dress up and was wearing a sports coat, a dress shirt and designer jeans. She wore a white t-shirt, jeans, no makeup, and looked kind of… unkempt.

Aside from many awkward pauses, the highlight of the conversation was a terse exchange about communication. I argued that technically what I do is communication, not communications. She bluntly informed me that I was wrong.

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Canadian Cannabis Will Likely Succeed, But…

Man handling marijuana plant
Canadian cannabis is destined to thrive, but companies will have one hand tied behind their backs largely due to advertising restrictions outlined in the Cannabis Act. Copyright, Eric Limon


I have little interest in Canadian cannabis and the legalization of pot, which occurred on October 17, 2018. Last Christmas my stance only solidified. My family was discussing cannabis and I voiced my strong opinions. My brother withdrew from the room and returned with a brownie, which he offered to me. When I had finished gobbling it up, he smiled and said “It was medicated!”

An hour later I was jollier than St. Nick, giggling uncontrollably like a school girl, had an attack of the munchies, and was totally sponging out!

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Are Miscommunications and Misunderstandings Inherently Funny?

Picture of the stars of Three's Company
Three’s Company seemed to suggest that there is something inherently funny about miscommunications and misunderstandings.

One of the gifts of graduate school, especially if you go later in life, is being able to look back and understand your life in new ways, make new connections between seemingly disparate things, and finding novelty in things we have grown accustomed to.

We might not be able to apply scholarly terms to all that we see with fresh eyes, but we see them with a new level of maturity.

When I was much younger, one of my favourite TV shows was “Three’s Company.” If you recall, the storyworld inhabited by Jack, Janet, Chrissy and others, seemed to suggest that there is something inherently funny about miscommunications and misunderstandings. Indeed, most, if not all, of the episodes seemed to be about miscommunications and misunderstandings.

Take, for example, the episode in which Jeffrey Tambor plays an overworked psychiatrist, and Terri, a nurse, invites him out for dinner so that he can get some much-needed relaxation time. Problems arise when Terri brings the doctor back to the apartment and Jack and Janet mistake him for a psychiatric patient. It’s hard to imagine this funny episode being made today in the current politically correct environment, but it is classic “Three’s Company.”

The entire premise of “Three’s Company” is surrounded by an intentional misunderstanding: Jack is able to share an apartment with Janet and Chrissy (later Terri) in 1970s-1980s California because they tell their conservative landlord (first Mr. Roeper, later Mr. Furley) that Jack is a homosexual, which is not true.

Perhaps it is best to look at the issue from the vantage of the Shannon-Weaver model of communication. The loci of miscommunication, thus, seems to be the sender of communication as he or she encodes the message, the receiver who decodes the message, or noise that interferes with the process of communication—and which can be located in the sender, the receiver or external to both such as loud music that prevents receivers from hearing the message.

So, is their something inherently funny about miscommunications and misunderstandings? In some contexts, yes. Think back to a miscommunication you have been involved in and you’ll probably shake your head and smile regrettably. On a recent vacation, I nearly missed my connecting flight to my destination because of a misunderstanding at two information booths. I was livid then, but I can chuckle about it now. There does seem to be something funny about expecting something but then getting the exact opposite because, for example, of a poorly chosen word(s).

It’s the stuff farce is made of.

Miscommunication seems to be one of the engines that keeps literature humming. Consider Shakespeare. I have read all of his plays and I can tell you that even in his tragedies or histories there is often comic relief that arises as a result of misunderstandings. There are times when you have to snicker at Othello’s misunderstanding of Desdemona as a result of Iago’s antics

Of course, Shakespeare’s comedies, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, make skillful use of misunderstandings.

But in some contexts, there is nothing funny about miscommunications and misunderstandings.  For example, some Shakespearean misunderstandings lead to tragedy. Romeo and Juliet both end up dead as a result of misunderstandings.

In the real world, consider Harrison Ford’s near miss in the air in 2017. He was told to land his single-engine plane on a specific runway at John Wayne Airport in the OC, California that February. He mistakenly landed it on a parallel taxiway, nearly crashing into a nearby American Airlines jet.

As well, there are tons of stories about police officers shooting unarmed people that they think are criminals, but who are later determined to be law-abiding citizens.

Back to Jeffrey Tambor. He recently exited from another well-loved TV show “Transparent” after sexual harassment allegations. Tambor describes the incidents in question as miscommunications, whereas his accusers describe it bad behaviour. This is typical in the #MeToo era. People accused of inappropriate behaviour claim that they have been misunderstood (Riiight! The problem is with the receiver decoding the message/behaviour incorrectly.)

So, I guess the answer to the question of whether miscommunications and misunderstandings are inherently funny is…it depends on the context surrounding the incident. At least one “Three’s Company” alum knows that sometimes there’s not always something funny about miscommunications and misunderstandings, even if he is wrong about his incident being a miscommunication.

–Authored by J. Dean Spence

I’m Not Engaged! Here’s How to Hook Me.

By J. Dean Spence

Man holding smartphone and photographing graffiti.

What would you say if, when you asked me what marriage is, I answered “Marriage is meeting someone, dating, falling in love, getting engaged, planning a wedding, going to the chapel…”

You might stop me and say “Whoa, Jason Dean! That’s not marriage. That’s maybe how people come to be married. But marriage is a state of union between spouses in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law.”

No one would define marriage the way I did. They would all define it similarly to how you did.

However, when people—even digital experts who know their stuff—talk about social media engagement they do use a definitional strategy like I used to define marriage. “Engagement is getting likes, shares and comments on my posts.” Or, “It’s when I enter into dialogue in social spaces with audiences that read my posts.” But that’s not defining engagement—that’s just articulating how it comes to be.

I’ve only read one satisfying definition of the term by marketing scholar Ian H. Gordon who says it is “forward thinking”, and suggests that it is entering into a collaborative relationship with your audience in an effort to arrive at a mutually desirable future state.

So, for example, if you are an internal communication specialist who wants to engage your company’s employees, engagement might look like creating a better workplace through effective communication. It gets trickier to define what engagement looks like, however, for external social media communicators wanting to engage audiences.

The New York Times’ Founder, Adolph Ochs’ vision for the paper was “to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.” And today, the paper engages me in this way by allowing me, with my digital subscription, to comment on stories on the NYT app.

Of course, the NYT is not a social media platform. But, although unlikely, let’s pretend that the folks at the NYT knew about Gordon’s definition of engagement and used it when they designed their digital paper. The same principle would apply to you: start with Gordon’s definition of engagement and then figure out what engagement looks like for your company.

To be better digital communicators, and better strategic communicators in general, we must first understand clearly what engagement is. Engagement is a journey—you might get there by walking down any road you happen to come to, but if you have a map you’ll get there sooner.