The art of asking questions

Sitting down with Peeps Speaker Dr. Jon Callegher

Jon Callegher is a man who people believe in. Ask him about his life and you will quickly come to see that his friends, family, educators and colleagues have always had unquestionable faith in his abilities. The George Brown Marketing professor’s interest in sociology began at a young age when Jon heard a sociologist described as a person who goes to a sporting event to watch the crowd, as opposed to the game. Jon immediately identified with this description, and began to steer his path towards the study of sociology. At this time, he could not imagine that he would one day be a professor. It was one his undergraduate professors who suggested that he continue with his studies, pursuing a master’s degree, and a close friend who encouraged him to complete his PhD. “And here I am today,” he concludes modestly.

Since a very young age, Jon has been a part of many successful, self-driven professional ventures. As an undergraduate he chose to follow through on the advice of a teacher who challenged him to fill a void he had noticed while in high school of good motivational youth speakers. He created and toured for many years with a presentation he called Dream Setting. “I took all the books I could find on goal setting, noted the overlapping themes, and created these five steps to goal setting. And then I took it one step further—I guess I was a bit of marketer even back then—and decided to call it dream setting.” This series took off, and Jon became the go-to speaker for schools across Canada and the USA. All this was achieved while completing his undergraduate and Masters degrees. As a PhD candidate, he worked full-time as an associate vice-president of the marketing company Hotspex, and finally, today juggles teaching with the writing and editing of a soon-to-be-published book.

The subject of this book is the myths and realities of the social media world inhabited by younger generations, identified as millennials. This is a generation that has, from a young age, had access to the internet and through it, a whole new world of social interaction and expression. Being a late millennial himself, Jon was convinced by friends to join Facebook as an undergraduate, and the sociologist immediately began to view and question behaviours on the online site. “I began to be fascinated by the nature of the things that people were sharing online. They were not things that people would normally share offline.” This dawned on him when an acquaintances’ ultrasound came up on his newsfeed. He found himself wondering if this was meant for him to see? Would she care that he was seeing it? What was her intention in sharing it? And just like that, he had stumbled upon the focus of his work and research since.

Describing his research style, Jon says: “I like to ask a lot of questions.” Qualitative, as oppose to quantitative, research is at the heart of Jon’s research projects. “The millennials are a generation that are very diverse in their interests and associations. So when I go into interviews with subjects I ask lots and lots of questions until I get to know them better.” In Jon’s experience, qualitative research plays the essential role of helping researchers to determine what types of questions should be asked to truly understand a behaviour or phenomenon. These questions, which are often missed entirely by purely quantitative research projects, help to illuminate what is significant to people in a given area of study. Jon’s work has yielded insightful findings that have challenged commonly held beliefs regarding the motivations behind behaviours on social media. It has also shed light on some potential long-term outcomes and consequences of millennials’ social media behaviour, including the ever-encroaching effects of data-mining. “If I could get people talking about it, having conversations, maybe thinking twice, I would think that the work was serving a purpose.”

In his personal time, Jon and his wife are avid travelers. Having travelled across the world and interacted with so many different people, Jon is living the dream of many sociologists. He is well aware of this fact, and takes every opportunity to learn about and connect with the people he meets along the way. “The only way to truly understand how others live and experience the world is by actually spending time among them,” he states boldly on his website. We at Peeps could not agree more, and look forward to hearing, now and in the future, what insights Jon has to share about people.

Written by Aliah El-houni, Peeps
Photography by Nation Wong, Peeps

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