It’s Always Been the “Validation Era”

by Brad Levinson on May 10, 2011

Last week, Steve Rubel – Edelman’s EVP for Global Strategy and Insights – posted about an interesting concept that he calls the “validation era.”  According to Rubel, we are witness the dawn of “a new age of intimacy.”

He says:

“In the Validation Era, intimacy is in and publicness may be out – or at least on the decline. Quality is the new black. What this means that both individuals and businesses will need to increasingly work harder to earn their way in and remain in our stakeholders’ circle of trust.”

He brings up an interesting point, and these are really important qualities to have.  But I don’t think the need for validation is unique to this era.  My feeling is that we’re in the “validation era” because we’ve always been in a validation era.

The demand for quality and trust is key because people are tired of being “played” in an online communication environment.  Quality has always been a need in the online environment, and those that have followed that rule have been met with great success.  Those that haven’t done so well have forever been “called out” by those that are victims of their insincere, unsmart and bad pitches.

In fact, I’d argue that online communication actually started out of the need for trust and intimacy.  It’s always been that need that actually started some of the most important social media gears to spin.  When the first bloggers started writing on outlets like OpenDiary and LiveJournal, we wanted share ideas and emotions, reach out and talk to others with like minds, and have our thoughts vailidated.  Today, that continues when friends discuss their lives on Facebook.  We’ve always craved validation – that’s why we reach out in the first place.

However, regarding the idea of burnout leading to the need for more intimacy, Rubel makes some good points:

“Consider that according to a study conducted by GoodMobilePhones, people don’t know 20 percent of their Facebook friends. Or that USA Today recently reported that social media users are ‘grappling with overload.’”

I think what this era is – as Rubel does point out – is one of fatigue.  But those are the effects of when people extend themselves too much and make their networks too large.  I expect that as time goes on, many will “trim the fat” on these networks, but only to enhance the relationships with people that they care about.


A long time ago, when I was a nerd in grad school (totally not a nerd anymore), one of the concepts that I did the most research on is the idea of the “filter bubble.” That is to say, does the massive amount of content on the web – and the means in which we go about accessing that content – either reshape or concrete people’s pre-existing worldviews?

Two professors – Bruce Bimber of the University of California and Richard Davis of Brigham Young University – have been exploring the idea of the online filter bubble since the 2000 presidential election.

In their study “The Internet In Campaign 2000: How Political Web Sites Reinforce Partisan Engagement,” they put this quite elegantly – thanks to a quote from singer-songwriter (and household favorite) Paul Simon:

“People tend to select out for attention those stories and claims that confirm their existing beliefs and predispositions. And when confronted with news or other information that tends to conflict with their assumptions about public life, people are especially likely to disbelieve what they see or hear.

These political habits call to mind lyrics to Paul Simon s 1970 song entitled The Boxer: ‘a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.’”

A few years later, Bimber and Davis talked about it further in their book Campaigning Online: The Internet in U.S. Elections.  Narrowcasting – the niche version of broadcasting, in which a fragmented media environment leads to the ability to access content designed for a smaller, more specific audience – is “one of the defining features of the Internet.” When users have a massive and nearly infinite number of outlets and diverse opinions, they’re more able to seek out stories that interest them. But as a result, they consume content that reinforces their current worldview.

In a TED talk released this week, founder Eli Pariser talks about this very topic.  Looking at the idea of one’s personalized Google search results or a “relevant” Facebook feed (which are all based on the idea of what we’re clicking when these pages return results to us), Pariser says that we’re increasingly becoming in danger of “algorythmically editing the web.”

As a result, Pariser says, we’re moving “toward a world in which the Internet is showing us what it thinks what we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.” He calls this a “filter bubble,” which he says is “your own unique universe of information that you live in online” – but a universe where you don’t decide what gets in and you don’t see who gets edited out.

Watch the talk here:

The “online filter bubble” problem that Pariser describes demonstrates the disconnect between “our future aspirational selves and our more impulsive present selves.”

Human behavior doesn’t always sync up with what our dreams, goals, and visions are.  What we believe morally certainly helps us to endeavor to behave in certain ways, but when we’re clicking around the web, are these even decisions that we’re conscious of?  I wonder how much of my human aspirations are displayed as I consume the web.  It would be a snapshot, for sure – just like, say, looking through a garbage bag – but I’m willing to bet that it’s just the crumbs and wrappers of all of the Internet junk food that I eat on an ongoing basis.

As Pariser points out, this idea points to the need that we need to reevaluate the mythology of the Internet -  that it will be some great democracy enhancer that connects us with everything that’s happening.  This isn’t the case if Internet algorithms edit out content that challenges us or causes us to re-evaluate concepts that we believe in.

As humans, we long for more than just correlations about relevancy.  We need an experience that mixes the idea of snack food-like relevancy with the sustenance of our human aspirations.


They Came From The Internet!

by Brad Levinson on January 20, 2011

The next time you’re in a real-life group setting, beware.  Look around.  Be suspicious.  If you look closely enough, you may find something that you least suspected: many of the group’s active participants may be using this thing that some call “the Internet.”

Crazy, crazy, crazy, you tell me.

In fact, I hear this a lot.  Many that I interact with have an inherent skepticism that online people are, in fact, real life people.

But this isn’t true – at least, not according to a new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.  Their new study, entitled “The Social Side of the Internet,” cites research that Internet users are “more active participants in their [real life] groups than other adults.”

Here’s what they found:

  • 69% of Internet users have attended meetings or events for groups that they are active in, as compared to 54% of non-Internet users.
  • 64% of Internet users have volunteered their time to a group that they are active in, as compared to 47% of non-Internet users.
  • 60% of Internet users have contributed money to a group they are active in, as compared to 50% of non-Internet users.
  • 34% of Internet users have taken a leadership role in a group they are active in, as compared to 19% of non-Internet users.

Holy moly, we’ve let them out. Someone has let the Internet people out of their basements, and they are invading our real-life groups.  We must put a stop to this.

But seriously, the truth is that “online people” have always been a part of real-life groups.  They just also happen to use that Internet machine.  Countless studies have shown that people that use the Internet are opinion leaders.

I like to tell a story of when this notion first clicked for me.  Back in college, I was on the web and came across a potential presidential candidate that you may have heard of: Howard Dean.  His candidacy resonated with me, and after a short period of time I attended my first Howard Dean Meetup.  When I got there, I found that there were many people like me.  They read about his campaign online, and were motivated to show up – in-person – to see if we could get this candidate elected to office.  In the end, many of us became a “real life” group in the process.

With that, I would suggest an important point: activating people online doesn’t mean that as a “New Media Guy,” I’m merely looking for people to be active in just the online realm.  Rather, activism – especially in the 2010’s – needs to be both online and offline.  In fact, I don’t see them as independent of each other.

Pew’s research brings up some very important points that hopefully break some stereotypes ingrained in many people.  Internet users are not lazy.  They show up in person, volunteer their time, and take leadership roles.  In fact, dare I suggest, Internet people may just happen to be the types of “offline” activists that many organizations covet.


Should Troops with PTSD Get The Purple Heart?

by Brad Levinson on January 7, 2009

Here’s an issue that’s been near to my heart for a while. My bachelor’s degree is in psychology, and I strongly considered becoming a psychologist as late as my senior year of college. In grad school, I worked on a short-form documentary about milblogging – military blogging – and one of the main goals was to explore why it was a growing phenomenon. One of the reasons we uncovered was that blogging is a catharsis, and due to the high prevalence of post-traumatic syndrome in veterans, journal-writing is a self-therapy employed by many.

If you’d like, you can watch the documentary here.

According to multiple sources, the Pentagon has reached a decision not to award the Purple Heart to active-duty members or veterans of our military who suffer with PTSD.

Their rationale?

“The Purple Heart recognizes those individuals wounded to a degree that requires treatment by a medical officer, in action with the enemy or as the result of enemy action where the intended effect of a specific enemy action is to kill or injure the service member.”

“(PTSD) is not a wound intentionally caused by the enemy from an outside force or agent, but is a secondary effect caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event.”

“Based on the definition of a wound, ‘an injury to any part of the body from an outside force or agent,’ other Purple Heart award criteria, and 76 years of precedent, the Purple Heart has been limited to award for physical wounds, not psychological wounds.”

“Current medical knowledge and technologies do not establish PTSD as objectively and routinely as would be required for this award at this time.”

I would, of course, dispute all of these findings.

In traditional warfare, the goal of the enemy was, indeed, to “kill or injure the service member.” But tactical warfare has expanded to include psychological warfare. If our enemies are classified as “terrorists,” what is their goal? Of course – it’s to increase “terror.” That’s the primary goal, not a “secondary effect.” On the complete, polar opposite side of the spectrum, what was the goal of our “Shock and Awe” operation in Iraq? The name itself is explanatory. The goal in any modern military offensive is to strike at a psychological level first and foremost.

We also need to expand our definition of what a “wound” is. There’s not much of a debate in the medical community: the psychological is also physical. In PTSD, neural pathways are indeed rewired. Thoughts of those suffering from the disorder are processed in a different manner. There’s a physical change in levels of neurotransmitters. Ask anyone with PTSD if they have wounds. They’ll tell you that their wounds are far, far worse than any physical one. Physical wounds can ultimately be repaired (for the most part), but many with PTSD live and suffer with their wounds for the rest of their lives.

I’d also dispute the notion that there is no objective way to establish a presence of PTSD in a human being. The DSM-IV, the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual,” had extremely objective and rigorous criteria that must be evaluated to diagnose the prevalence of PTSD. It’s quite systematic. Take a look at the criteria yourself.

Ultimately, we should look at was the original goal that was intended with the Purple Heart. My belief is that it was designed to honor courage, recognize strength through adversity, and identify those who have overcome unimaginable struggles. Is that not what military heroes who battle PTSD should be appreciated for?

One thing that I should add: although I’m disappointed by the decision, I do, however, strongly respect Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ exploration of the subject. It turns out that the notion of awarding Purple Hearts to those who suffer from PTSD was suggested as a question during a briefing back in May. That suggestion prompted this panel to explore the option. Ultimately, it was a suggestion that was taken seriously, and I commend Secretary Gates for his sincere effort in evaluating its merit.

What’s your take on this? In your view, does PTSD constitute a “wound” worthy of the Purple Heart?


Lessons Learned in 2008

by Brad Levinson on January 5, 2009

Happy 2009! We’re all back at work after enjoying some (but not enough) time off. My time helped me to reflect on this last year and draw some conclusions.

Among them, I found five lessons that I learned over the course of 2008. I thought I’d share them with everyone:

Lesson #1: You don’t have to be the best.
What a lesson. No, you don’t have to be “the best.” Simply put, nobody is “the best.” Not only is it an impossible thing to attain (it’s 100% subjective, I’d say), but trying to achieve that will just drive you crazy in the end.

You just have to be yourself and believe in yourself. Strive to be “better.” Plus, it’s lonely at the top, and who really wants to be lonely? Not you.

Lesson #2: You’re not responsible for saving the world.
“Changing the world” and “making a difference” is a nice motive, but you don’t have to put the weight of the world on your shoulders. It’s a noble idea, but it’s too idealistic and unfair to do that to yourself.

You’re not responsible for the fate of the universe, nor could you ever control it. Instead, try to make change in good, small ways, or as best as you can. Leave the rest to Barack Obama (ha), and don’t let it consume you or worry about it all too much.

Lesson #3: What you need and what you want are very different things.
What you need vs. what you want – it’s a classic battle, and confusing to figure out which is which. Sometimes, you think you need something, but it turns out that that’s driven by just “want” or “ego” (see lesson #1). It can deceive and tempt you, especially when it’s in reach, and it can create a big mess. Recognize which is which, and you won’t make those mistakes.

Lesson #4: Plans are good, but don’t hold yourself hostage to them.
A wise man, John Lennon (ever hear of him?) once said, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” He, unfortunately, didn’t get to see old age, so I hold those words especially valuable.

Don’t let your plan cause you to miss out on life’s plan for you. Have guidelines, and don’t get dismayed if things don’t happen exactly as you want them to, or as you envisioned them to go. Not everything is in your control. Things happen, they’re part of life, and you learn a lot from them. Don’t view those situations as “setbacks,” but as “normal course” that everyone experiences. Above all, believe in yourself and know that everything will unfold as is should.

Lesson #5: Despite the Worst Situations, You’re Hard to Break.
In 2008, I’ve learned that despite the worst (or what I perceive as “the worst”), I can get through anything – any bad news, any situation – and it only makes me stronger and more knowledgeable about myself. My close friends know that 2008 has brought me more than a few surprises – some good, some bad, and everything in-between – many about myself, some about things family members were going through, and so on.

Over the course of these events, I’ve learned what to fear and what not to fear, and how things should and shouldn’t consume my mind, my soul and my spirit. But most importantly, my experiences in 2008 have taught me about my resilience and my strength through adversity. If I ever have any doubts, knowing this fact and believing in this fact will help pull me through any situation handed to me by this crazy thing called “life.”


Oh, It’s Only 138 Pages?

December 15, 2008

I’m in the mood for blogging, but I’m currently going through 138 pages of this with a highlighter and a Sharpie. What is it?  Why, it’s the third edition of Pew’s “Future of the Internet.” That’s not too epic sounding, is it? (If you’re looking for something somewhat less time-consuming, take a look at this [...]

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Could New Media Have Prevented the Holocaust?

December 10, 2008

If new media existed almost 70 years ago, would we have been able to have prevent Hitler’s rise?  At his Nobel lecture last Sunday, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, this year’s Nobel literature prize winner, posed this thought: “Who knows, if the Internet had existed at the time, perhaps Hitler’s criminal plot would not have succeeded — [...]

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How Should We Treat Communities After We’re “Done” With Them?

December 2, 2008

That makes two.  Pownce, the original competitor to Twitter, has just been obtained by blog platform company SixApart.  This, on top of I Want Sandy and its company Values of n being purchased by Twitter just last week. On the surface, they have little in common other than the loose micro-blogging components that they share.  [...]

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Microsoft Researches “Cyberchondria”

November 26, 2008

Very interesting article from the New York Times today about the subject of “cyberchondria.”  That’s when you research medical symptoms on the Internet, and 20 minutes later you start to think that you’ve got a terminal disease.  It’s one of those “duh” studies, but the intention for the research is to create a better system [...]

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Sandy Gave Me Her Notice

November 25, 2008

Today, my personal assistant went and quit on me. It was a pretty good deal for me.  I’d send her e-mails and tweets with events and to-dos. She’d send daily agendas, would remind me of things via tweets, text messages and e-mail, and I never forgot a thing.  She made me more proactive and task-oriented.  [...]

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