Category Archives: social media

“The Good Side of Social Media”: article from Pubblicita Italia magazine, featuring Tim Brauhn

They even used my crazy beardo pic. Awesome.

In case you missed the other posts in the series, I traveled to Italy in June at the behest of the United States Department of State to present a series of lectures about interreligious dialogue, social media, and immigration/integration on the Italian peninsula. It was an incredible tour. The kind fellows at Televisionet.TV even produced a short video (pretty groovy) at one of my stops. I sat down for a quick interview with Andrew Crocioni from Pubblicita Italia magazine. Little did I know, my bearded mug would soon grace the glossy pages of a major Italian publication. Here’s a shot of the spread (only a few pages away from the cover story about Edward Norton):

I asked Mr. Crocioni for a transcript, which arrived promptly (in Italian), so what follows is the best translation that I could muster. My thanks go out to Andrea and the great crew at Pubblicita Italia for putting this together and making me feel like a really glamorous international star. Read on, friends:

The good side of social [media]

by: Andrea Crocioni

Summary: An interfaith activist and expert on American digital networks, for years Tim Brauhn has been committed to promoting social use of the Internet, convinced that a multiethnic and multicultural society functions only if a dialogue is established between its various components. But can this process really be accelerated thanks to the ‘shortcut’ technology of social media? We talked with him as a guest of the Milan Italo-Moroccan Youth Group.

Blue call-out box: “You have to build a narrative about something shared, a common theme, regardless of the personal past of each person/community.”

Blue call-out box: “Young people can play a crucial role as a bridge between different cultures.”

“Today, social integration also occurs through the intelligent use of technology,” says Tim Brauhn, interfaith activist and expert on American digital networks. He is in Italy as a guest of the Milan Italo-Moroccan Youth Group (CGIM) and the U.S. Embassy in Italy for a number of seminars. A vegetarian, cyclist, big tea drinker, Tim looks like a tireless globetrotter and promoter of the social use of digital networks. He’s an expert in interreligious dialogue and is the Director of Operations for The 1010 Project, a humanitarian agency in Denver, Colorado.

He spoke of recognizing the way that the Catholic minority in the United States was treated (poorly) by the Protestant majority in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Brauhn (himself a Catholic) recognized the discrimination against Muslim communities and other religious minorities in his country, the same ‘ghettoization’ that had happened to his community in the early decades of the last century. It must be remembered, in fact, that some anti-immigrant movements, such as the Know Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan, were also deeply anti-Catholic. Hence his commitment to promoting dialogue and peaceful coexistence between members of different religious faiths. “The most important thing,” says Tim Brauhn, “is to connect people around an idea ‘typical’ of the community, in the broadest sense of the term. You have to build a narrative about something shared, a common theme, regardless of the personal past of each person/community. Also, I think it is import to bring your message to the people wherever they are located, and not vice versa so that both people to come to you.”

According to the American aid worker, therefore, you need to put things on the ‘table’ that can unite, rather than focusing on the differences. “Dialogue can take a variety of forms: questions related to shared values ​​which I mentioned earlier, the cultural elements that are present in the country for a long time, but also on other topical issues that unite us, such as the debt crisis or themes that we know well: environmentalism, road safety … topics on which we all want to have our say, as part of a community. In this context, young people can play a crucial role as a bridge between different cultures.” said Brauhn. In all this technology proves to be not only an amplifier, but an accelerator of the messages. Just think of the Arab Spring that saw the network become the protagonist of the political revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East. Seems more complex, however, to be able to use social networks to build a constructive dialogue between different cultural and religious communities on a daily basis. “We must all become the storyteller,” says Brauhn. “Today we have new tools, just think of how they have changed our lives, like Twitter or Facebook, but behind it all there are always stories. We have news, events, feelings, to communicate with new media, but at the center is the narrative, the real driving force able to mobilize the people.”

From this activist American, then, comes a message of hope for the future, even if behind the incredible flow of information that pass through the web and social networks are hidden also many pitfalls. Online we can move virtually without filters, including hundreds of millions of blogs and multimedia content of all sorts are uploaded constantly. YouTube adds over 60 hours of new video every minute, for instance.

“The social networking tools at our disposal facilitate relations between individuals, but in parallel make it easier to transmit negative messages, racist or xenophobic – precisely – for this to be used with a sense of responsibility. Today it is easy to tell a lie, but sooner or later the lie is bound to be discovered, because the network has its own antibodies. The web is a space where you can verify the information in a few minutes. So I say that there can not be limited to passive users, but please be scrupulous in their search for information and checking them.” But in this process of democratization the benefits are still above the critical issues. “Social media has transformed the way journalists network, for instance.” says Brauhn “We went from monologue to dialogue. So when we come to the digital world it is essential to be honest and tell the truth, the only way to establish oneself and become a credible voice. Those who speak the truth will prevail over those who are purveyors of negative messages and discriminatory attitudes. The important thing is to never let these voices prevail, and to take steps to ensure that they remain ‘strangled’ in the great chorus of integration and civil society.”

My State Department Lectures in Italy: Activism and Change

Reblogged with permission from

On my recent speaking tour in Italy, I presented six lectures in eight days to NGO representatives, ethnic media journalists, and minority community leaders to discuss best practices for social web tools and movement-building in general. In an earlier post I wrote about some of the big conversations that I had with Italians, but now that I’m removed from the tour by a few weeks, I’ve ferreted out a few more reflections about what I saw and heard.

1. The extensive history/proliferation of civil society organizations (NGOs, regional/city nonprofits, etc.) in the United States is not mirrored in Italy, with the exception of faith-based institutions. The Catholic Church has done that heavy lifting for a while, apparently. American social sector development as of late has revolved around the buzzword “collaboration,” and this movement is gaining traction in Italy, too. Italian nonprofits are finding each other and working together. Organizations promoting dialogue and/or action with the “other” will have to struggle at first, but there is plenty of room to grow.

2. At times during Q&A sessions, my audiences were quite vocally frustrated with the glacial pace of reform in Italy. They described cases of personal and community discrimination. They heaped scorn upon Italian media for its complicity in promoting xenophobia, and wondered why other Italians weren’t interested in having simple dialogue with them. These conversations could just as easily have taken place in America. I felt that frustration, which seems a dominant undercurrent in young people globally. We’ve got all these tools and all of this intelligence and the capacity to network across vast distances to solve huge problems, but we’re held back by old (and generally white) men.

3. The Arab Spring offered a glimpse of these frustrated young people employing social media to organize, share, and connect. Let’s not forget the other examples of the powerful nexus of protest movements, youth, and social media: Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Colombia, England, China, and Occupy. The increase of social web density across the world will have an incredibly powerful impact on how we run future mass information campaigns. This is not only about “flattening” and democratizing media; I think that the real change zone will be bringing people together around issues of common concern. I spoke about this in a web video filmed during my last lecture in Milan. In a place like Egypt, for instance, which has clear minority and majority populations in terms of religion, class, and education, social tools allow people to promote a common cause (in this case, revolution) without having to agree personally on everything else. Digital coalitions, perhaps?

It’s like an analogy of interfaith work: We may not all have the same idea of what happens when we die, but we can certainly work together on the important things before then.

I was stunned at the readiness of the young Italians that I met. They won’t stop agitating for full representation and civil rights. They may have Moroccan or Senegalese or Romanian ancestry, but they are Italian through and through. I especially sensed (and observed firsthand) young Catholics’ eagerness to work with their fellow Italians across faith lines. The country’s de facto gerontocracy, and the frustration that young people feel as a result of it, has brought them together just as much as issues of civil rights. There is change in Italy’s future, and it will come from the second-generation children of immigrants.

My State Department Lectures in Italy: Social Networks and Social Narratives In the Digital Era

Update: You can see some photos of me looking terrifying during the talk here, courtesy of Paolo Ricotti of Giornale dei Lavoratori.

I usually finish public presentations with a bit of an endorphin rush and energy for some hours afterward. It would appear that I’ve found a way to extend that feeling: consecutive translation from English to a foreign language.

I’m in Milan in northern Italy traveling as a Speaker and Specialist Grantee on behalf of the United States Department of State’s Bureau of International Information. Whew. I was summoned through my involvement with the Interfaith Youth Core‘s Alumni Speakers Bureau, and sure enough, I’ve already found myself talking quite a bit about interreligious dialogue.

My inaugural presentation on my inaugural day in Italy was held at the headquarters of ACLI (Christian Associations of Italian Workers), a network of organizations committed to work and social development like peacebuilding and entrepreneurship. My handlers from the US Consulate met me and walked me out to a local trattoria for a wonderful lunch. ACLI’s training department head was there, as well as a local imam (the funniest imam in Milan, as he was introduced to me), representatives from Yalla Italia, and some other consular staff. My recommendation: Check out Yalla Italia (with Google Translate installed). They are doing amazing work to publicize and connect the various immigrant communities in Italy. YI and its people totally rock.

I had some wonderful conversations at lunch (so much food) and on the walk to ACLI. As it was told to me, 12.5% of Italy’s GDP comes from businesses run by immigrants. That’s incredible. All the more incredible is Italy’s lack of useful or comprehensive immigration laws. Most immigrants aren’t citizens, which means that they can’t vote, which means that they can’t “elect their own”, which means that their representation stays nonexistent in the Parliament, which means that the immigration laws don’t change. Some of my meetings on this journey will focus on immigration reform and the messaging that goes along with it.

My presentation at ACLI was well-attended, with a wildly diverse audience: NGO folk, independent journalists, young and old people, and civic leaders. I talked a lot about storytelling and social narrative, pausing after every few sentences to wait for my amazing translator to catch up with me. The Q&A was twice as long as the presentation, which I view as a win. It felt that they “got it”.

I faced some tough questions, though, many about the frustration that organizations and individuals feel when using social networks and not seeing immediate return on their time investment. The density and penetration of the social tools that I take for granted in the US are different here. I had a blast, and as I mentioned earlier, I found that consecutive translation, aside from giving me a pause to gather my next (brilliant?) thought also extends the “speaker’s rush” that I feel. Part of my positivity comes from knowing that I’ve also learned a lot in a short period about the ways that the social web organizes people here. I’ll apply those learnings at my next meeting.

I leave in the morning for Rome and a non-stop schedule that will take me from there to Florence then back to Milan. Hopefully I will be able to check in like this after each meeting. Until then, ciao!

PBS Frontline – Digital Nation

“Over the past 20 years, the net has changed from a thing one does to the way one lives.” – Doug Rushkoff, Digital Nation

I made it a point to sit myself down for 90 full minutes and watch PBS Frontline’s “Digital Nation”. The video played in full-screen so that I couldn’t even see my various notifications pop up. Aside from one stray text message to my girlfriend, I even stayed off the phone. Given the subject matter at hand, I think that this is an entirely commendable thing, given that the digital native- HEY LOOK A FUNNY CAT VIDEO!!1! OMGZADORBZ!!

Ahem. The subject matter of Digital Nation is familiar to us. Is the internet making us stupider or smarter, and depending on how you answer that, which kind of stupider or smarter is it making us? Is multitasking real, and are the Gen Y/Digital Native generations really prepared to make it in a world where talking on the phone, emailing, and IMing all happen at once? Aside from a too-long chapter at the end dealing with our military’s Predator drone fixation (dehumanizing combat through computers), the film really put together all the contemporary issues and laid them out before us, with nifty researchers and thought leaders all weighing in. Note: “Digital Nation” was released in February 2010 – a bazillion tweet-years ago – so even its scope of things is limited.

Is the future of the internet and our life on it scary?

Hells yes it’s scary. I was born near the far end of Gen Y (1983), where we really only dipped our toes into the web-water midway through adolescence. It wasn’t really until my junior/senior year in college that I developed a healthy addiction (not shy about using that word) to all things digital. Some of the Millennials interviewed during the film were the kind that I like to make fun of: folks who “can’t live without” their mobile device, students who have not recently, and probably never will again, read a full book, and game-addicted loners.

That being said, I have had gaming problems in the past, spend far too much time reading online when I should be buried in a book, and just recently took the plunge into smartphoneland. Check out my pre-Droid X post about the Incursion Lifestyle.

But the people in the film seemed to be taking this stuff way too far. They were asked “Are you a kick-ass multitasker?” Naturally, they all responded “YEAH!” because they can tweet, email, chat and read SparkNotes all at the same time. I call bullshit, and so do researcher at Stanford who show that the time that it takes for the brain to switch tracks slows the mind down so far as to make analytic reasoning more difficult.

The bright side of being connected

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, of course. Many of the guests (including the loopy creator of Second Life) extolled the virtues of the connected life. There was surprisingly little chat about the great ways in which the social web has helped us get to know one another. Even though the film has a big section on WoW and Everquest gamers connecting IRL, there was no discussion of the advent of social media and what it means for journalism, disaster response, and activism (sometimes all at once!).

The overarching tenor of the film, for me, seemed to be the idea that we truly are moving towards, if not a fully bifurcated existence, at least one where our internet selves take the place of our real selves very often. All in all, it was a remarkably simplistic overview, perfect for the casual viewer, but not enough to make me either smash my “personal computer” or fully wire up Lawnmower Man style.

I don’t know where it’s all headed. I just hope that we can get along responsibly and with integrity, online and off.

“Jumping brain” courtesy of Flickr user lapolab.

Is brand loyalty really just brand ignorance?

Do we make decisions about what to buy or who to support based on rational calculations of value, craftsmanship, and cost, or are we simply ignorant about alternatives? What does Twitter have to do with all of this? Hint: if I don’t mention Twitter, no one will pay attention. 🙂

Built Ford tough, not like wimpy Chevrolets

Brand loyalism is often seen as both virtue and weakness. Think about people who bought nothing but increasingly-expensive, gas-guzzling General Motors monsters for years. Their loyalty brought pain, not just on themselves, but on the nation as a whole. Meanwhile, some family that bought a Honda fifteen years ago is still driving that Honda (and getting amazing mileage, to boot). Loyalty to a trademark helps create a stable market for that particular trademark, but it’s also less likely to contribute positively to the macroeconomic flows that make sense for our “free market” system. We stay loyal because…well, who knows?

It’s all that I’ve ever known…

Here’s a possibility: We stay loyal to particular brands because of a bad experience with a competitor, or more likely, we have little or no experience of alternatives. I will swear up and down on Breville products, not simply because of their high price and fine craftsmanship, but because I’ve never used a comparable appliance. I’m ignorantly loyal.

Let’s be sure – ignorant does not mean stupid. It simply shows us that we are willfully ignoring other possibilities. We’ll continue to go to the same mechanic that our parents went to even when we know that the chain store down the street might be cheaper. We trust Bill the Mechanic because he’s Bill the Mechanic.

Donate, donate, donate NOW!

Think about which organizations (or political candidates, for that matter) receive your hard-earned dollars in the form of charitable donations. Why do you give to that particular group? I have never sent a check to Oxfam, an absolutely awesome humanitarian agency. I donate to The 1010 Project instead. Why? Any fundraising professional will tell you that one of the most clear indicators of a person’s likelihood to donate is a personal relationship with the organization, either through a person or general proximity. I worked for some time as a fundraiser for The 1010 Project, so I understand this quite clearly. 🙂

A personal touch

The advent of social media marketing and customer service has, in my opinion, created huge opportunities to increase brand loyalty. In the quintessential example, you take to Twitter/Facebook/blog to bitch about Product X by Company Y, only to have Company Y respond in minutes with an offer to make all things right with your world. You go from being ready to depart from the brand entirely to being glued to them forever for their strong customer service.

I have developed many brand loyalties (if not particular product loyalties, which is a separate conversation) in the past few years. In almost every case, this is because of the personal touch. I drink St. Supery wine because of Rick Bakas and his incessant tweeting about it. I drink mate because of the receptive and socially responsible company Guayaki. I shop at REI because it’s a cooperative and the staff are always ridiculously helpful. My running shoes are Nike because my old roommate Erin refused to run in anything else. I drink GT’s kombucha (when it’s in stores) because…I can’t stop. 🙂

Why are you loyal to a brand?

PS – For an extra deep dive into economic rationality and stuff, check out Tim Nuccio’s post about brand loyalty.

We’re all embedded journalists now

I was thinking about how our overseas “work” during the Global War on Terror came home, as it were, to our televisions with the placement of embedded journalists. These were newspeople who climbed into tanks and ran through the mountains of Afghanistan and the deserts of Iraq with the US military. Being embedded meant becoming truly a part of a fighting unit and not just some goofus with a camera standing hundreds of feet away from the action. They were in the thick of it and it made for pretty interesting coverage. Very often, these reporters were up close and personal with the war. Some of them were injured. Some of them died.

But that’s pretty somber so I’m going to change the subject, sort of.

How are we embedded journalists? Easy – imagine yourself at the Carole King/James Taylor “Troubador” tour (oh, how I wish I was there!) rocking along to the sweet jams. You’re not there as a person covering the event, you’re there to enjoy it. But in this age of easy content production, it’d be not hard at all for you to put together a short video of your experience or, at the very least, a nifty little review on your blog or another music website.

Political rallies, monster truck rallies, monster movie screenings, and screen door factory workers’ strikes are all places where we can, by dint of our presence/participation (depending), become a piece of the action. UStream and its ilk allow us to effectively become live coverage of the things that matter to us, like the King/Taylor concerts. 🙂

Riots in your neighborhood? Head on over there for the exclusive scoop! Alien invasion? Get over to the landing site and get an interview with Krex-Kulab the Galactic Conqueror. New flavor of Ben and Jerry’s premiering across town? Grab a spoon and a Flipcam and get ready to produce some Pulitzer material!

I realize that the tenor of this post has quickly become a mockery of my original intent, which was to point out that it is easy for us to both produce valuable content and be a part of what we’re up to. As it appears, it might actually be too easy to fully embrace the role of a journalist embedded in LIFE. We’ve all seen perfect examples of the vigilance of those who watch the watchers, or rather, who gawk at the gawkers:

Car vs. pedestrian. Crowd gathers. Cell phones come out. As long as one of them dials 911, the rest are free to film and snap photos.

Protesters protesting something. Stand on the edge of the crowd and upload the shot to Facebook.

OK, so I guess that I’m coming down on the side of citizen-journalism-sucks-and-is-a-sad-consequence-of-technology, which I hadn’t expected to do. Oh well. What do you think?

The problem with “The Problem With Generation Y and Millennials” – A response to Jason Calacanis

I told myself a while ago that I would pay close attention to what Jason Calacanis said; the guy’s as close to tech as you can get and he’s got his brain in lots of different pies. Now, unfortunately, he occasionally offers opinion in some of the pies that he has no business talking about. By “occasionally”, of course, I mean “always”. That’s not a reason to stop reading him, mind you. The last major example, and there are many, was his rant (read: hissy fit) about the “Middle East” and other geopolitical realities that he understands merely by dint of being the Tesla Roadster’s most high-profile cheerleader.

I’ve written before about Calacanis’ misguided attitudes online, especially in regards to the way that he spends his money, and I know that I’m not alone in criticizing him. Normally, I would just bitch to a few other techie friends, but this time it’s personal. Here’s a section of a Calacanis Rant (we should trademark them) where he describes Millennials as  generation whose members have “never lost in their lives”:

I am 26.5 years old. Do I count myself as a Millennial? Yes. I’ve blogged about Millennials and the internet before; it’s something that’s important to me. If blog posts can take the temperature of my generation, I would swear for half of the time that Gen Y is the most selfish, self-involved, and low-achieving group ever; and for the other half that Gen Y is the last, best hope for mankind. Which is it? I’m inclined to think that it’s a mix of both. Jason Calacanis, who is 39 years old and thus not a Millennial, is not of the same mind. He says that we’ve never lost, that we are in fact losers, and that all the great dreams that we have are junk because we are morally and spiritually and imaginationally bankrupt. Watch the video again – his sputtering is positively 19th-century.

Here’s a few observations about Gen Y that he may have missed while he was raking in cash and offering free iPads for new followers ( – on a serious note, this is a neat contest idea) while speeding down the road in his Middle East-less Tesla (let it be known that I would gladly pimp such a vehicle, given the chance):

1. Yes, Jason, Millennials have lost, big time. You cheerfully made up a statistic of 80% of Gen Y people being losers. I’ll cheerfully say that 20% of us were led to believe that participation was, in fact, important, and that winning was secondary to being in the game. Here’s the thing: 80% (another made-up number) of us lost, and lost often. Now, we’re set adrift in a jobs market that is going to affect our long-term income [negatively] forever. Even the 40% of us who were endlessly told that we were winners no matter what don’t seriously believe that. You’d have to be crazy to think that we’re that dim. We know that participation is not the key to “winning”, however you define it, but we do know that being a part of something is sine qua non for being productive and worthwhile.

2. Gen Y has “No motivation, no killer instinct, [and they’re] all on some kind of antidepressant drugs, and they cry in their coffee all day, and they don’t want to win.” We  need to have a killer instinct because Gen Y has more motivation than you think; we know that we’re going up against other people who have used the internet and the information age to democratize the field of information management. We do cry. We don’t all drink coffee. We have to want to win because it’s the only way for us to succeed and outlive the previous generation (unlikely for the first time ever – thanks Gen X for dragging your feet and forgetting to tell your parents to give a shit).

3. Gen Y has a “good worldview, you want to save the planet, that’s all noble…being successful, making money, and being powerful will let you do more good in the world.” Mr. Calacanis, of all people, should know how much impact we can have, even without high levels of “power”, in a world as interconnected as ours.

4. Jason is so angry about the mystical 80% of Gen Y who are screwing up this country, but he’s also angry for them because they are “so stupid, and so lame.” Thanks dude. Super professional. We’re pretty angry, too. We’re angry that people like you, who don’t know who we are, think that you know what we’re about. Keep telling us. We love hearing about how sucky, yet potentially powerful we are.

5. We are losers. Jason has a new mission in life – he wants to take the 80% of Gen Y “losers” and turn them into the 20% of winners who have tech startups that he covers (for his daily bread) and change the world. Awesome! Start spending money to empower Gen Y social entrepreneurs instead of being an angel investor for tech startups whose social benefit is unknown. Help us help you. Here’s a quote from a Millennial friend of mine who works every day with young people focused on social change: “Perhaps he’s [Jason] spent too much time in the tech world.  I invite him to the ground floor to meet grassroots activists working their asses off, harnessing technology to do something useful instead of spewing nonsense.”

6. All of our jobs are going to “Eastern Russian countries”. Again, he’s a master of the geopolitical landscape. (Note: this is a cheap-shot. I also make mistakes when I’m talking quickly without thought.)

7. My mom and dad are “gonna die” and I therefore have no inheritance because they bought nice cars and went on fancy vacations. I cannot even begin to describe the anger and frustration that I feel with this portion of Jason’s rant. I grew up on a farm in northern Illinois. My mom and dad don’t, never have, and never will, make lots of money to buy nice cars. They have never gone on vacation. I watched them make sacrifices to send me to college and I made sacrifices of my own. I’ve never stepped on anybody to get where I am, and I don’t intend on starting. Don’t you goddamn try to tell me about who I am and where I came from.

In short, Gen Y suffers from an overabundance of opinion on both sides. One says that we’re destined for failure because we’re disconnected from reality. The other side says that we can’t possibly fail because we’re digitally empowered and we understand the world between us. I’m seriously inclined to believe that most of us (Jason’s magical 80%) live somewhere in between. We recognize our limitations but we know that we can do a lot to move beyond ourselves and change the world. Maybe do us a favor and stop telling us what we’re about – let us figure it out like your generation had to.

Jason even goes so far as to tell me about my tombstone – the only trophy that I’ll ever get for participation: “It’s not even going to be that big when you get it,” he says. Like many other Millennials, I plan on living forever through the good works and kind deeds and responsible life that I live.

I don’t need your stupid trophy.