Brian Bailey Preface to the Revised Edition

The Validation Generation

Neil Strauss wrote a great piece for the Wall Street Journal in July, The Insidious Evils of ‘Like’ Culture. You’ll want to read the whole thing, but we can start with this:

“Like” culture is antithetical to the concept of self-esteem, which a healthy individual should be developing from the inside out rather than from the outside in. Instead, we are shaped by our stats, which include not just “likes” but the number of comments generated in response to what we write and the number of friends or followers we have.

We are the Validation Generation. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Dribbble and endless other sites are powered by intoxicating feedback loops. We don’t lack for confidence, but it’s a shallow confidence built on the shifting sands of social approval, a temporary high. The pursuit of ego gratification is addictive, but unsatisfying. I know this from experience, from counting comments and checking my site traffic over the years to comparing Twitter followers.

Anyone remember Technorati? When blogging first became a thing, Technorati ranked the most popular blogs. People would mention being in the Top 100 in their bios and fight feverishly to retain their place.

The latest example of this is Klout, a service that attempts to measure your online influence and assign it a score. If you want a revealing look at where the search for validation leads, read their post on recent changes to their ranking algorithm. Then grab a bottle of your favorite beverage and dive into the comments, many like this one:

My score dropped about 16 points overnight. If that’s because of a new algorithm, then fine. However, it does not make any sense whatsoever that my score now shows a steady decline in the past 30 days when it was showing a steady or improving score the past 30 days with the old scoring system. A little disheartening to know I have worked very hard to tweet engaging, relevant content at least once per hour throughout the day and force myself to use Google+ and Facebook to improve my score.

Some of this is the simple fact that if you assign a score to anything, a group of people will become obsessed with raising it. But at the heart of the Validation Generation is the question of how we view what we create.

Anytime you create something (and I’m including everything from tweets, posts, and photos to the work we do), there are two ways to look at the result: what you think about what you created and what everyone else thinks about it. What I see more and more is that what everyone else thinks is determining what we think, and that isn’t healthy.

Feedback and compliments are a wonderful thing, even when they’re as effortless as a Twitter retweet or tapping a heart next to an Instagram photo. It’s just that the two things have to remain distinct from one another. If you love what you wrote, the lack of a response or even a negative response shouldn’t change that. If the photo makes you smile, it doesn’t matter if it makes anyone else smile.

Approval from others shouldn’t determine how you feel about what you created.

I aspire to such a blissful state, but it’s completely unnatural for me. Like an alcoholic who avoids tempting situations, I’ve found it best to not even open the door. This site has no stats, Google Analytics, Disqus comments, or FeedBurner counts. There are no Like buttons or +1 icons.

None of this means that those things are bad in themselves or that I’m not interested in what you think. Hit me up on Twitter or send me an email (brianbailey at gmail) — I’d love to hear from you.

It’s only about answering the question that’s hung over me for the past few years:

Is it possible to write and create for no other reason than I have something to say?