Citizen Brain

Accountability Over Anonymity

There is an emerging need to forge, manage, and even guard our digital alter egos. How we choose to meet this challenge will directly shape the culture of our online communities. We can allow the web to become a virtual Las Vegas with a hedonistic anonymity that leads to a “what-happens-online-stays-online” attitude. Or, we can think more like citizens and build a community based on shared authenticity and accountability.

Recent technological advances have provided amazing opportunities to reinvent ourselves and find new connections in ever-growing networks. It has opened the door for many to become whoever they’ve always wanted to be. One hilarious idea can make you an instant celebrity on YouTube. Starting a blog can gain you a legion of loyal readers. But this new found freedom is a call to be creative, to be ourselves, and to be authentically good citizens.

What makes you credible and interesting is your unique personality. Your background. Your perspective.

Loose Lips Sink Ships

You’ve no doubt heard horror stories of people being fired or dumped over a single indiscretion online. Some folks in the ensuing discussion will vehemently insist on the need for increased anonymity and privacy on the web. They will advocate the creation of clean email accounts, cryptic screen-names, and non-discernable profile pictures. Remain ambiguous and you can say whatever you want without the possibility of negative repercussions—problem solved!

Not so fast. Turns out, the real people, warts included, are the real heart of social web.

Shine a Light

In part, this explains why MySpace languishes while Facebook continues to grow. After a certain point, no one on MySpace seemed real any more. All ties with the known universe were severed and it just felt like a lame Halloween party. This was great at first, but the buzz of anonymity quickly turned into a hangover. Facebook has plenty of shortcomings, but the fact that it’s tethered to existing (read trusted) networks in the real world is a huge key to it’s success.

One of the foundational bonds of any sustainable community is a shared code of conduct that is adopted and enforced together. It’s worked on Craigslist and countless other self-moderated websites and it will work across the broader social web.

Sadly, there are people in places like Iran and China who must maintain a certain level of anonymity for reasons of personal safety. But even in these places, you can see traces of the underlying need for authenticity. When a dissident rant emerges on a website belonging to a known individual, it’s much more likely to make the jump from Twitter to CNN and be regarded as meaningful, actionable journalism. People with hidden motives operate in the shadows, but honest citizens are happy to stand in the light.

Masking our true identity online is extremely harmful to the future of social media. At the end of the day, the actual people associated with online identities are what make them relevant, trustworthy, and worth investing in. I have very little interest in building relationships with people living in a world without consequence. Therefore, I propose that we opt for online citizenship. In the short-term, this will be less fun. A sweeping, self-inflicted reduction in jackassery. Long-term, though, I think we’ll all be okay with less of this sort of content, and get used to people behaving more like—well—actual people.

You Are What You Tweet

I’m certainly not envisioning a world free of smut, spam and slander. There will still be plenty of content online you wish you hadn’t seen. But when it comes to standards for interaction, I’m proposing a middle-ground. A cooperation for our common sanity. You need to be okay with not posting venomous rants about your boss, and your boss needs to be okay with you uploading pictures of your recent trip to Cancun. This authenticity thing goes both ways. Real people drink beer. Real people have messy relationships. Collectively, we’re just going to have to be okay with that.

That said, there will be consequences for the content you choose to publish. If you post images of you using illicit substances or tweet about patronizing the local gentleman’s club, be prepared for us to know you’ve done those things—and expect for them to have ramifications with your employer and perhaps your spouse. Let your actions be consistent with the person you want to be. That way you can claim ownership for your identity both on- and offline. If you have no taste, no self-control, or no sense of boundaries, this will be a problem for you—but I’m guessing it already is.

For most of us, allowing our realities to show through while striving to be good citizens will go a long way toward fostering an authentic and sustainable community.

Step One

You should be ready to accept that what you make by accident may be more beautiful than what you make on purpose.

Equatorial Sun

Spent some time after Thanksgiving on the white sandy beaches of Costa Rica with our dear friends, Adam and Ashley. The relaxed lifestyle and sheer beauty of the flora and fauna down there make for a really wonderful time.

There are a few more snapshots in this set on Flickr. Can’t wait to go back!


tweeterWriting about Twitter has been quite fashionable recently and questions surrounding its rightful place in the social media pyramid and its viability as a money-maker have certainly been the blog du jour. I’ve read pieces about everything from the inherent narcissism of micro-blogging to the productivity-sapping potential of tweeting on the job. All of that may or may not be true, but to me Twitter appears to be a step in the right direction.

Full Circle

At the turn of the last century, different questions were on the minds of early-early-adopters surrounding the great communication innovation of their day: the telegraph. For the first time, short bursts of specific information could be transmitted over great distances. Prior to this technological breakthrough, news and information could travel only as fast and far as a horse or train could carry it. Suddenly and wonderfully, it was possible to speak to the world in an instant.

Needless to say, people were hooked and the pursuit of new modes for global communication pretty much exploded. The sharing of ideas and information, plus the thrill of staying on the cusp of new developments, is the engine that drove the media revolution from telegraph to telephone, radio to television, to email, web forums, chat, blogs, online gaming, etc.

The telegraph has slowly gone the way of the dodo. Western Union finally discontinued all of its telegram services at the end of January 2006 — ironically, only a month or so before the launch of a new kind of tiny revolution called Twitter.

Saying a Whole Lot of Nothing

I have long felt that in our drive to share every aspect of our lives with each other, there must exist a tipping point into the absurd.  A place where we’re so preoccupied with logging and transmitting, we forget to do any living. Web communities like MySpace and Facebook represent the high water mark for non-traditional sociology and virtual communities. Hundreds of thousands of people with little or no shared history or background invest hours of each day to collaborate, admire, criticize and ogle each others ideas, interests, and spring break photos.

There is certainly some value to be had in this “community casserole” approach, but as someone who still likes to make calls on a phone, take pictures with a camera, and listen to music on a stereo, I love the purity of purpose that Twitter offers. Wading into FaceSpace, I often find myself wishing I could take someone’s 90 favorite bands, 32 videos, 16 photo albums, 9 notes, and 25 random things and distill them down into 140 meaningful little characters.

The Beauty of Less

My hope — and the reason for yet another post about Twitter — is that we might be starting to realize that when it comes to social media, old Mies was right: Less really is more. I would estimate that on average, Twitter saves me about an hour on the phone and two hours writing and reading emails per week. Not to mention sifting through RSS feeds or blog posts looking for new inspiration. That stuff adds up. If we can learn to get our global news and community fix, and end up with more time for dinner with our families or coffee with an old friend, wouldn’t life be that much richer? Whether you use twitter for sharing information (“just passing it along”), journaling (“here’s what I did today”), or self-promotion (“look what I made”) — or like me, a mix of all three, there is much to see and say 140 characters at a time.

Truly, Twitter’s blessing is its brevity.

One Way Ticket

craig_kyleOne of Einbahn’s own, Craig Williams, needs some help.
Just this week, he learned that his mom’s battle against breast cancer has come down to what’s likely to be the final months. It’s spread to her brain and the doctors are encouraging the family to gather to celebrate one last Thanksgiving together.

Trouble is, he’s in Los Angeles and his mom, Kyle, is here in Virginia. Craig and his wife are scrambling to sell what they can, pack what they can’t, and get back to the east coast as quickly as possible. I know times are tight and getting tighter, but I would ask you to consider helping them get back home. Overused, I know, but look at it this way: $2.50 buys you a cup of coffee. Alternatively, it could buy a gallon of gas for Craig.

Here’s the blog he’s set up for donations and more information. There’s also a group on Facebook if you want to show your support. Either way, please send up a prayer for Craig and his family.

Better Than Good

GOOD WebsiteRecently launched, GOOD magazine’s reworked (and relocated) interactive component raises the bar on everything a website should be. Three reasons is one of the best sites on the web today:

    Elegant, intuitive and innovative: surprises the user with its familiar interface and infinitely flexible layout. Bold graphics and photography contrast with the subdued tones of the site itself. If you’ve ever picked up the magazine, you’ll immediately notice that they did a fantastic job of translating that same look and feel onto the web. WordPress has rarely looked this good.
    All this snazzy design is really just a beautiful (albeit extremely usable) container for the loads of awesome media and content that gets pumped onto the site. One of things I like most is that the user experience is rewarding whether or not you’re a magazine subscriber, and it does more than just pressure you to become a subscriber. Even the advertising is tasteful, relevant and unobtrusive.
    Go to Click “Choose GOOD”. Then select the amount of money you’d like to pay for a subscription to their excellent magazine (from $1 to $1,000). Now, GOOD will give 100% of that money to the participating sponsor of your choice. The simplicity of the idea is simultaneously baffling and inspiring. This is what web can should do. Earn the eyes… then do some good!

The Latest Addition

This is Lola.
She’s the newest member of the Bryant clan and we adopted her through Ring Dog Rescue here in Richmond. If you’re considering getting a pup—I’d definitely recommend checking these guys out.


Since Jack Left

Hard to believe it’s been a year since you called
your last family reunion. The one at the hospital.

Pretending to be a tough guy.
Eating pizza and shooting pool and trying hard
not to remember that you were dying. Then you did.

The long, blurry line of black cars and black suits and old uncles.
We carried you down from the Baptist church and wore dark sunglasses
And tried to be like you. Tried to be men.

When we got home, no one would sit in your chair. It was too soon.
Football in the swampy yard with saw-horse end zones and broken hearts.

I know you’re up there fishing that no-limit river
Where the mountains rub against the sky.
And I know you’ve got Red and Gary to help with the boat,
But sometimes I wish I could sit with you awhile, again
Just to watch the lines.

Into the West

journey_arrow.gifThis past Monday, I started a new position with Journey Group, Inc. in Charlottesville, Virginia.
I’m looking forward to gaining a deeper understanding of print design & the process behind high-quality production. Journey has some really terrific clients including the United States Postal Service and World Vision magazine.

For the time being, I’ll be commuting over an hour each way, so we’ll be looking to move in the not-too-distant future. Good thing gas is so cheap and houses are selling like hot cakes…

Cult of Objectivity

massimo.jpgThis afternoon I had the great pleasure of listening to a living legend: the incorrigible Massimo Vignelli.
He spoke at the Grace Street Theater in Richmond on his life and practice, most prominently the iconic work of Vignelli Associates.

I came away refreshed and newly inspired. He discussed his usual fare: long-term clients, limited typefaces, working on the grid, expansive range and the pursuit of timelessness. Something he knows a thing or two about.

“I see graphic design as the organization of information that is semantically correct, syntactically consistent and pragmatically understandable. I like it to be visually powerful, intellectually elegant, and above all timeless.”

Massimo Vignelli (1931…)

Just Your Type

pentagramcal.jpgLooking for the perfect gift for that hard to please typophile on your list?

Well, look no further. You’ll be sure to squeeze their serif with this 2008 wall calendar from my dear friends at Pentagram. They’ve produced a desk/wall version (12 x 18) and a fantastic super-sized version (23 x 33) featuring a different typeface for each month of the year. They have them for sale over at And to those of you who think this post belongs in Obsolescent, I have only one thing to say: iCal can’t touch this… ever.

Touch & Go


The only way to claim the fertile ground is to break away from the pack and move beyond the frontier. Find things that you think are magical and rip them to shreds. That way you can see their guts.

Before the holiday, I had the pleasure of guest lecturing for a History of Design class up at JMU. I primarily focused on full-scope branding and the amazing opportunities that await young designers who are willing to push the envelope. More and more, I’m seeing the web and interactive media as our design Xanadu. Inspired by the recent writings of Armit, Khoi and Jeremy, I really wanted to get the students to project the epic scale of the design giants they’ve been studying (folks like Eames & Rand) into their own work and embrace the possibility that they could be the one to create the metaphorical IBM logo or Lounge Chair in this new media.