There was a time – and that time still reigns supreme in a few small circles – when badges meant status. In cub scouts and the military, the number or type of badges you proudly wear still signify your accomplishments, and therefore your status. Even the modern day tuxedo was styled after military uniforms, to provide the non-military gentleman with a get-up that signified he was noble. Dukes wore sashes made of jewels, similar to modern day pageant queens – fanciful badges denoting status.
But for the most part, and on most occasions, few of us wear badges anymore – except for the insignia we wear on our sleeves. We still pride ourselves on these kinds of badges of course: a Marc Jacobs jacket, Manolo Blahniks and Movado watches. These are adorned with tags worn small but true to signify status purchased by cash, whether hard-earned or not.
Badges Bought With Experience
For people on location-based services such as Foursquare or Gowalla, badges are not paid for with dollars anymore, they are bought with experience.
- Have you been to three bars that had karaoke? You, my friend, get the Don’t Stop Believin’ badge.
- Have you been to five airports? You are a JetSetter and deserve a badge declaring as much.
- Were you at SXSW? Badge me. Were you one of the first? Extra badge.
- Or part of the 250 people who checked-in at the same place at the same time? Then certainly you deserve more badges.
People even crave badges that assign labels that people would not typically flaunt. For example, you can receive a Douchebag badge if you check-in to a location that has been tagged as such. I found myself both insulted and exalted when I received the douchebadge for checking into the movie theater at the Universal City Walk in Orlando. Even though the status could just as easily be considered embarrassing unstatus, I had a strange pride in being the first of my friends to receive the pixeled praise for something I would have considered beyond rude if someone had said to my face.
This was the first time I fully realized the subtle but significant change in how we think about status, and how we quickly we change our behaviors as the rewards for certain behaviors evolve.
Forget the Badge. I Want to Be Mayor
It’s not just badges. It’s also social titles that we fight for. Have you checked in to one place more than any other person? Well, then you don’t just get a badge, you’re crowned as the mayor. Did you add a new location and check in twice before everyone else could? Well then you are a mayor of one, but you are mayor nonetheless.
Have you lost a mayorship and been tempted to jump in your car and “earn” it back right then and there? Have you changed your recommendations for where to go and what to do because you are mayor of a place or want to be?
No. You haven’t yet…and you think it would be ridiculous to do so?
Were you also one of those people who insisted you would never get a cell phone because you didn’t want people to be able to contact you anywhere, anytime? Do you own a cell phone now? Me too. (HT @garyvee)
Just wait, because your status is changing. And soon you will be checking-in everywhere and all the time. Don’t believe me? Bookmark this post and check it again in a year. Or better yet, jump on Hootsuite and schedule a tweet with this link for one year hence. Then let’s talk.
Facebook Status – A Badge of Accomplishment
But still you resist, and insist that you don’t need no stinkin’ badges. Well even the simple act of updating your Facebook status signifies – that’s right – a badge of accomplishment.
Facebook asks “What’s on your mind?” and in doing so beckons you to divulge your thoughts, whims and activities to the world – or at least that strange mix of high school acquaintances, college friends and co-workers who are cool-enough-not-to-be-too-scared-by-the-social-overlap. Your once private thoughts and personal acts become semi-public domain, for friends, family and not-quite-randoms to comment on and make their own.
As soon as you post an item to Facebook, it becomes a status badge that you wear on your stream, as if you were running through a wall made of ticker-tape, with all of your life’s activities written on streamers trailing from your arms, legs, and waist, for all the world to see.
And Facebook isn’t staying on Facebook anymore. In a world where location is status, they’ve (slowly) come to realize that where you are is as important as who you are, what you are thinking or what you are doing. So they’ve started sending decals to shop owners and asked them to place them at the entrance to their stores so that customers can “like” that location when they walk-in. In the process, they are evolving from window shopping to window liking, merging the in-store experience with the online conversation. Facebook has quickly become a crowdsourced and deeply personal but overtly public factbook for the world we live in and everybody in it.
A Thumbnail Tells a Thousand Words
Badges and status don’t have to just be about oversharing the random thoughts that are just as well kept to yourself. They can also be channeled to good purpose.
Last year, I was amazed by the power that a tiny little thumbnail image could have on public discourse. This simple visual badge became imbued with a significance far beyond the 75×75 pixel space it occupies, when thousands of people changed the color of their Twitter thumbnails to green in a sign of solidarity with the people of Iran. Twitter had become an instant Ombudsmen, calling the traditional media to task for not covering the #iranelection and the subsequent crackdown on people fighting for their freedoms.
Watching the Twitter stream cascade into a sea of green in the ensuing days proved to me that the avatars and thumbnails that we choose to represent ourselves could become badges of courage, telling the world where we stand on the most important issues of the day. These simple but compelling acts of impulse advocacy demonstrated to me that social purpose could be status as much as location or experience could be.
We are living in an era of political exhibitionism, wearing our advocacy on our social sleeves through thumbnails, blog badges, cause widgets and more. In fact, I’m surprised there aren’t more socially responsible Foursquare badges beyond the Keep Austin GOOD badge from earlier this year. But perhaps that will change as the notion of status continues to evolve.
Digital Postcards and So Much More
What does this all mean? Status isn’t quite what you wear but where you are, or at least where you choose to tell the world you’ve been. We’re each carrying digital versions of those good ole steamer trunks of yore, papered with postcards from all the exotic places we’ve been, like Chief Ike’s Mambo Room, or the brokedown 24-7 laundromat at the corner of Western and where-the-hell-am-I-anyway…which I’m the mayor of btw, maybe because I’m the only person in there that’s worried about his status at midnight on a Tuesday with four loads of faded insignia to go.
Image credit: tikaro