September 27th, 2010

Gladwell on Social Media and Revolution

Malcom Gladwell, columnist for the New Yorker magazine and author of books The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers, has jumped into the social media conversation with his latest column in the New Yorker.

In this article, Gladwell argues that social media networks reduce the possibility of revolution rather than enabling it:

“But it is simply a form of organizing which favors the weak-tie connections that give us access to information over the strong-tie connections that help us persevere in the face of danger. It shifts our energies from organizations that promote strategic and disciplined activity and toward those which promote resilience and adaptability. It makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact. The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo. If you are of the opinion that all the world needs is a little buffing around the edges, this should not trouble you. But if you think that there are still lunch counters out there that need integrating it ought to give you pause.”

Gladwell uses examples from the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s to demonstrate this point.  However, much has changed since that time.  Imagine the movement’s potential participation with technology that allowed the messages to spread faster and farther.  Perhaps change would not have taken so long.  Perhaps violence would have been avoided.  Perhaps our revolutions today should not be judged by the revolutions of yesterday.

The merits of social media are also acknowledged by Gladwell, albeit only briefly:

“Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world.”

Read the article and share your thoughts.  It will be interesting to hear the response from social media advocates.

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