Todd Lyden



SocMed/App Enthusiast

Monday, October 11, 2010

Gladwell's Ties That Bind
Social Media Landscape
Image by fredcavazza via Flickr
Gladwell is wrong.

I will use Mark Schaefer's fairly succinct summary to explain Gladwell's argument about social media and activism:
"Social media will not be the agent of social change that many say it will be because it is built on a network of weakly-connected links and lacks a central leadership structure.  He compares the passive changes built on social networks with the risky and courageous acts needed to confront racism in the U.S. in the 1960s."
I'll quote the end of Gladwell's piece where he takes Clay Shirky to task: 
"Shirky considers this model of activism an upgrade. 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.
Shirky ends the story of the lost Sidekick by asking, portentously, “What happens next?”—no doubt imagining future waves of digital protesters. But he has already answered the question. What happens next is more of the same. A networked, weak-tie world is good at things like helping Wall Streeters get phones back from teen-age girls. Viva la revoluciĆ³n."

This is weak. Comparing a system of tools, to the actual REVOLUTION itself, is patently unfair. Gladwell only really cites a few examples of over fluffed cases of the Iranian and Moldavian elections in 2009. Those were admittedly fluff, but what he neglects to take into consideration is that in this world of sound bites and short attention spans, the TECHNOLOGY that allowed for a quick response (not the social media networks he grills) is what ASSISTED the end result.
Social media, or the weak networks did not take it down, it was the media being used and the technology.
Do you not think that MLK Jr. wouldn't have wanted a Blackberry with all his closest allies emails and phone numbers on it to get them somewhere fast?
Or that they would not like something to record every action like EVERY cell phone now has?
Mark Schaefer comes to Gladwell's defense:
But what Gladwell is saying, and what I am expanding upon, is that a systematic re-conditioning of our children is occurring.  They could be losing the very behaviors required to participate in dramatic social change.

Hopefully, we will always have individuals willing to lead.  But will we raise a generation of children courageous enough to follow?  Courageous enough to risk criticism, risk a reputation —  or even a life — in the name of truly revolutionary change?
Seriously? This is as deep as it gets? The assumption is that our children who are growing up around wi-fi, cell phones, and 24/7 internet video downloads are going to have trouble mustering the strength to rebel when the time comes?
I would dare say a large part of the problem is less that they lack the activism, but rather when you draw a comparison to the evils of long term segregation to the evils of what children and today's "activists" see, it is VERY hard to see something to rally behind as you did in the 60s. Each one now can create a blog, Youtube channel, etc. It dilutes the capital needed, but it does not remove the leadership or following capability. 
Granted, we can talk about the long term implications that might arise from poor communication skills, but the truth is not EVERYONE functions off the internet or their cell phone. But that said, it does not mean that those weak ties might not eventually BECOME stronger.
Look at the AMERICAN REVOLUTION- we specifically WANTED less stronger ties and yet, here we are.

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