Thanks to a quick Huffington Post update on the blogging site, Tumblr I was drawn to read both The New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers) and today’s defense argument by Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter) published by The Atlantic.
Gladwell’s books gain widespread attention for pointing out the obvious little things about everyday life and society that most of us frequently overlook. The Tipping Point tells us how “little things can make a big difference.” However, in an effort to garner attention, Gladwell is quick to argue against conventional wisdom that social media is a powerful tool for change. He suggests the status quo can only be truly challenged and changed by a hierarchical, militarily-like organization. If this viewpoint seems to contradict his first book, perhaps his supporting stories about 1960s civil rights activism are weakened. I still find a glimmer of truth in Gladwell’s argument since there is a distinct difference between passionate demonstrations among racially segregated university students and today’s ineffective, unorganized Facebook group.
Although a network of strangers communicating solely through social media can often fail to produce significant results, an organized group of friends of friends can reach a capacity for change – a tipping point, if you will. So it would seem Biz Stone is correct when he says, “Twitter has become the coordinating platform for many campaigns asserting citizens’ rights”. Of course, we must remember Stone has a clear bias when defending his beloved little blue bird, but at the same time, many large campaigns have been grown and supported with social media. That is where the truth between these arguments lies. Social media is not a vehicle for change to arrive. There are many pit-stops and detours along the way and social media plays a role in communicating thoughts and developing objectives.
Real action still takes place in the streets, outside courthouses, and on city buses, but today the ideas and people who support these beliefs gather online. True, an individuals participation is distant, and their involvement perhaps weaker, but they gather in mass and even powerful governments and large organizations struggle to stand firm when threatened.