Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Malcolm Gladwell - Small Change

In keeping with my theme of social networks this week, here is Malcolm Gladwell's essay Small Change. The thesis of which is "Social media can’t provide what social change has always required." It's interesting to consider the recent attacks on Mastercard, Visa, Paypal, Tumblr, Gawker (etc.) as forms of political protest in light of Malcolm Gladwell's writing on this generation's digitally 'weak political ties'. Gladwell believably makes a case that today's youth are incapable of forming the strong ties necessary to withstand police violence and citizen hatred because the nature of their relations with each other online are emotionally weak and structurally decentralized. He describes the 'successful' radical movements of the 60's and 70's as having a centralized structure of command with clearly identified roles for each member. Using examples like the P.L.O. and Al Quaeda, Gladwell calls these decentralized political resistance groups scattered and prone to quarreling due to confusion over leadership roles. Gladwell believes social networks like Facebook encourage apathy among users and foster an unwillingness to make real life commitments on the level of a Civil Rights protester willing to potentially die for her peers and cause. Whether these more psychological claims are true is beyond me, but one could agree with Gladwell's typification of apathy and still see the potential of the internet's young users to be a political force to be reckoned with. It is a quantity/quality distinction I'm making. We're beginning to see how a perhaps-lesser degree of involvement from 100,000 averagely-politically-invested internet users can create disruptions on scale with several hundred religiously dedicated protesters in real life. Just like recent developments in micro-economics and studies of 'the long tail', this exceedingly large pool of activists draws from the minor contributions of many instead of the fierce proclamations of few. I'm interested to see developments in the mobilization of this politically-dissatisfied group and the evolution of their methods for protest. If I'm not feeling too apathetic, I may just join them.

Read Gladwell here