Malcolm Gladwell Doesn't Care if You Retweet This
Malcolm Gladwell pees in the social media punch bowl today, with an essay designed to humiliate and/or enrage anyone who thinks that Twitter, Facebook et al can be used to do really significant things.
It’s a bit of a hammer to a fly, really. Because everyone knows, intuitively, that Twitter can’t overthrow governments and that Facebook can’t stop genocide.
But Gladwell spells it out for us, anyway:
The evangelists of social media…seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960…In other words, Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro.
Gladwell doesn’t argue with the idea that Facebook and Twitter are good communication platforms, mind you. But he argues that communication alone doesn’t do anything–getting stuff done takes hard work, structure and person-to-person contact. And in the case of really big things, like the civil rights movement, it takes personal risk.
And social networks can make all of that stuff harder to achieve, he says:
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–or someone using his name and image–does have a Twitter account, by the way. He joined in December 2008, and now has 60,661 followers. He has used the service to send out a grand total of 22 messages. (He does have an interesting blog, although he hasn’t done much with it lately…)
Also: The New Yorker is now available as an iPad app–publisher Condé Nast used the Wired/Adobe (ADBE) template for this one. So, if you feel like shelling out $4.99 for an issue, head to the Apple (AAPL) iTunes store.