Malcolm Gladwell Is #Wrong


By Maria Popova

From the Change Observer:

Malcolm Gladwell’s take on social media is like a nun’s likely review of the Kama Sutra — self-righteous and misguided by virtue of voluntary self-exclusion from the subject. But while the nun’s stance reflects adherence to a moral code, Gladwell’s merely discloses a stubborn opinion based on little more than a bystander’s observations.

Gladwell, who has built a wildly successful career curating and synthesizing other people’s research for the common reader’s consumption, has been surprisingly remiss in examining the social web’s impact on various forms of activism. In a recent New Yorker article, in fact, he declared that “the revolution will not be tweeted” — that social media are practically useless when it comes to serious activism. While I don’t question his remarkable intelligence or unique talent — I fully subscribe to the work of psychologist Howard Gardner, whose latest book, Five Minds for the Future, demonstrates the value of the kind of synthesizer mind Gladwell possesses — I find it incongruous for a man who has abstained from participation in social media to weigh in on their value for civic action. (Gladwell has a page on Facebook but not a profile. He exists on the site much as Van Gogh does: you can’t “friend” him but you can “like” him. The profiles set up in his name, as Gladwell himself points out, are phonies created by someone else.)

Gladwell’s argument rests on two main ideas: first, that the social web is woven of what he calls “weak ties” between people, whereas activism is driven by “strong ties.” Second, that social networks are inherently devoid of hierarchy, which is central to the success of any organized civic movement. There is certainly strong sociological evidence to support the latter parts of both statements, but his claims about the nature of online social networks are myopic, occluded by highly selective evidence.

“Malcolm Gladwell Is #Wrong”, Maria Popova, Change Observer