Malcom Gladwell, Your Slip is Showing

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					Malcom Gladwell, Your Slip is Showing
By Brian Solis, blogger at BrianSolis.com and principal of FutureWorks, Author of the highly
acclaimed book on social business Engage!




Solidarity

Time is always limited, but in these historic times, I wished to add perspective in the hopes of
moving this important conversation in a productive direction.

Malcom Gladwell continues his march toward dissension with his latest installment in the New
Yorker about social media vs. social activism. Honestly, Gladwell is more than welcome to share his
thoughts as it is a democratized information economy after all. I do find it alarming however, that he
is wielding his influence through an equally influential medium to spin intellectual and impressionable
minds in unrewarding and pointless cycles. Is he not listening to opposition or consulting existing
research?

In that case Mr. Gladwell and the like, this is not for you. This is for the people who read your work
and who knowingly and unknowingly contribute to the evolution of media and culture. Perhaps, we
can then better understand our role within this information revolution + evolution.

In his piece in the New Yorker he asks, Does Egypt Need Twitter?

Right now there are protests in Egypt that look like they might bring down the government. There are
a thousand important things that can be said about their origins and implications: as I wrote last fall
in The New Yorker, “high risk” social activism requires deep roots and strong ties. But surely the
least interesting fact about them is that some of the protesters may (or may not) have at one point or
another employed some of the tools of the new media to communicate with one another. Please.
People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before
the Internet came along. Barely anyone in East Germany in the nineteen-eighties had a phone—and
they ended up with hundreds of thousands of people in central Leipzig and brought down a regime
that we all thought would last another hundred years—and in the French Revolution the crowd in the
streets spoke to one another with that strange, today largely unknown instrument known as the
human voice. People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other. How
they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.

Indeed. In the end, it is not how revolutions are organized, it is why they arise and what they change
that matters to the world. Without organization however, the revolutionaries of the future will be


(cc) Brian Solis, www.briansolis.com - Twitter, @briansolis
faced with either progress or defeat. As I’ve always maintained, this current information (r)evolution
that we are experiencing at varying depths globally is less about the technology and more about
sociology and how it is changing our behavior and society as a result. To ignore it or discount it is
absurd and irresponsible.

Good friend Mathew Ingram published a very compelling argument to Gladwell, “It’s Not Twitter or
Facebook, It’s the Power of the Network.” In this thought provoking post he cites Zeynep Tufecki, a
professor of sociology, who studied the revolution in Tunisia and documented how to produce
outcomes through “material,” “efficient,” and “final” causes.

The source of the debate is also its weakness, relationships and technology.

Gladwell questions the alliance between deep roots and strong ties. Ingram and Tufecki argue for
the the power of the networks…they are not wrong. The only side not demonstrating authority is also
its strongest voice. To which I point to a prospective slipping point and say with concern, “Gladwell,
your slip is showing.”

As someone who has greatly studied how movements ranging from causes to commercial can and
can’t be organized through social media, I would like to move the discussion away from tools and
ties.

This is perhaps where the story gets convoluted and debatable. Technology aside, it’s our ties that
dictate how information travels and to what extent. But, it is also the spontaneous fusion of strong,
weak and temporary ties that align around interest or emotion that propels information across vast
distances with far greater velocity. This impetus is the spark, the catalyst necessary for organization,
communication, and also for engendering support. You need a powerful network for this to occur…

Why?

If unity is the effect, density is the cause. But to achieve density, bonds must be formed regardless
of strength or longevity quickly around a shared mission or purpose. Density cannot be achieved if
the network can’t supply the necessary resources. Well, as Ingram and Tufecki point out, the
potential for activation exists within Facebook and Twitter. Social networks aside, the trigger for
social activism is unquestionably built-in to the internet. It’s not a switch however.

Stowe Boyd is a social philosopher, webthropologist and a dear friend. He recently spoke out
against Gladwell to teach, but also remind us about the importance of density in a network effect:

Trufecki and Ingram are on to something, but they — and Gladwell — miss something very basic
about the nature of Twitter and other social tools, something critical to revolution. Ideas spread more
rapidly in densely connected social networks. So tools that increase the density of social connection
are instrumental to the changes that spread.

At its core, Gladwell’s arguments are not about the way revolutions work, but a denial of the strength
of social culture: the culture that the social web is engendering, wherever it touches us. Wherever
we connect.

This is again, not about tools or ties, but the capacity for alliances to form based on connections and
how information spreads across them. I would like to share with you some very interesting research
from the Department of Computer Science at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and
Technology. In early 2010, the research team performed a multi-part analysis of Twitter. In their
conclusion they found that Twitter is a highly effective way to filter and spread relevant information. It




(cc) Brian Solis, www.briansolis.com - Twitter, @briansolis
was the rapid fusion of ties within a densely populated network to activate the density required to
trigger a network effect.

The research team used the unfortunate incident of the doomed Air France flight to visualize density
and distribution.




(cc) Brian Solis, www.briansolis.com - Twitter, @briansolis
(cc) Brian Solis, www.briansolis.com - Twitter, @briansolis
This is a demonstration of how strong, weak, and temporary ties connected for a moment to ensure
that the world united around this devastating news. I’m sure we would see similar maps if we
analyzed the Iran and Egypt events where Twitter played a pivotal role in unification and
dissemination.

In my work, I’ve found that it takes an exceptional incident to activate density in powerful, yet
expansive and distracted network. But, it is possible, and to varying degrees, it happens every day.
In instances where planning and design around action and outcomes were orchestrated, the results
are proven incredibly promising and replicable.

This strength of social culture is only increasing in prevalence to the point where each day, it
changes our behavior online and offline incrementally. For some, the behavior is advanced while it
is starting to bloom with others. This is nothing new. But, it is this culture that we are learning to
embrace that over time, moves us from our “comfort zones” in the middle to the edge until finally, the
edge becomes the new middle.

This is a culture shift and a culture shock. Those who embrace their role as student in these times
will earn the ability to lead us toward a new era of solidarity.

UPDATE: Sharing a very interesting picture from Mediaite with a simple, yet symbolic message that
reads, “Thank you Facebook.”




Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook




(cc) Brian Solis, www.briansolis.com - Twitter, @briansolis
Brian Solis is globally recognized as one of most prominent thought leaders and
published authors in new media. A digital analyst, sociologist, and futurist, Solis has
studied and influenced the effects of emerging media in business, culture and the
convergence of marketing, communications, and publishing. He is principal of
FutureWorks, an award-winning business management and New Media consultancy in
San Francisco and has led change management and social programs for Fortune 500
companies, notable celebrities, and Web 2.0 startups. BrianSolis.com is ranked among
the top of world's leading business and marketing websites.

Solis is the author of Engage! The complete guide for businesses to build, cultivate and
measure success in the new Web.




Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook
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(cc) Brian Solis, www.briansolis.com - Twitter, @briansolis

				
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Description: Solidarity Time is always limited, but in these historic times, I wished to add perspective in the hopes of moving this important conversation in a productive direction. Malcom Gladwell continues his march toward dissension with his latest installment in the New Yorker about social media vs. social activism. Honestly, Gladwell is more than welcome to share his thoughts as it is a democratized information economy after all. I do find it alarming however, that he is wielding his influence through an equally influential medium to spin intellectual and impressionable minds in unrewarding and pointless cycles. Is he not listening to opposition or consulting existing research?