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September 2010 Archives


In his article, Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted, Malcolm Gladwell argues that we overstate the power of social networking to create large radical changes in social contexts. The power of weak ties has very specific value and lowers the bar for people to make connections and to take small action. But, he contends, the notion that Twitter, for instance, can sponsor revolutionary change, is illusory.

"[Clay] Shirky considers this model of activism an upgrade. But it is simply a form of organizing which favors the weak-tie connections that give us access to information over the strong-tie connections that help us persevere in the face of danger. It shifts our energies from organizations that promote strategic and disciplined activity and toward those which promote resilience and adaptability. 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.

"Shirky ends the story of the lost Sidekick by asking, portentously, "What happens next?"--no doubt imagining future waves of digital protesters. But he has already answered the question. What happens next is more of the same. A networked, weak-tie world is good at things like helping Wall Streeters get phones back from teen-age girls. Viva la revolución.