In Monday’s New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell aims a volley of his undoubted intellect towards Clay Shirky, social media and the people who use the channel.
Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article dismisses social media as: “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.”
Throughout the piece, Gladwell takes a series of case studies looking at the effect social media can have offline, critically analyses the lot and concludes that despite the positive use of personal networks linked through the digital sphere, “A networked, weak-tie world is good at things like helping Wall Streeters get phones back from teen-age girls.”
Of Clay Shirky, Gladwell says:
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.
Funnily enough, it is the Guardian’s Xenia Rimmer who I think gets to the heart of the argument by pointing out:
“In an – ironic – online forum that followed the furore he had created, Gladwell argued last Thursday that what drove him crazy about “the digerati” was that they “refuse to accept the fact that there is a class of social problems for which there is no technological solution.
“Look, technology is going to solve the energy problem. I’m convinced of it. But technology does not and cannot change the underlying dynamics of ‘human’ problems: it does not make it easier to love or to motivate or to dream or convince.”
In an argument that will run and run, he seemed to be inverting the wisdom of a social theorist from a previous age: the message is not only about the medium.”
The point for me is that social networks allow people to connect and discuss ideas – it’s a starting point for people to find information, learn and have the opportunity to make a considered choice about whether they should get involved in a cause.
Social media is not the answer, but it can be the starting point for education about important issues, from any side of any argument.
It might not start a revolution, but digital channels can be used to start the mobilisation process through information sharing and awareness raising.