With a new Facebook movie out, documentaries and conferences revolving around Twitter, and recent theories on how 26-year-old Mark Zuckerberg will take over the world, I was a little more than pleased when I read Malcolm Gladwell’s recent New Yorker piece, “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted,” on how social media has not and will not revolutionize citizen action. It echoed my discontent with the so-called social activists heralding a new era of political protest during the Iranian elections.
A good point to remember (and to apply) to other situations is how hard it is to look from outside a bubble when you’re encapsulated within it yourself. That is, it is difficult to conceive of a tweet not having as much social worth as you think because you are invested in it as a crucial networking tool. In addition to that, we are restricted by our own limitations–language, personal biases, and limits on information dissemination topping the list. How many of us read non-English tweets that disagree with our own political and social views?
A well written argument by Gladwell, but like all his writing, imperfect. Gladwell also touched upon the inherent flaws in “networks,” in which the lack of hierarchical structure leads to messy, disorderly campaigns. While he does have a point, I do believe that networks have their advantages. In the scope of terrorism, for example, networks are more flexible and innovative than their hierarchical counterparts; they are more resilient and spread out, making it difficult for their adversaries to extinguish. John Arquilla, a scholar at the Naval Postgraduate School, emphasizes the decreasing importance of geography and advantages of small networks in counterterrorism. The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal offers another take on the article.
While limited, networking sites can make an impact (e.g., Obama’s 2008 campaign), just don’t give them too much credit. Perhaps we just need to give us and technology a little more time to sort things out.