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Malcolm Gladwell Doesn’t Use Twitter or Facebook But He Is Pretty Sure They Are Useless

I am an unabashed fan of Malcom Gladwell. (See: Outliers: Section 1 (and my grandfather)Another Gladwell Gem | How David Beats Goliath and Manny Being Manny | Some ‘Gladwellian’ Insight.

But when the man is wrong he deserves to be called out.

In a recent New Yorker article, Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted, Gladwell writes that we are told that the world is in the midst of a revolution. Twitter, Facebook, blogging et al have given the people a voice that they previously had not had. This will be the medium of social change for the next generation.

Gladwell vehemently disagrees.

In his inimitable style, Gladwell makes the case that there is a qualitative difference between strong-tie connections and weak-tie connections. He holds that strong-tie connections come from real life social interactions and friendships. Electronic relationships only create weak-ties. Further, he contends that the purported social changes that Facebook and Twitter have effected are bogus. (He might be right about that one…).

Gladwell then demonstrates that all social change generates from relationships. I agree. Read this post for more on that: Human Beings Are Social Beings).

Here is what gets my goat: Gladwell assumes that relationships created with Twitter / Facebook / blogging are weak-tie relationships. That is an assumption that many would disagree with. Further, he makes this assumption while sitting in his ivory tower of “old media”, writing for a magazine in a dying industry AND, here is the kicker – he DOESN’T USE FACEBOOK OR TWITTER!!! Gladwell has a twitter account, in fact he has two twitter accounts and he has 22 total tweets between the two of them.

Shorter Gladwell: “I don’t know how to use Twitter, ergo, it must be useless.”

Finally, the next social changes will almost certainly come via strong-tie relationships. However, social media has the ability to create strong-tie relationships if that is your goal and you use them to achieve that goal. Revolutions will inevitably occur. And invariably the revolutions will take place in real life and they will also take place in the digital world. Those who have strong-tie relationships in the digital world will utilize social media to help their cause and that will be a decided advantage over the cave dwellers and Luddites who listen to Malcolm Gladwell when it comes to social media.


8 Comments
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  • Theredheadedrebbetzin

    I am reminded of teachers who years ago thought computer use would just ‘blow over’! Now knowing technology is nearly as important in teaching as knowing the texts.

  • http://wwwjackbenimble.blogspot.com/ The JackB

    He is so very wrong on this one that I am truly surprised.

  • Holyhyrax

    >…and Luddites who listen to Malcolm Gladwell when it comes to social media.
    :)

  • http://twitter.com/MarkSoFla Mark

    I finally read the entire thing closely … and I get the feeling that you haven’t :-)

    Malcolm Gladwell Doesn’t Use Twitter or Facebook But He Is Pretty Sure They Are Useless

    This isn’t quite what he said. In essence, what he did say is that the “revolution” (any of them) isn’t going to take place or be caused by social media. And I tend to agree.

    The key statement in his article (which is overly long and could have been complete in an article a third the size of this one) is “By not asking too much of them.” Basically, he is saying that social media “works” when the expectation of the people on the other end, the readers, isn’t very high. I can give a few real-life examples that have occurred to me since entering the world of social media:

    * Ask me to buy your book and I might, in fact, I’ve already done it 3 times. Ask me to write a book with you, probably not.
    * Request sponsorship (low $) for a charitable event, sure, I’ve done it many times. Ask me for a thousand dollar donation, not gonna happen.
    * Ask me to sign a petition, sure if I agree with it. Ask me to fly to DC for a demonstration at the Capital, not likely.
    * Request votes for a particular person running in some sort of contest, I might if I agree with their stand on the issue. Ask me to run for something, not gonna happen.

    So, while the “revolution” may use social media as a tool (just like it used telephones, telegraphs, newspapers, etc in the past), it will be just that, a tool.

    As to whether or not Gladwell knows how to use twitter? It’s quite obvious that he doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean that what he is postulating in his article is wrong.

    • http://finkorswim.com rabbifink

      I read it twice and scanned it another time.

      He absolutely dismisses the possibility that twitter and facebook create strong-tie connections.

      Just because you agree with him does not mean that “I didn’t read the article”…

      And no, it’s not that since he doesn’t use twitter he is wrong. It’s just that a Luddite wouldn’t be expected to fully grasp the capability of social media. And his twitter / facebook usage betray Gladwell as a Luddite who doesn’t use social media.

      • http://twitter.com/MarkSoFla Mark

        Rabbi Fink – He absolutely dismisses the possibility that twitter and facebook create strong-tie connections.

        Just because you agree with him does not mean that “I didn’t read the article”…

        Um, I was kidding about reading it. There’s not way you would blog so much in depth without reading it!

        And I do not agree with him that strong-ties cannot be created via SM tools. The only part that I might agree with, is that SM tools cannot provide enough strong-ties as necessary to cause the revolution. Other things are necessary for revolution, and are much more important, as well. Basically, as I stated, SM tools are just that, tools, just like the telegraph, regular mail delivery, and telephone were in years (and revolutions) past. Though I do agree that they are probably better and stronger tools than those of old, and that stands to reason since each generation of communication tools get better and better.

        What in his article led you to conclude “[that] He Is Pretty Sure They Are Useless”?

        • http://finkorswim.com rabbifink

          SM tools are just that, tools, just like the telegraph, regular mail delivery, and telephone were in years (and revolutions) past.

          They are certainly more than that. Those tools cannot even create loose-ties. SM can create loose-ties and in my opinion strong ties.

          The reason I wrote He Is Pretty Sure They Are Useless is because that’s how I felt he feels about SM. Not just from the article but from his absolute shunning of these tools in his own life.

  • Anonymous

    Funny comment I saw on twitter today that needs to be added here -

    http://twitter.com/amuchmoreexotic/status/25987796774690816

    “I don’t understand how the people of Tunisia overthrew their government without me signing an e-petition or changing my Twitter avatar.”