I wanted to elaborate on a tweet reply I sent out into the broad discussion a couple of days ago around Malcolm Gladwell's latest pronouncements on Social Media on CNN with Fareed Zakaria - clip above.
While it seems that every time he speaks on this subject he backs off ever so slightly, he is still appears disdainful of the role that social media has played in the latest rounds of revolution in the Middle East.I think that there are two connected reasons for this:
1) Gladwell is looking at Social Media from a First World point of view. What you see from this vantage point is: Charlie Sheen, lolcats and politicians with "their own" twitter accounts. In other words, nothing terribly useful from a political point of view because social media, frankly, is not as essential as it is in the developing world. But look at social, (and mobile), in the developing world and you see a very essential technology that is beginning to change how people bank, farm and run their daily lives. So when this essential technology becomes an essential communication stream in nations that have lived with government controlled media for years, its small wonder that it would have a far more powerful effect than in the developed world where we have the luxury of a far more open and transparent press. Which brings me to...
2) Gladwell really loves long form media. At about the 3:00 minute mark above he waxes with longing about how the US civil rights movement captured the big TV networks and, of all things, Life magazine. All true and all commendable, but I think that this goes to his belief that 140 characters, crappy cellphone images and Facebook posts do not have the quality to build the kind of movements and intellectual rigor that jouirnalism and network news of the past could. In a chat the New Yorker conducted after the publication of his initial article he reacted to one comment by replying something like, "You seem to think that digital can solve everything". I actually don't have much of a problem with any of this. I like long form writing, I go to movies and I watch documentaries. This still does not preclude the fact that shorter form, self-published media can have an equal or more powerful effect than the long for media of prior years.