An amazing thing happened earlier this morning. My wife and I were having a conversation during which she commented in a rather oh-by-the-way fashion, “I thought you were a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell. So why did you attack him on your blog?”
“Wait,” I said in a jaw-dropping way. “You read my blog? No way!…And I’ve never attacked Malcolm Gladwell.”
Apparently, she felt my suggestion that “bad timing” be renamed “Malcolm Gladwell Time” was an unnecessary ad hominem, although she didn’t use the word ad hominem maybe cheap shot, or something. She was also concerned that Malcolm Gladwell would read what I wrote and think I was attacking him personally.
“No way has Malcolm Gladwell ever read my blog,” I said, drifting off. “But then, I thought the same about you.”
Later, I noticed that Harvard’s Neiman Journalism Lab blog pointed to my Gladwell post as an example of on-going refutations of Gladwell’s continuing dismissal of social media’s role in the Egyptian uprising, as summed up in the following quote from this February 4th article on the New Yorker’s website:
“Please. People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along.”
So, let me clear up my intent with this post and my earlier one: “Please. Malcolm. I’m a fan of your writing, but no one with an ounce of intelligence is saying social media is the cause of the revolution. Furthermore, what about that whole connector thing in the Tipping Point?”
I apologize if I sounded like I was attacking Malcolm Gladwell and not merely attacking his point of view. (There are plenty of bloggers and others who do take jabs at him and I’d hate to be associated with them, even the funny ones, like The Malcolm Gladwell Book Generator.)
My point is this: There were wars before there were cruise missiles and AK-47s. So, I could say, cruise missiles and AK-47s aren’t the reasons for war. But the reality of war is this: The side who obtains them and masters the use of cruise missiles and AK-47s first has a brief period during which they have a strategic advantage.
The people in the streets of Egyptian cities found a strategic advantage over the Mubarak regime in their understanding, access and use of social media tools. All the regime could do was “turn off the internet” and cell-phones: a silly and ham-fisted response.
Here’s my bottomline belief and last comment on this particular topic: This revolution was not caused by social media, nor did social media “win” it. An oppressive regime caused it and committed people yearning for freedom won it. Social media was, however, their cruise missiles and AK-47s.
And one more thing: I can’t post anything on this blog that makes fun of my wife.
Later: While thinking about this topic later, I recalled the Victor Hugo quote, “No army can stop an idea whose time has come.” To me, the idea of freedom from oppression is more powerful than any technology or method of communication. On that I feel I’m certainly in agreement with Gladwell.
- Malcolm Gladwell hits the ‘dipping point’ on Twitter (telegraph.co.uk)
- David Weinberger: Gladwell Proves too Much
- Matthew Ingram: Gladwell Still Missing the Point About Social Media and Activism
- Deen Freelon: Sorting through claims about the internet and revolutions, part 1 (Feelon is a graduate student and this is a rather impressive attempt to piece together the facets of this debate.)