I came across this story a few days ago and sort of wrote it off. But it’s starting to get a bit more play. Gladwell (whose books are excellent) makes a great point that the next revolution isn’t going to be instigated or largely propagated via social networks such as Facebook or Twitter.
The kind of activism associated with social media isn’t like this at all. The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.
This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvelous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.
Read the whole article here. Gladwell’s on the money here though. Weak ties don’t foster the unification needed for change or uprising. It allows for the “monitoring” of these situations from your couch while you play Wii and order another pepperoni pizza.
By the way, how bad is it that I can catch a spelling error in The New Yorker? Marvelous doesn’t have two l’s.