On Gladwell’s “Small Change”, weak and strong ties and social activism

Social networks bring a small change. For a big change you need a hierarchy of changes coming in waves.

Gladwell’s article is relevant for understanding of a real impact social networks have on personal activism. Social network activism differs greatly from activism we’ve seen in 1960’s and 70’s: ” 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 … The civil-rights movement was high-risk activism. It was also, crucially, strategic activism: a challenge to the establishment mounted with precision and discipline.”

Does it matter?

Gladwell opines, ” the drawbacks of networks scarcely matter if the network isn’t interested in systemic change–if it just wants to frighten or humiliate or make a splash–or if it doesn’t need to think strategically.

But if you’re taking on a powerful and organized establishment you have to be a hierarchy.”

Will Wheeler, the Department Head of Research & Instruction at Georgetown comments on the Gladwell piece related to libraries: “… a recent New Yorker article compares ‘revolutions’ like civil rights and the strong ties and networks required to be in place to do that kind of hard social work to the ‘twitter revolutions’ attributed to more recent types of social activism that really engages weak  ties only. The author’s points about strong tie/weak tie are relevant, I believe, to library thinking on how we might best use these new tools and how we (librarians) sometimes the jump on the next-electronic-tool fad but no one (user) joins us for the purposes we hope.”

Source Citation: Gladwell, Malcolm. “Small Change.” The New Yorker 4 Oct. 2010: 42. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 19 Oct. 2010.


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