Friday, October 8, 2010

Viva la revolucion

This is an excellent article. I always enjoy reading what Malcolm Gladwell has to say; he has a way of distilling ideas to their essence that leaves me thinking, “I knew that all along, but couldn’t articulate it!” In this article, he examines activism: what it looked like in the past and what it looks like today. Specifically, he compares a variety of current campaigns to the civil rights movement in the 1960s, arguing that social media has facilitated a network-driven environment as opposed to the hierarchy-driven environment of the ‘60s.

One of the most salient points was his discussion of the Greensboro sit-ins in the 1960s. He writes about the four young men who courageously started them, and the threats and violence they faced. In writing about them, he discusses the difference between strong ties and weak ties; several of those four men attended high school together, and all four of them were rooming in the same college dorm; in other words, they were close friends who knew they stood together. In contrast, social media thrives on weak ties, acquaintances and people you wouldn’t normally be able to keep in touch with from a distance, people you would be much less likely to join in a dangerous, long-haul campaign against deeply-rooted societal evil.

This illustration, along with a dozen others, made me think: in many ways, social media allows us to more efficiently and perhaps effectively choose the path of least resistance. We can sign up for causes we care about, keep tabs on the latest ideas and trends, and get connected to people we otherwise wouldn’t or couldn’t know, all in just a few seconds’ time. We don’t have to invest a lot of time, energy, or emotion into any of it, which leaves us “free” to do other things with our time. Ultimately, though, I think this path of least resistance weakens us: whether through shortened attention spans, less emphasis on deep, lasting relationships, or “soundbytes” instead of carefully-considered ideas. Even as I sit here writing this blog post, I find myself jumping from one idea to the next, struggling to focus long enough to fully develop a thought or reaction. It makes me think of a quote I saw yesterday in someone’s email signature:

“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it."
-Herbert A. Simon, Nobel laureate economist

Gladwell doesn’t make a call for action in his article, but he should. Mine is to be more intentional in two things: investing in face-to-face relationships and taking the time to read and consider more carefully-thought-out pieces such as Gladwell’s. What's yours?

No comments: