Big Change: Why the revolution is already being tweeted

I’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s article Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted.  If you click over and read it, be forewarned it’s LONG.

He makes some good points in it, although I think the shorter, more concise, and less snobby version is a better read, thanks to Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer for that.

Mr. Gladwell is very intelligent; the Tipping Point was an excellent read…but I can’t help getting the feeling that his take on Twitter was published simply to stir the pot.  If he does truly discount the big change that Twitter makes possible then I am at a loss; where did the BIG thinking Gladwell go?

Being Talked Down To

Admittedly I am a HUGE fan of Twitter, I often say it is my favorite thing on the internet.  That may be a contributing reason that throughout Gladwell’s piece I got the feeling that I was being talked down to by the New Yorker’s logo or Mr. Bottomtooth.

Malcolm Gladwell cherry picks examples to compare against one another.  Gladwell paints a picture with examples from an earlier time, prior to email and twitter, in which people really stood for something and put their lives on the line. While at the same time painting the picture that today’s activism is nothing more than hitting the retweet button or “Like” button.

Strong Ties vs Weak Ties

There is some merit to the strong ties vs weak ties concept.

I agree that my ties to some people on Twitter are not as strong as to those of my co-workers , family or friends; people I see and interact with in real life.

It’s true that Social Media-based activism functions exceptionally well when trying to get a large number of people to take small actions.  It’s true that a petition does not have the same punch as a violent uprising or a Tiananmen Square standing-in-front-of-tanks moment.

However these facts do nothing to disprove the possibility of these tools, but simply to point out one set of hand-selected data points of a technology released a mere 4 years ago.

Many of Gladwell’s arguments are the equivalent of saying in 1808–4 years after the first full scale working railway steam locomotive–that people got around just fine on horses and carriages; “the transportation revolution will not be steam powered.” I think this is a “forest for the trees” situation.

Even in his own examples I can see how beneficial these new communications tools could’ve been.  Gladwell uses an example of four black students sitting in at a lunch counter.  These four organically blossomed into a movement of thousands.  While that is wonderful that it happened organically, imagine if that first action had been shared with thousands instantly.

People on Twitter and Facebook don’t just “Like” a few causes that they are apparently passively interested in.  People are using these tools in new and innovative ways everyday.  There is a suggestion that the things people “Like” or “Follow” are ONLY things that people are passively connected to.

One only needs to look at the “It gets better” campaign to realize the amazing ability of social tools to raise awareness and empower people with courage to keep pressing on and moving towards a better day.

A Global Revolution

What do we mean when we say “revolution?”  By Gladwell’s article I got the feeling that it must mean something involving serious conflict and potential for danger.  I’d like to look at a different type of revolution; a revolution of connectivity, of conversation, of humanity.

Twitter is a technology that allows people, total strangers, to communicate across time and geography instantaneously.  In Hootsuite I can read tweets in Farsi, Japanese and Spanish, simply by clicking “translate.”  How long until the technology evolves to just auto-translate?  When in the history of man-kind has this EVER been possible; a global public conversation across different cultures and different countries for anyone to tap into and participate?

One of the great things about this country, our country, the United States, the country that invented Twitter, is that it is a melting pot.  Twitter is taking the melting pot concept to a whole new level.  Conversations about anything and everything can happen there and it can cause change.  A global public discourse available to anyone and everyone is a concept in which the eventual outcomes have not yet even been dreamed.

My point is that I think the revolution is BEING tweeted, RIGHT NOW!   Revolutions against tyranny happen in real life, not behind a computer, and no one is disputing that, but the foundation of revolution is in thought.  No revolution happens without it first being an idea, that something should change.  Few people stand up to the establishment or the status quo without support of others, like minded individuals.   I think Twitter is a tool that enables that.  No one is arguing that Twitter IS the revolution or that Liking something on Facebook is the equivalent of being willing to take a bullet.

We are in the midst of a new era, the Information era, and it IS a revolution.  It changes everything, so excuse me Mr. Gladwell but I respectfully disagree, the revolution is already being tweeted.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Big Change: Why the revolution is already being tweeted | Social Media Philanthropy --

  • JasonFalls

    Awesome take on the issue. And thanks for the point/hat-tip.

    You’re right, the revolution is being Tweeted. But just as the revolution in the 1960s was being spread through church gatherings in the South, and how the revolution before that was spread through yellow journalism and the revolution before that was spread through moveable type.

    All of these mediums were important in spreading the ideas. But none were linchpins (God, I used that, really?) in the movements. If any medium were erased or inaccessible at the time, another would have emerged.

    Social media is just that … a medium. The ideas, the justice … they fuel the passion that moves people.

  • JGibbard

    Your linchpin comment is an interesting one though. First because you used the word linchpin, hehe, and second because no medium in the past enabled information to spread so far and so wide; yellow journalism and moveable type included. When the Gulf Oil spill happened I remember seeing a video about how hay could help clean up the oil. I don’t know if that idea was used or not but I got to see it and spread it with one click to thousands of people. During a crisis I think Twitter, FB and the like could be the linchpin to call people to action. Provided the cause is urgent enough and worthy of a revolution it could be more significant than mediums of the past to call people to action.

    In the end I don’t think anyone would argue that true change happens through actions, not clicks but I think these mediums are worthy of a greater respect than they got in Gladwell’s piece.

  • Oliver

    Enjoyed your thoughts and views and I agree that Twitter & Co. are used
    to communicate revolutions, including its own revolution…but I also rather
    think of it in the the sense of being a reinforcer. The idealistic scenario discussed by Gladwell, one in which it actually provides a “bridge” into real life organizational efforts, yet has not really been achieved. It could, obviously, call people into action by providing some additional motivation for action (group think etc.). But, so far, I am not aware of any real life examples. Are you?