Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why Gladwell is Wrong

I've been sitting on Malcolm Gladwell's article from the New Yorker earlier this month for the past few weeks. In a nutshell, Gladwell makes the case that new media can never replicate the kind of social activism that we saw in the late 50s through early 60s. When I initially read it, a huge part of me agreed with him, but after giving this a good deal of thought over the past few weeks, I've come to the conclusion that Gladwell is dead wrong. Here are three reasons why:
1. Gladwell spends a good deal of time in the article comparing the activism of the 60's to various activist movements in social media. This is a really, really poor comparison. In the 60's, there was a draft. This meant that people from all social and economic backgrounds had the potential to be drafted against their will to fight and die in Vietnam. People protested and gave their lives because of this. Now we have a volunteer force that is made up of a very small percentage of our population. This means that most of us are very disconnected from the various wars being waged by the USA right now. If we had a draft and the sons and daughters of the political elite had the potential to be sent off to war, I guarantee that there would be violent protests all across America. 
2. Yesterday's "Spirit Day," in which millions of people across the USA wore purple to show solidarity with those who are oppressed due to their sexuality, was a HUGE success. From what I gather, people of all ages all throughout the country participated. This wasn't possible 25 years ago. I'm not even so sure it was possible 5 years ago. I don't care what Gladwell says, the fact that people of all ages could RSVP to the Spirit Day via facebook is a game changer-the simple act of letting others in the LGBTQ community know that they have allies will not only save lives, but help create pathways for ALL people to realize their full potential.
3. Gladwell must not know about the "It Gets Better" campaign on YouTube. He might not think that having one of the most innovative corporations share employee stories of how it gets better matters, but I do. He might not think that the courageous story of a Forth Worth,, Texas city council member shared on YouTube makes a difference, but many others think it matters. And I guarantee it matters to LGBTQ youth in California, Alabama, Texas, Wyoming, Utah, and all throughout our country.  
I could go on and on and even share stories of how innovative teachers and students from around the world are using new media to build cultural competencies and compassion in unprecedented ways, but for the sake of brevity, I'll end it here.  And at the end of the day, I agree with Jeff Jarvis' take on Gladwell-he is just another member of the "Young Curmudgeon's Guild," a group that is more interested in protecting the interests of old media than anything else.

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