The whole Malcolm Gladwell networked activism brouhaha has pretty much petered out, but I’ve just had reason to go back and re-read one of my favorite responses to his piece, and I liked it even better this time.
Here’s a big old quote. Go read the whole thing. It’s good.
The question for activists is always how to use available tools effectively. So blogs are for sharing longer ideas, Facebook is for spreading basic information and links, and Twitter is for sending small amounts of information publicly on the go. We even use phones sometimes. The internet can’t hammer a nail, but that’s what hammers are for. But there are some tools that don’t stand the test of time as well. Gladwell writes, “… what use would a digital communication tool be in a town where ninety-eight per cent of the black community could be reached every Sunday morning at church?” Of course, this is a completely useless question. What good would Twitter have been for dinosaurs? THEY COULDN’T EVEN PRESS BUTTONS! By putting the historical comparison on his opponents (who would “no doubt” make it), Gladwell attempts to dodge responsibility for an absurd line of argumentation. He writes that MLK needed disciplined and strategy because certain exigencies of the particular movement (the need to maintain a moral high ground for the white viewing public), but never explains why those tactical decisions should carry over. In fact, Alain Badiou has argued that while patience was the cardinal virtue required in the past, right now we need nothing so much as courage. Fetishizing the 60′s is a bad idea because we don’t live there any more. Material conditions change; so should our strategies, so should our tactics, so should our methods of communication.
The truth is, ninety-eight percent of the people with whom we need to organize don’t go anywhere in common but online, so that’s where we’ll go to find them.