In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, the bouffant New York journalist writes about the 10,000-hour rule and how so-called outliers or geniuses are not born, they just have to do the time.
He cites other factors and happenstance in how those 10,000 hours turn into influence and by all criteria is a fascinating approach to what makes certain people rise above their peers.
However, based on his Twitter output, Gladwell has no intention of bringing his 10,000-hour rule to social networks. He effectively resigned from this channel on 10th October, 2009 when his 22 rambling and inconsistent tweets came to an end.
Gladwell has no idea about Twitter or even the use of upper-case characters. His first-ever tweet ‘Nice to Join this Jungle’ is followed by another that says he was inspired by a ‘Bread Delivery’ truck delivering food to the homeless. He comes across as random, puerile and… boring.
Don’t get me wrong, I thought his book, The Tipping Point, was extraordinary and the phrase deserved to enter the English language, but Gladwell seems to be following other much less intelligent people who have tripped themselves up on social networks.
Not only was his Twitter presence banal, but his 2010 essay Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted positing that social media was ‘built around weak ties’, a reasonable observation, but perhaps not as perspicacious as Gladwell usually is.
His opinion that potential 2009 revolutions in Iran and Moldova were all about protestors’ strong personal ties to the cause and not because of (his) perceived fragility of social media channels annoyed the Twitterverse that spoke of Gladwell’s ‘slipping point’ and so on.
Gladwell may have had a point, but recent events in Tunisia and Egypt have seen his detractors gleefully remind us about how Gladwell got it wrong and how right they were in criticising him.
Mmm, a leap of faith needed but instead of staying above the bitching, Gladwell made the fatal mistake of joining the discussion and making things a lot worse.
His ensuing diatribe that ‘protestors may (or may not) have at one point or another employed some of the tools of the new media to communicate with one another’ and is the ‘least interesting fact about the protestors’ sounds like a little pathetic and something an embittered parent might say to a teenager.
Gladwell compounds this by a thoroughly unnecessary reference to previous revolutions in East Germany and 18th Century France to back up this assertion. He even cites the French Revolution’s success down to that ‘strange, today largely unknown instrument known as the human voice’.
Blimey, talk about scraping the communications barrel. Gladwell comes across as an ally of General Ludd who wants to smash the weft and warp yarns of today’s loom equivalents. He sounds as relevant to these events as Kenneth Cole, the fashion brand that infamously fouled up when using the Egypt protests to push its products, but patently not as offensive.
Surely, the most interesting fact about these protests is how they are done. Granted, traditional media, which is under great pressure from the social media tumbril, prefers to concentrate on social networks rather than channels such as text messaging to tell its story, but Gladwell must recognise that social networks are revolutionising human behaviour, as well as regime change.
All of this is naturally disappointing to this particular fanboy because I dig Malcolm Gladwell and his ideas, but perhaps we should turn to a dubious revolutionary to sort out this mess. When China’s Mao-Tse Tung was asked what he thought of the French Revolution, he allegedly replied that it was too soon to tell.
And so it may be with Gladwell and Twitter. A good start would be for him to reactivate his Twitter feed and bedazzle us in 140 characters in the same way he has done in his books. But I wouldn’t hold your breath, the revolution has been tweeted already… and it certainly didn’t last 10,000 hours.