I think for this week we have enough to do to read and absorb Gladwell and Shirky. Let's save Sarah Joseph's article for next time.
So, Malcolm Gladwell and Clay Shirky are both fairly well-known public intellectuals. Gladwell has written about a lot of different social phenomena in a sort of popular journalism style. He's an author first and foremost. Shirky, on the other hand, is a professor and scholar who writes mostly about new media. They both have completely different writing styles, as no doubt you noticed as you read their respective articles for this week. You also noticed that they have different things to say about the political power or potential of social media.
Gladwell argues that social media like Facebook (which he focuses on mostly) is a form of weak-tie communication that is good for effecting political change in low-risk political situations, but is not good when the political stakes are high. He argues that Facebook (as an example of social media) is a network instead of a hierarchy; therefore, real strategic political action is not possible because it cannot motivate people to make a real sacrifice. Gladwell wrote this in 2010.
Shirky, whose piece was published in 2011, makes a different kind of argument about the political potential of social media. He talks about an environmental view of Internet freedom, and the need to think about connecting social media use to long-term goals like creating a strong public sphere instead of meeting short-term political goals such as in a crisis. He defines something called "the conservative dilemma," which identifies a kind of paradox that political leaders find themselves in when the Internet and social media are widely available.
They both gave me a lot to think about regarding our current political moment in the U.S., even though Shirky was using mostly non-U.S. examples of how social media have been used during big political changes, Gladwell was using U.S. examples from decades earlier, and both of these pieces were written and published at least 6 years ago.
I'd like you all to respond to their ideas and comments about the power and political potential of social media, but within the context of right now, post-2016 U.S. Presidential election and all of the issues and social media use surrounding that. Do you think Gladwell's argument is accurate today, i.e., do you think social media such as Facebook or Twitter today are forms of weak-tie communication, thus incapable of inciting motivation for real political change? Do you agree with Shirky's argument that social media are best equipped for strengthening civil society in the long term, but not for resolving immediate political crises?
When you respond, please use specific examples. I'd like to see a discussion develop, and I look forward to seeing what you got out of these readings, and in what ways they make sense (or don't make sense) to you today.
I'll begin reading through your responses tomorrow evening around 6 pm -- and will be responding in kind.