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Friday, February 11, 2011

A Weak-Tie Generation, A Strong Revolution.

A funny thing occurred to me a couple of months ago.
I was reading The New Yorker when I came across an article written by Malcolm Gladwell, a colorful writer whose pieces are oftentimes filled with so many grandiose ideas, it can be difficult to keep one thought separate from the next. I like him as a writer for that very reason.
In this particular article, Gladwell called our current generation a “weak-tie generation” due to the social networking takeovers during our lifetimes.
He toyed with the idea that great events throughout history transpired only from passion, courage and beliefs deeply rooted in the participators…passion not present in the current generation. 
He called this a “strong-tie phenomena.”
It occurred in 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina when four dark-skinned college students sat at a lunch counter and refused to move. Less than two weeks later, news of the protest spread throughout the South and eventually, the number of protesters soared to seventy thousand.
Thirty years later, across the Atlantic, another “strong-tie phenomena” occurred when a Wall collapsed and a people was given the chance for reunification.
“Weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism,” Gladwell wrote.

He doesn’t believe the deep roots present at that lunch counter in 1960 lives in us today.

Perhaps he is right.

The printing press. The telegraph. The telephone. Magnetic spectrum in the air. The radio. And finally, Twitter and Facebook.

Like it or not, we are living in the most expressive age; so expressive that how we read into that expression is another expression of its own.

I see a graffiti wall and it's expression. I see a man sitting in the middle of household objects making music and it's expression. I see a woman dancing to a technique I can’t even pretend to recognize and it's expression.

If I meet a person and the only communication I have with them is through texting or social media, the first time we have voice on voice contact will be awkward. The mediums have switched gears and perhaps that is too much, too soon.

We have become a generation where we notify others of our daily lives, daily thoughts, and have “followers” and “friends” whom we will seldom ever share a meaningful relationship.

But it is these exact thoughts shared that have allowed for ideas to evolve and the exchanging of ideas to occur. It is these instantaneous thoughts that have given us all a glimpse of the revolution occurring in that foreign land. 


From the beginning – three weeks ago – I scrolled down the screen of my phone, scanned the headlines and I am rewarded with each move documented in Egypt. I can simply scan headlines from multiple news organizations and the revolution unfolds with every word I read. 

"[It's] so much more exciting than waiting till the end of the day to read a newspaper report. It’s also better than simply watching one news channel. Instead, I get reports from ALL the news channels — both English and Arabic," blogged Matt Duffy, journalism professor at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. 

"I can’t imagine I’ll watch any breaking news story in another fashion." 

Muslims and Christians are uniting for a change. Their change. Their revolution. And I feel connected. In contrast to what Gladwell thinks, I feel deeply rooted.  

So perhaps when Gladwell wrote his piece in The New Yorker a couple of months back, he didn’t envision the hundreds of thousands of people camping, chanting, yelling and hoping in Tahrir Square. But of course, this has happened before - in Moldova. And before that - all throughout the Middle East. 

Can it happen in America? If it must, I believe it can. I believe in our generation and I believe we are deeply rooted. Don’t let the users who tweet about relationship problems or what was happening for breakfast, lunch and dinner make you believe that you already have us all figured out. 

Accept social media for what it is, and not for what it was never meant to substitute. 

Viva la revoluciĆ³n.

Note: Follow me on Twitter @vivian_giang

2 comments:

  1. Yes. It's the connection we feel to events that makes Twitter and FB special. Simply can't get that from the old media. And that's revolutionary, despite what Gladwell tells us.

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  2. Vivian, I am so proud of what you have accomplished and you inspire me to follow my own path to journalism and writing. Great stuff.

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