Posts Tagged ‘Malcolm Gladwell’

Monday Medley

What we read while signing up for Obamacare (just kidding)….

Monday Medley

What we read while rioting in Happy Valley, resigning in Italy, and, um, what’s the third one?

  • NPI favorite Joe Posnanski finds himself in an awkward position, having moved to State College this fall to write his biography of Joe Paterno. Posnanski quasi-defends the coach at SI.

Malcolm Gladwell, Egypt, and Social Media

With all that is going on in Egypt and all over the rest of the Arab world, Malcolm Gladwell is focusing on the most important thing: He’s making sure nobody gives Twitter and Facebook too much credit for this, since we all know that social media is useless when it comes to affecting social change:

“But surely the least interesting fact about them is that some of the protesters may (or may not) have at one point or another employed some of the tools of the new media to communicate with one another. Please. People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along. Barely anyone in East Germany in the nineteen-eighties had a phone—and they ended up with hundreds of thousands of people in central Leipzig and brought down a regime that we all thought would last another hundred years—and in the French Revolution the crowd in the streets spoke to one another with that strange, today largely unknown instrument known as the human voice.”

Is there something weaker than straw? I am honestly flabbergasted that someone as bright as Gladwell wrote these words. NOBODY IS CLAIMING THAT SOCIAL MEDIA INVENTED SOCIAL PROTESTS. STOP ARGUING WITH A CLAIM NOBODY ON THE PLANET HAS EVER ONCE MADE. This is like saying, “People got from one place to another before cars. Our ancestors who crossed the Bering Straight had nothing but their own two feet! So who gives a shit about a cars?” Continue reading

Monday Medley

What we read while deciding not to publish our own story about not having sex with Christine O’Donnell…

  • Speaking of statistical analysis, the Mets hired sabermetrics-advocate Sandy Alderson as their new General Manager this week. Here is an extensive (and excellent) interview of Alderson back when he was CEO of the Padres. Rumor has it that he’s going to bring along Paul DePodesta to the front office, who was prominent in Moneyball (a book we’ve invoked a few times so far), and has his own blog.

Monday Medley

What we read while appreciating the human element…


  • Two games that are, indeed, all about corners — Monopoly and The Wiretogether at last.

Whose Ties Are You Calling “Weak”?

In this week’s New Yorker, the estimable Malcolm Gladwell takes, among other things, umbrage at the idea that tools of social media, like Twitter and Facebook, can be used for social activism. This idea has been popular for over a year now, dating back at least to the so-called “Twitter Revolution” in Moldova last year, as well as the site’s role in Iran’s 2009 elections. Gladwell, however, insists the “weak ties” promoted by these sites can never effect real social change. He compares it to the civil rights activism of the 1960s, in which “participants were far more likely than dropouts to have close friends who were also going” down South. This kind of activism—what Gladwell calls “high-risk activism”—is about strong ties.

As usual, Gladwell’s piece is brilliantly written and very compelling, but I’m afraid he falls into the same trap that many critics of modern social media are stuck in: this false dichotomy between “strong” and “weak” ties. It is indeed true that Facebook and Twitter are not built to maintain “strong ties” (like the ties between the four Greensboro students who began the Woolworth’s sit-ins, who were roommates). In fact, Gladwell provides as good a description of the uses of these sites as I’ve seen: Continue reading

Monday Medley

What we read while being snookered by Fox News…

Unabated to the Quarterback: The NFL Draft

A few years ago, I tried to force one of my friends to watch The Masters. I tried to explain how watching a major golf tournament was different from watching any other sporting event, with the way the leaderboard constantly evolved and, by Sunday night, you laughed at yourself for thinking a few hours before that Y was going to win when X had it in the bag all along (and this doesn’t even mention Z, who looked like a shoo-in a day earlier).

His ignorant response was that none of that was interesting at all, and that since the constitutive shots of golf themselves lacked suspense, drama, or an opposing force, you might as well just look in Monday’s paper to see who won.

This argument, of course, can hold for a lot of sporting events—provided we don’t find their constitutive elements all that exciting. Any real sports fan, then, should dismiss such a specious objection.

Except when it comes to the NFL Draft.

Continue reading

Monday Medley

What we read while practicing torch lighting for 2012….

  • French pop-philosopher Bernard-Henry Levi rips Immanuel Kant in new book; too bad basis for said ripping is a critique of Kant written by a non-existent philosopher who was invented by a satirist. Even if BHL had claimed it was for philanthropic concerns, Kant would not have approved of the lie.
  • And because we’re not entirely sure if 1988 was better than 2000 in the dunk contest, a bonus video:

Aught Lang Syne: The Rise of Popular Economics

One clear development in nonfiction during the Aughts has been the rise of popular economics. Popular economics nonfiction existed before this decade, but the genre proliferated in 2005 with the wild success of Freakonomics. Discover Your Inner Economist, More Sex is Safer Sex, Predictably Irrational, The Economic Naturalist, and SuperFreakonomics among others followed.

What is popular economics? Well, this nonfiction is popular in the sense that it’s written in a way that any moderately intelligent person could understand the material without any previous exposure to economics. While none of the authors of these books have writing skills as superb as Malcolm Gladwell’s or Michael Lewis’, several of the authors employ quite deft prose. Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics were co-written by a journalist, Stephen Dubner, which explains why they’re the best of the bunch in terms of writing style. Their focus on anecdotes to tease out concepts and findings is a method used to some degree by all of the authors to make their books accessible. But, perhaps the best part of their writing is their explication of their findings. For instance, they explain why the correlation between blacker names and lower income is not causal:
Continue reading

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