Gladwell, Weinberger, Sorkin, Lessig, Social Network: A critique of two critiques

Phew, here we go. I know both articles I am going to talk about are a week old, but I’ll take Josh Lyman’s advice and try to reignite the news cycle.

Well, last week I found myself disagreeing with two of my “heroes”, Malcolm Gladwell and Lawrence Lessig. Here’s why:

First, Gladwell’s article “Small Change” in the New Yorker. I saw the link on Twitter first coupled with first reactions, most of them hailing the piece as the new gospel. So I read it and wondered if there was any structure there or just loosely-joint snippets. Although I am usually a fan of Gladwell’s writing, I didn’t connect at all. Other people are disagreeing with his main points, not surprisingly Twitter’s founders among them, however, I found David Weinberger’s reponse to Gladwell’s article most fitting. First of all, thankfully, he exposed a structure, then he delves into several of the arguments. His headline sums it up best for me:

Gladwell discovers it takes more than 140 characters to overturn a government

Of course it does, Mr. Gladwell. However, todays technology makes it easier, functions as an enabler, and helps a movement grow faster. As it was 100 years ago, the movement needs believers, and followers, with a hierarchy – without that there is no movement. But I strongly believe the power of social networks, be it the phone tree or todays much bigger networks like Twitter or Facebook, are not to be discounted.

Secondly, Lawrence Lessig’s review of The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin’s movie about Facebook, Sorkin vs. Zuckerberg. Lessig is a great mind with the ability to present complex thoughts in a fashion that everybody understands them an that is actually entertaining. If you had the pleasure of watching him present the Remix concepts live, you will probably have understood copyright much better. However, although his critique of Sorkin’s script has valid points, I couldn’t help but wonder, why? Why take the time of your day to complain about the language the students use (they wouldn’t speak like George Bernhard Shaw), the power of the lawyers (they aren’t as evil as portrayed), and that Sorkin didn’t really explain the internet.

While I think that makes a great movie review, but I wonder why from Lessig. My main point: It’s a movie. Although parts are based on a real story, it is not a documentary but written to entertain as many people as possible. Much like Zuckerberg’s goal is to get as many people as possible into his net. And I assume Sorkin could be calling Lessig to apologize for the points mentioned above, but the end of the call would be, yeah, you’re probably right, but your movie wouldn’t sell as good. As Zuckerberg is calling his critics, saying, yeah, your thoughts about privacy are probably right, but then Facebook wouldn’t grow as well.

Join the Beckmessers, it’s just a movie.