Malcolm Gladwell, the author of several best sellers including a favorite of mine The Tipping Point, wrote a New Yorker article last week about the bonds of Social Networking tools like Twitter and Facebook. To explain his point he describes the fears and risks of the “sit in” generation of the 1960s. Social change at that time required a particular type of nerve: courage and restraint. It was needed because the threats, occasionally deadly, were often carried out. They knew they had to endure because their weakness would lead to weakness in others. Gladwell calls these strong bonds.
6.2 million people have been unemployed for more than six months. Being without work for that long is troubling to the mind. Being available in case something comes up and the instability of simply not knowing is tough. Plus it’s lonely. But 6.2 million is a big number and it means there’s probably someone within your community who is in the same predicament. That is where a site called Unemployed-Friends.com comes in. It’s a means for those without work to exchange messages, thoughts, and prospects. But besides the fringe benefits of venting, it’s a market for helping each other. That’s the genius of it, these people have time and unused skills available. And this is just the short term benefit. Strong bonds might be the long term benefit.
When I was about eight years old, I remember the pull the professional wrestling. “Who won Wrestlemania?” I’d ask my dad because it was too late for me to stay up. This was the ’80s and wrestling wasn’t obvious about the scripted action yet. People like Hulk Hogan would get the crowd going with their back stage interviews. In the late ’90s a resurgence followed and people could smell what The Rock was cooking. The camera would pan the stands and see signs with clever sayings like “Hogan was a Flintstone” and “This Space for Rent.” Everyone would chant the catch phrases and nothing would be better than Jerry Lawyler’s high pitch announcement of a surprise wrestler “WHAT?! That’s Stone Cold Steve Austin’s music!” Simply exciting.
But this type of connection is weak. It’d only last while the entertainment was going and then it was time to move on to something else. I think this is what Gladwell was trying to get across with his New Yorker piece. That Twitter and other Social Networks are forms of entertainment and have no lasting kinship. But we are also in a society where the threat of an act is all that is needed. It’s pretty powerful. So getting a few thousand signatures via facebook isn’t the same as a “sit-in” but it sends the message to the offending party that they could be in a costly confrontation. And then they have to decide if it’s worth it.
I mention all this because I think a real test of these tools is underway. The US election cycle for 2012 will begin in about six weeks. About a year later we’ll begin to see a lot of movement around a third party candidate. Thomas Friedman in the NY Times writes about the idea in a Op-Ed piece called Third Party Rising . He should have used a former wrestler as an example – Jesse Ventura ran a grass roots campaign in the mid ’90s, about the time the Rock was cooking, and became governor of Minnesota. Michael Bloomberg might give it a shot, we’ll see, but I don’t think a third party can win, but he can get close, and the mere threat should send shock waves to the Democrat and Republican Parties. From a business perspective, the time is right to capitalize on the on coming need and use of the strong and weak bonds.
Working Thoughts 10/4/08
September 2008 Jobs Report and Wages