Malcolm Gladwell said that Twitter was no Civil Rights Movement. While this seems like the most reasonable thing anybody has ever written about the internet, Cory Doctorow called it "silly."
Doctorow was not alone in criticizing Gladwell's post, nor was he alone in disdaining Gladwell's argument as unworthy of serious criticism. Offended, apparently, by the implication that Michael Arrington was no Malcolm X, tech bloggers like Anil Dash and Chris Dixon have been raining shallow condescension on Gladwell for a month.
Dixon, who appears to be a a white millionaire with an Ivy League background, said:
I don’t know if Malcolm Gladwell is right when he claims “the revolution will not be tweeted,” but I can say with certainty that the Twitter he describes is not the Twitter I know...I’d love to engage in a debate with smart people like Gladwell about the impact of the social web on culture, politics, activism and so on...But it’s hard for me to take them seriously when they don’t seem to take their subject matter seriously.
I don't come to refute Gladwell's strawman argument...The traditional method sit-in and picket-in-the-streets form of protest is clearly a failure online.
Dash goes on to argue that people who build stuff are the true revolutionaries, and describes the maker "movement" -- a movement which is, so far as I can tell, nothing but a brand which the brilliant Mark Frauenfelder made up to sell a wonderful magazine. Dash calls it a proud Web-era answer to the Civil Rights Movement.
If we put the making movement in the context of other social and political movements, it's had amazing success. In city after city, year after year, tens of thousands of people pay money to show up and learn about taking control of their media, learning, consumption and communications. In contrast to groups like the Tea Party, the crowd at Maker Faire is diverse, includes children and adults of all ages, and never finds itself in conflict with other groups based on identity or politics.
It's unusual to measure the success of a social movement by the number of customers it converts, but Dash does not clarify this, nor his unusual concept of a revolutionary movement which never finds itself in political conflict with any other group. While Dash's post reads like the kind of unprovoked, incoherent outburst you might expect from an elderly man with Alzheimer's, Doctorow said:
Anil Dash hits one so far out of the park it attains orbit...It's all must-read stuff, but here's the bit that made me want to stand up and salute.
Not everyone who uses the language of revolution is doing anything revolutionary at all. For example, Glenn Beck recently held a Tea Party rally on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "We Have A Dream" speech, and described it as "reclaiming" the Civil Rights Movement.
The logic in Dash's "must-read" blog post almost sank to the plane of Glenn Beck's logic, and although its conclusions were less destructive than Beck's, it's hard to see them as entirely non-destructive. To put the Civil Rights Movement on a level footing with a bunch of nerds connecting their coffee machines to the Twitter API in their spare time seems to erode the Civil Rights Movement's dignity, at the very least.
Hacks are cool, for sure, but if the future of our society depends on them, we might be completely fucked. Social software comes in incredibly handy for pimps, hookers, thieves, creative thieves, abusive ex-husbands, and stalkers. I think seeing technology as a what is inaccurate and irresponsible; technology is a how.
It's not that surprising to find irreponsible politics in an industry with a history of irresponsible design decisions. In my opinion, there's nothing wrong with tech bloggers being too interested in business to have anything worthwhile to say about politics, but if that's where you're coming from, you might as well own up to the fact; and anyone who criticizes Gladwell's argument really should counter its terrific depth and historical background with similarly well-reasoned thought.