Communication Technology and Activism
In On Habit, by Alain de Botton, one key phrase stand out, “grids of interest”. The definition of grid of interest can defer depending on who is interpreting it. On Habit is an essay with many ideas. This essay will be compared to Malcom Gladwell’s Essay, Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted. Communication technology has always affected international issues and events. First came the printing press and now the phenomena of social media happens in everybody’s daily life with the amazing ability to share pictures, post daily comments and feelings, share new videos, like pictures and read news online about the latest celebrity gossip along with posting personal hopes and fears on Facebook or Twitter with just a click of the mouse pad. Just recently, social media has become the number one choice for protestors to plan and coordinate support for various protests against unjust and cruel governments in various countries against the globe. Many uprisings have been labeled as a social media revolutions, but what are social media? Social media are online websites like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube or virtual game world. Many different interest groups, like the LGBT community, have taken opportunity of social media to promote their cause and get their point across nationally and perhaps globally. Therefore social media is not only used to post a selfie on Facebook but also used as a promotional tool. For instance the LGTB community using social media to promote the passage of recognizing gay marriage nationally. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender movement has sometimes been thought as the Civil Rights Movement of the 21st Century. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender often suffer. In addition to their difficult internal struggles, they also encounter the ignorance and prejudice of others. Instead of receiving love and support from their families, they are sometimes ostracized. Rather than being involved in supportive church groups, they sometimes find themselves on the outside because even good God-fearing people often don’t know how to react to someone with same-sex attractions, so what exactly is the goal of the LGBT community or in other words, what is their grid of interest? What is a grid of interest? A grid of interest is the only thing you are focusing on as you are trying to reach your destination, and you block out everything that is around you except for the material or object that relates to the goal you are trying to reach. A grid of interest is something we or a group is interested in. We are committed to it and use various methods to achieve it. “I had imposed a grid of interests on the street, which left no space for blond children and gravy adverts and paving stone and the colours of shop fronts and the expressions of businesspeople and pensioners”(de Botton, 63). Like the Alain de Botton, the LTGB community impose grids of interest on high ranking officials like local senators to help them achieve their goal of promoting and recognizing same sex marriage nationally and perhaps globally. The LGTB community utilize certain social media websites like Twitter or Facebook to gather more support. Agreeing with de Botton, Mark Pfeifle state that “without Twitter the people of Iran would not have felt empowered and confident to stand up for freedom and democracy” (Gladwell. 134). The people of Iran had a particular grid of interest and that was to stand up and fight for freedom and democracy, just like the LGTB community standing up against people who disagree with recognizing same sex marriage and getting them to see that they have every right to a piece of happiness as straight couples. One particular author, Malcom Gladwell, seems pessimistic about using social media for positive social change particularly using the 1960 civil disobedience of the lunch-counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, against the modern use of social media for social activism. He even stated that “these events in the early sixties became a civil-rights war without e-mail, texting, Facebook, or Twitter.” (pg.134), meaning that social media can’t provide what social change has always required. Disagreeing with Gladwell, de Botton states that “…may be accused of losing sight of the overall purpose of his endeavor” (de Botton, 60). Gladwell seemed to focused on degrading the use of social media that he may have forgotten that these students could not have come together through silent agreement nor through a lack of transmitted information, but that they came together through the sharing of information such as the radio, television, or telephone, and that’s what social media continues to provide even today. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, like these students, use any means of communication to communicate meeting times or rally times or times for protest. They may put up a post on Facebook, tweet the information or text it to one of their friends.
Just like the four African American students at the sit-ins in 1960 seeking for equality, The LGTB community is also seeking the same thing. Majority of people has always thought that being gay or conducting same-sex sexual behavior or cross-dressing is socially unacceptable and often frowned upon. It started with a group of people and as time went by the community gathered more and more support and eventually “ it spread to those cities which had preexisting “movement centers”—a core of dedicated and trained activists ready to turn “fever” in to action” (Gladwell, 139). The LGTB community were ready to protest these unfair treatments to other cities with the same people with the same issues. They were ready for actions to take in to the federal level and press for states to pass some sort of bill that recognized the marriage of two same sex couple. They were ready to announce it the nation that they are tired of the mistreatment and that they are fighting back and will no longer be meek and fearful. They wanted people to know that they are no longer going to “…temper their curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others” (de Botton, 64). Meaning that the lesbians, the gays, bisexual or the transgender people will no longer try to hide that they will come out the closest and experiment with falling in love with the same sex and that they will be curious about themselves in the open. They, like the Civil Rights Movement, are seeking social acceptance and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. Gay people finally became sick and tired of being mistreated and began to fight back. They simply wanted the public to leave them alone. They didn’t want to be called names. When dialog and reason didn’t get results, they began to form organizations and develop protest strategies. They would write letters to local Senators or form Facebook groups but “… discipline and strategy—were things that online social media cannot provide” (Gladwell, 141). The social media could have provided us with connections to supporters and friends and family, but it couldn’t provide us with a plan or with discipline. “Information that assisted me in my goal attracted my attention, what did not was judged irrelevant” (de Botton, 63). In this quote, de Botton seems to be saying that social media should be judged irrelevant because it couldn’t help the LGBT community gain discipline or strategy, but at the same time it shouldn’t be, because it assisted the community in their goals. Social media could be deemed irrelevant or relevant depending on the use of it, like whether it could help in reaching a goal but doesn’t give the community a sense of discipline online then it could be deemed irrelevant.
So how accurate is the Malcolm Gladwell is his pessimistic view of social media in comparison to what Alain de Botton said about how people establish grids of interest? Gladwell emphasized the distinction between “strong-tie” social connections, which are the close, personal relationships of the sort that drew committed activists to protests in the South, despite the risk to their lives and “weak-tie” ones, the kind of connections you have with acquaintances who might value your friendship on Facebook, but not the opportunity to borrow your car. Gladwell argued that social media were inherently weak-tie and therefore unable to get people out into the streets. On the other hand, in order to pursue your grids of interest, you would have to use every available resource to help you achieve these goals. One of the ways is using online social media to help you campaign and argue and gather support locally and nationally. Therefor Gladwell is wrong in his assessment in light of what de Botton states. Activists need social media to help reach their goals and without it, words won’t be able to spread. Activists may need “strong ties” to risk their lives in the streets, but it’s clear that those ties can stretch across continents, and can consist entirely of bits, right up to the moment when they come together, whether its to rally and protest or to conduct a sit-in. Everybody checks Facebook and Twitter, so what better way but put it on sites that will be checked daily?