Happy birthday to Grantland contributing editor Malcolm Gladwell, who has logged in about 438,000 hours in service of his unparalleled ability to prove that even the most commonsensical of ideas can achieve the perception of complexity when expressed with the kind of controlled tone that presents itself as a novel articulation of discovery. I mean, good for him, subsequent attempts by younger practitioners have shown that it is nowhere near as easy as it looks. Anyway, he's 50 today.
There was a lot wrong with Malcolm Gladwell's super-ballyhooed piece, "Small Change," in the New Yorker last October. In it, he suggested that the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. took place without Twitter or Facebook, because they hadn't been invented yet. Now that the same questions have come up again with respect to recent events in Egypt, Gladwell hopped right onto the New Yorker blog to complain some more about how not-important Twitter is.
I appear to be one of the few who agree with Malcolm Gladwell that vast systems of inequity, such as Jim Crow laws, will not likely be changed by means of people putting up some thoughts on the Twitter. (Still I didn't realize people were seriously suggesting such a thing!)
Malcolm Gladwell. Subtitle: "How Entrepreneurs Really Succeed." Ted Turner "inherited the largest outdoor advertising firm in the South." "He could advertise his new station for free." "Within two years, the station was breaking even." "In a recent study." "The truly successful businessman… is a predator." "Wall Street thought that [John] Paulson was crazy." "But Paulson wasn't crazy at all." "'There's never been an opportunity like this,' Paulson gushed to a colleague, as he made one bet after another. By 'never' he meant never ever." "Paulson's story also casts a harsh light on the prevailing assumptions behind corporate compensation policies…. to turn executives into risk-takers." "Many entrepreneurs take plenty [...]
So in today's Times Janet Maslin tears into Malcolm Gladwell's new greatest hits book collection. It is brutal, because she is endlessly making fun of his sentences and his paragraphs: "He liked to begin by framing some kind of broad question. Then he liked to change subjects abruptly. Let's suddenly talk about Ben Fountain and Jonathan Safran Foer." Ha ha, that is funny. For some reason though, this makes me uncomfortable! And when I am uncomfortable with conflict, I ask myself: whose side am I on? After some internal investigation, I realized: I'm not on either of their sides! Why should I be? What horse do I have in [...]
Wired editor Chris Anderson raised issue with and made some explanations regarding yesterday's Malcolm Gladwell review of his book, Free, which has chunks of other people's work in it. Unfortunately, he ends his concluding paragraph with a question. To which he hedges the answer. And then he ends in disaster-proposing a system of labor divorced almost entirely from profit, a bizarre model so hyper-capitalist that it resembles nothing so much as a digital-age medieval society. He would even create a new class of corporate vassalage! Is this what he possibly really thinks? He says yes!
We were a little slow getting to a dissection of Malcolm Gladwell's latest piece over here, because, well, we are like the old times, we like to carefully weigh our opinions before publishing. (Just joshing!) But the U.S. mail and the letters desk is even slower, so it took until today's New Yorker for their letter pages to be dominated by people trashing Gladwell for the application of his ideas, for his understanding of history and, naturally, about the basketball.
"Taking another step in its ongoing effort to encourage small business growth, Bank of America today announced it has conducted a series of events with Malcolm Gladwell to deliver quality education and actionable advice to small business owners in various markets throughout the country." —THE HECK???
The Revolution Will Not Be ‘Liked’: "The fact is, there are too many bands in the world. We’re talking about thousands of misguided people who are making everyone around them broke and miserable and overcrowding this wonderful city. I mean, you talk about process, about sharing a process. What process? What is the process, Jerry? Do you know the process of actually learning how to play an instrument? Do they? Do they know how long it takes to actually become good at playing an instrument? TEN THOUSAND HOURS, Jerry."
Oh my God, I think I agree with Malcolm Gladwell? First though we must note that this interview contains a wonderfully telling Gladwell moment. Gladwell says that we need to look at the consequences of social media. Great, can you give me an example, he is asked. And then he pretends to give an example which isn't an example at all, but a vague theory. Okay but that is a quibble! Because then there's this. "If I'm putting together a flash mob, that I want everyone to meet me in half an hour in Times Square, it's really useful to have 100,000 followers on Twitter. If I want [...]
Horror Chick, With Melissa Lafsky: Why 'The Fourth Kind' Needs to Suckle at the Teat of Malcolm Gladwell
Collectively, we think alien abduction is dumb. I mean really dumb. Like, if I came home one day and said, "Hey, I was abducted by aliens," somehow that would launch me deeper into Fucking Nutcase Territory than "Hey, I was possessed by a demon who's been stalking me since childhood," or "Hey, I was screwed six ways from Sunday by a modern Dracula who looks like Fabio after a brief stay at Auschwitz," or even, "Hey, I turned an entire investment bank into a giant vampire squid." But really, why is alien abduction so much nuttier than demon possession or vampire sex or Matt Taibbi's anti-Goldman rage? It's simply a [...]
Further signs of The New Poverty: "Neiman Marcus Group Inc. mailed out its annual Christmas Book catalog, which each year features over-the-top "fantasy" gifts, to one million customers on Tuesday. But for the first time in a decade, there isn't a seven- or eight-figure price tag on the list. The most expensive fantasy item for 2009 is a $250,000 'his and hers' two-seater Icon aircraft, which comes with pilot training for two. That's a far cry from the $20 million submarine offered in 2000, the $10 million Zeppelin of 2004 or the $10 million stable of racehorses of 2008." Still, for $200k you can buy yourself a modern-day [...]
Choire Sicha: Do not miss how amusing it is to have Malcolm Gladwell review Chris Anderson in the New Yorker. Tom Scocca: Wha- Tom Scocca: Zhu- Tom Scocca: Huff? Choire Sicha: So, yes, for starters? Gladwell finally makes the point that "approaching zero" is nowhere the same as zero. Tom Scocca: That's how Richard Pryor's embezzlement scheme worked in Superman III.
Malcolm Gladwell apparently decided to stuff and mount his strawman Twitter arguments again: "He said he has it on his BlackBerry and made a 'chh-chh' technology sound effect while miming with his thumbs as if he was pressing buttons on a small device. He likes to read things his friends tweet. 'Like I said, these are awesome tools,' he added, fidgeting with the top on a water bottle resting next to his chair. 'I just don’t know why it has to be perfect—right?—or why anyone would claim that it’s good at absolutely everything. Isn’t it enough that it’s an extraordinary means of sharing ideas and bringing people together?'[...]
"I don't come to refute Gladwell's strawman argument…." -I've been waiting for someone to take a swing at Malcolm Gladwell's argument about how Twitter… isn't… the Civil Rights Movement? Well here we are, with your host, Anil Dash.
Another Malcolm Gladwell anecdote sorta bites the dust, in the form of "marriage happiness predictor" and scientist John Gottman, who does not actually predict marriage happiness it turns out. (Not that his work is wrong! He just doesn't do predictions.)
"Gladwell's protagonists are generally intelligent but ordinary folks who have imbued their work with a passionate practicality. Their laboratories are courtrooms and high-concept shopping malls, office parks and African villages, but whatever their locale, they are always buried in data, endless stacks and reams and massive videotape libraries full of tens of thousands of hours of footage documenting their findings, their desks buckling under thick piles of 'carefully annotated tracking sheets.' With this abundance of evidence they espouse theories that Gladwell depicts either as regrettably naÃƒÂ¯ve or courageously counterintuitive, depending on whether he is debunking conventional wisdom or advancing a hitherto unknown experimental truth."
Your weekend reading assignment: "[...]
Today's New Yorker brings a sort of unclosed-circle of a Malcolm Gladwell piece, about a book, To Kill a Mockingbird, which is based loosely on events including the trial of a black man who was alleged to have raped a white woman in 1936, a book that was published in 1960, and also a politician, Jim Folsom, when he was running for election in 1954, and also a 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Ed, issued in May, which according to Gladwell ended Folsom's career, while even if that is true it also did not apparently prevent Folsom from being reelected for a second stint as governor [...]
Malcolm Gladwell is bringing "his extraordinary alchemy of story-telling and intuitive thinking on a UK tour." He will deliver such insights as: "You can't start blogging at 23 and call yourself a journalist." Oh can't you? I suppose you can't start juggling and getting in tiny cars at 33 and calling yourself a clown, either.