Is social media creating a generation of cowards?

I’ve been asked about my perspective on Malcom Gladwell’s article, “Small change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted.”  My take on it may surprise you … and provide uncomfortable reading if you are a parent or social media junkie.

Social media and leadership

Mr. Gladwell is a master storyteller, but usually starts with the history of fire to make his point so I will summarize his premise:

Social media will not be the agent of social change that many say it will be because it is built on a network of weakly-connected links and lacks a central leadership structure.  He compares the passive changes built on social networks with the risky and courageous acts needed to confront racism in the U.S. in the 1960s.

His article prompted quite a backlash, including a lengthy article on Mashable with illustrations of social good created through the web.

Perhaps I am the only blogger around who agrees with Mr. Gladwell.  And, in fact, I will take the story even a step further.  Not only do I think the social web is incapable of enabling significant social revolution, it is probably conditioning young people out of the leadership and communication skills they need to lead — or follow — any change at all that requires personal risk.

The end of human social skills?

Here’s a small illustration of what I mean.

Recently a teen-aged girl I know met a new guy and started dating.  He came over to her house, dropped off a CD she wanted to borrow and then left the house five minutes later to go home and have a Facebook conversation with her into the morning hours. They dated for a short time and when he broke up with her (over Facebook-induced jealousy) it was via cellphone.  Not talking — texting.   She said he preferred to argue this way because the delay in response while text-messaging afforded him the opportunity to think of a snide remark. When his Facebook relationship status changed to “single,” a whole new round of nasty claims and counter-claims were levied — to the world, on status updates.

Here is a young couple using technology to avoid the small amount of personal courage it takes to even have a phone call.   The loss of an ability to communicate or even relate to humans in a face-to-face environment is not a mere observation but the subject of a growing body of research.

Susan Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at the University of Oxford, said we are “enthusiastically embracing the erosion of our identity” through social networking sites.  She said children using these sites can  lose sight of where their personalities finish and the outside world begins.

She further claimed that sense of identity is being eroded by “fast-paced, instant screen reactions,” so that the next generation will define themselves by the responses of others instead of their own self-worth.

The neuroscientist even testified before Parliament that “Social network sites risk infantalizing the mid-21st century mind, leaving it characterized by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathize and a shaky sense of identity.”

In other words, we may be creating a generation of insecure cowards.

The toxic childhood

Greenfield referred to one subject as saying they had 900 friends, and the fact “that you can’t see or hear other people makes it easier to reveal yourself in a way that you might not be comfortable with. You become less conscious of the individuals involved (including yourself), less inhibited, less embarrassed and less concerned about how you will be evaluated.”

Educational psychologist Jane Healy believes children should be kept away from computer games until they are seven. Most games only trigger the ‘flight or fight’ region of the brain, rather than the vital areas responsible for reasoning.

Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, writes about “screen saturation” eroding basic social skills.  “We are seeing children’s brain development damaged because they don’t engage in the activity they have engaged in for millennia.”

Greenfield warned: “It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations. We know that the human brain is exquisitely sensitive to the outside world.”

Generation Farmville

The Mashable article misses the point, or perhaps avoids it. Undoubtedly lots of social good can be accomplished with a Paypal account and a “like” button.  That is all wonderful and I love to read those stories.  But what Gladwell is saying, and what I am expanding upon, is that a systematic re-conditioning of our children is occurring.  They could be losing the very behaviors required to participate in dramatic social change.

Hopefully, we will always have individuals willing to lead.  But will we raise a generation of children courageous enough to  follow?  Courageous enough to risk criticism, risk a reputation —  or even a life — in the name of truly revolutionary change?

Dramatic social change — like Gladwell’s example of confronting racism — takes leading and motivating followers to make a real sacrifice.  Can this still happen in the Farmville Generation?

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  • Jim LeBlanc

    Wow. A lot to think about here. I’m not sure I agree with all of it but I guess I want to thank you for having the courage to at least take on an unpopular position.

    I read the New Yorker piece and agree that Mashable didn’t seem to understand the whole thing. Thanks for that link. I look forward to the reader comments on this one!

    This is the one blog I consistently read every day so keep up the good work. Great topic to start the week.

  • I love your perspective Mark, very well put. Social media has almost become passive aggression in it’s purest. I especially like the example of Martin Luther King in the NY Times article, and if his followers had just been on twitter- there may have not been a revolution.

  • Mark,

    I 100% agreed with you wholeheartedly. I myself actually took two bloggers to task on this. The main problem I have is that most responses to Malcolm’s article aren’t arguing on the points he’s making – high risk vs. low risk activism, and how they are/are not playing out in today’s environment. Technology in and of itself doesn’t make for more ‘engaged’ and meaningful activity. It’s heartfelt ideas with noble intentions behind them. And for the most part I don’t see either running rampant on social media platforms.

  • Kathy Snavely

    Relationships are the only thing capable of inducing change in human behavior. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I know I have been changed as a result of the relationships I have created with some extraordinary people I’ve met on Twitter. It is highly unlikely we would have connected IRL.

    I think that is determined, in part, because I have a life philsophy to connect and GROW, Mark. I fear for those whose reality is only determined by electronic means.

    An example of this: during the White House Conference on Entrepreneurship earlier this year, I went on Facebook and took part in the live broadcast of one of the workshops, with a live feed. I “spoke” with a young man who firmly believed that he could absorb all he needed to learn about being an entrepreneur online – and there was no dissauding him. I truly felt sorry for him – he will miss so very much. I take my responsibility as a facilitator of learning very seriously and I invest a great deal of myself in my students to be an agent of change and growth in their lives. Whether they accept that or not is their choice…and I grieve over those who choose not to accept this gift that I offer them.

    However, I think Mr. Gladwell made a judgment based on some very limited information. How can such an extremely intelligent man make a pronouncement about something he has so little exposure to? Tweeting a few times over two days hardly qualifies you to judge if Twitter can be an effective tool in communicating. #fail Those of us who consider ourselves true Tweeps, thrive on sharing information, creating meaningful conversations and truly engaging with others.

    We can always count on you, Mark to stir to mind, and often the heart – for which we thank you!

  • Mark

    @Jim & @Kale — Thanks so much for taking the time to comment today!

    @Rasul — It’s funny — I just ran into one of your comments on another blog! i think you articulated that gap precisely. High involvement activism versus “Slacktivism.” And honestly, I knew that would be the reaction. It will probably be the reaction here, too, as people point to how much money they raised for building wells in Africa or something. That is all very cool but it is not what Gladwell was addressing. Thanks for the support : )

  • Mark

    @Kathy — Thanks for this wonderful account.

    I think there are a lot of things that can drive human behavior besides relationships, for example, hunger, greed, desperation, injustice. Maybe even blog posts. : )

    But I see your point and I agree with your view on the importance of interaction.

    I don’t agree that Gladwell shouldn’t be able to make a point about the social web without being active in it ( I didn’t think he tweeted at all). After all, he wasn’t active in the race protests either but could certainly present a view. His gift is storytelling through the eyes and experiences of others.

    Thanks for your part in introducing this topic by the way. I’m honored to have you comment on this topic!

  • I will comment at length tomorrow (yes, i know, sorry!) because this really deserves an in depth look, but, let me ask all of you, what is the one thing everyone in social media says is the most valuable thing about their social media relationships? Meeting in person and making a connection with the real live flesh and blood person(s). Could Greensboro have happened without those nights spent talking in dorm rooms? With night spent tweeting? Hardly. This is not a knock or condemnation of social media or any of our connections therein. The emotional capital that was expended in Greensboro and other places like it has no equal in social media. At least not yet.

  • Kathy Snavely

    I would qualify the examples you gave as relationship with environment. Acountability to one’s self is also relational.

    Gladwell analyzed a period of history which he could gain perspective based on study/analysis. Clearly, social media is a new medium and I don’t think we’ve begun to see what it will (and not) be able to do.

    Gladwell being “active” in social media wasn’t exactly my point; he was, I believe, making a judgment without even beginning a test drive. A good storyteller should get their facts in order. I think he proceeded on an assumption…. History has been negatively impacted on some very negative assumptions.

    Wow – my soapbox is really tall tonight. Not sure I can get down without hurting myself 🙂

  • Mark

    @Gregg — A very powerful comment. Look forward to hearing more. Thanks!

    @Kathy — Hey, stay up on that soapbox! That’s why we’re here. Stay up there as long as you like. : ) Your points are well-taken. Thanks for the thoughtful insights, Kathy.

  • Wrong.
    This was an easy shot for Gladwell to make. Sure, there is no evidence of a revolution NOW.
    The premise is FALSE to begin with:
    “The world, we are told, is in the midst of a revolution. The new tools of social media have reinvented social activism.”

    Really? Who is saying that?

    The so called revolutions have more to do with technology than social media.
    Just like anything else, this is about the tools. The same things that were suppose to destroy american life as it was in the 50s with TV and radio, didn’t.

    I can see your point and do agree with some of the implications on our communication but just as it is too soon to say that social media CAN’T be used for activism, it is too soon to say we won’t adjust.
    More to the point, we don’t all have cell phones yet…
    yes, the revolution won’t be Tweeted… YET

  • Greetings from Germany,

    reading your post, I started wondering. Everything, I can remember about historical chances, tells me, that there has been a remarkable pattern all over the world.

    It is like physics. Newton’s action-reaction law tells us, for every action there is a reaction, equally in size, but in the opposite direction.

    I agree, that there are dramatic changes going on, but I really do believe, that there is quite a reaction going on, that runs in the opposite direction. we only see the side of the social networks, as we ourselves are submerged there. what happens outside is like a black box. there is a category called silent evidence, we tend to forget, when talking about things. can it be possible, that the world outside of social media might hold some evidence, we just don’t see?

    I’m not sure, but I do believe, that painting the future of our race black, just because of this development might go a little bit far.


    ps.: Sorry for my mediocre English. I hope everybody can follow my thoughts.

  • Mark

    @Todd, I appreciate very much that you have offered a dissenting voice. The idea that social media is re-invigorating social activism has been a very common theme, from my perspective, as well Gladwell, as you cited. Check out the Mashable article I mentioned as a start, “Social media is re-inventing activism.” Not exactly a subtle point! : ) So I do believe there has been a lot of attention on this topic, and it focuses on charity, not just the tools. My article acknowledged the value of this but it is not the type of activism Gladwell addresses. It is comparing apples and oranges.

    Sure, there is a risk that some, including me, could be saying the sky is falling just like I’m sure folks did at the advent of TV and movies. The difference is that U.S. teens are spending an average of 7.5 hours PER DAY in front of some type of electronic screen. A reasonable person would conclude that this is going to have some effect on the socialization of these young people. Moreover, the research is starting to show that is the case.

    I believe this is a vital issue that is being glossed over by parents, bloggers and the mainstream media. I don’t agree with everything Gladwell had in his article but I appreciate that it might be a wake-up call for the changes before us.

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment Todd, and especially to offer a dissenting view.

  • Mark

    @Sven — Thank you for another dissenting view, and i think your sentiment came through beautifully. Thank you.

    I am by nature an optimist so I actually liked your comment very much even though you disagree with me.

    My great hope is in the resilience of kids to adapt and that the overwhelming good of the communications and connections of the social web can instill a new sense of communion and understanding across the globe, (even if the connection starts with World of Warcraft!)

    It’s not all black. Not by a long shot. Thanks for saying so!

  • My first fulltime job is that of mom to three girls ranging from 7-12. We are a very techie/connected family but I know when to pull the plug. As fun, rewarding and stimulating as our online world can be, it doesn’t beat getting outside and PLAYING (IRL!) with other kids. The one thing that I’ve noticed more than anything is that we’ve ALL lost our attention span and patience level. Both of my younger ones still don’t understand the mystery of the “answering machine”. They will call a friend and then come to me 30 mins later asking if they can call again. “But you just left a message.. they’ll call you when they get home” “But MOM!! I know they’re home, they just haven’t listened to the message” is a common exchange.
    Mark, you’ve hit on a valid topic but like everything else.. as a parent, it is MY responsibility to govern them and to teach them how to balance their worlds. When to tune in and when to tune out.

  • Hi Mark,

    Great blog post as usual from you, I sort of disagree with Mr Gladwell’s article. It’s true that he is the master of story teller, I enjoyed his book “Outliers” a lot. However, here is my opinion on your first take on

    “The end of human social skills?”
    I’m actually asking myself if that is dating, anyway I’m not gonna judge them because maybe they are shy in nature. However I’m gonna give you two people who I think are shy in nature but came out social.
    1) Calvin Lee (@mayhemstudios) who is super shy and now is Mr Social. Look at how social he is right now. He’s like the total opposite of the couple mention earlier.
    2) ME LoL (still shy when meeting new people)
    What I can say is that social media actually changed me in the sense that it is helping me to overcome my fears of talking with new people because I used to run away from all those. I don’t even attend parties LoL..

    Back to Gladwell. I think its an unfair statement by him but certain parts of his message is true however.

    “built on a network of weakly-connected links and lacks a central leadership structure.” ->> I agree with Malcolm Gladwell on this. The reason so is because social media is a life changer but it may not replace whats happening in the real world, or leadership in reality or is able to give the same results.

    I think Malcolm Gladwell is comparing a huge event to something smaller. Its like saying “social media can’t replace sex or making babies”

    However, we need to know that social media is not a life changer but it plays an important ROLE in helping getting that message across channels and getting that message to others.

    In the past, only the who’s who or people who are well known are able to do something. Today everyone have a say. Like you Mark, and so is everyone commenting here.

    If we’re in the 60’s and Malcolm Gladwell said something, all we could do is say something in front of the TV.

    As someone who is actively trying to connect with everyone that I can, social media changed my life by adding value to it. It’s not changing my life dramatically though I’m just a small event.


  • Jordan

    Just because cowards use social media doesn’t mean social media conditions people into being cowardly. I see no causality.

    Also, social networking and live social interaction are not mutually exclusive. It’s not like kids these days are growing up in a vacuum in which their entire interaction with society is happening through electronics. Nobody should pretend to know how a child like that would turn out, anyway.

    I do agree that online networking is not necessarily conducive to high-risk activism. I disagree though that social networking will turn out a generation of ADD suffering, sensationalist, selfish, insecure cowards, incapable of making real sacrifice or bringing about any kind of meaningful social revolution. It’s just that social networking might not be a vital tool in bringing about that sort of change.

  • Mark

    @Kristen — I agree, at the end of the day it is a parenting issue, and a very difficult one given peer pressure. Thanks Kristen!

    @Aaron — I think you make an extremely good point here about the benefits of social media to people who tend to be shy. What an amazing way to get involved and connect with the world. Really a fantastic comment. Thank you!

    @Jordan — Obviously you are passionate about your point, but if you don’t think the social web can condition our children in these ways, I would like to know WHY you think that way, especially when clinical research from neuroscientists and doctors indicates otherwise.

  • Interesting, true and unfortunate points raised here. I also challenge you to think back in time to previous bad and anti-social behavior in history.

    Kim Deal, bassist for the rock group Pixies, quit the band in 1993 via fax.

    In 1994, Genesis lead, Phill Collins called off his marriage (his second, I believe) via fax.

    Is this a rock and roll phenomenon? Or did we only hear about these stories because it was (at the time, considered) news and pickedup by traditional media. Today, anyone can see almost anything fllying about the social web.

    Technology doesn’t create bad behavior. It’s learned.

    Bad behavior is bad behavior – 6 or 60, Fax or Facebook. IMHO

  • You might “enjoy” reading Francis Fukuyama on these subjects (notably “The End Of History And The Last Man” and especially “The Great Disruption.” I expect you won’t agree with all of it (he is a lightning rod in sociological circles) but what he might suggest is that old social norms are collapsing (as you postulate) but new ones are forming in their place – and seeing this as a “decline” is merely casting a value judgement upon the new norms. Maybe our children, like our data, will be supported by “the cloud” in ways unimaginable to folks like us.

    Dunno. Back to my cereal.

  • I’m still working on a longer response to last night’s comment. It’s going in a different direction than I originally thought it would.

    Here’s where I seem to be heading. Mark has made two posts within the last few weeks about social media connections. The first about Jenn Whinnem and the second about Jamie Wallace. And now this one, framed through the lens of the Gladwell article.

    Clearly, Gladwell has touched an exposed nerve to draw the kind of response that he has, and just as clearly, Mark has too.

    Here’s what I think is the pertinent point that Gladwell was trying to make. “Fifty years after one of the most extraordinary episodes of social upheaval in American history, we seem to have forgotten what activism is.”

    And in making that pertinent point, I think he’s saying the same thing about the impact of the social tools on activism that Mark is saying about their impact on us as individuals. Does that make any sense?

  • Mark

    @Lynelle — Funny examples. Yes, bad behavior is bad behavior and now we have so many new outlets to express it! Thanks!

    @Tom — I think this is a very valid point and a view I do struggle with. There is no turning back. So, yes, a new cultural sensibility is being created (in fact I have a blog post in the hopper about that). I also think that overall there will be more good than bad that comes from the technology until it gets in the wrong hands and everything goes blank : )

    Very interesting point though. Is this a decline in human relation skills or just the evolution? I guess what makes me skittish is that the evolutionary pressure is not coming from external forces but from advertising agencies. Hmmm. Think about THAT one! Thanks for pushing the dialogue in an interesting new way Tom!

  • What a brilliant post, Mark. And I agree, on so many levels. And I really love Greg Morris’s final analysis above – and think he’s spot on.

    I do think we are in the midst of massive change as a society. And as Kristen pointed out, it is incumbent upon those of us who are parents or involved in parenting and teaching, to ensure that children get healthy doses of many different things – including online experiences, playing outside, and everything in between.

    But there is such good in the online space, too. For instance, I treasure our friendship and, but for Twitter, we would probably never have known one another.

    Can or will the ‘Net impede activism? That’s such a good question. People willing to take a stand – IRL – are few and far between. When you add the anonymity of the Internet, does it make people more brave and willing to take a chance – or less so? And, does Internet activism have the same potential to effect results as activism of “yesteryear?”

    All such good questions – and all brought about because of your brilliant post.

    I’d say that’s a job well done. People. Thinking. “Like.”


  • First, let’s not besmirch Mr Gladwell’s name by suggesting he begins every discussion with the invention of fire. In fairness to him, he prides himself on his thoroughness and usually begins at least several centuries before that.

    The real issue here could become the definition of social skills. Many of us remember “books” and actually read them. We interacted in person with people. But the truth is, social skills and interactions are changing and texting and social networks are now part of the equation and will become more so.

    I wouldn’t say the end of civilization is imminent because a teenage boy broke up with his girlfriend on text or FB. Five years ago he would have done it by cell phone instead. As other readers point out, bad behavior is bad behavior and parenting plays a large role.

    As to whether the revolution will be tweeted, I do see social media playing a bigger and bigger part of all social change in the years ahead. It allows us to bridge the distance gap and stay connected better than ever before. It allows us to expand our circle of influence exponentially. And what is considered social media today will be primitive to where it goes in the future. Instead of tweeting, you’ll be speaking and interacting real time via video I believe. The gap between technology and interpersonal communication should get less and less.

    You and Gladwell do raise some thought-provoking issues here and I’m glad to see the discussion happening. Thanks, RG

  • Timely! Just got done reading about the “iY generation” (the tail-end of Generation Y), and am a bit nervous about how and when these future leaders will mature emotionally and socially. These are the folks who will be wiping our noses when we are old. **sigh.**

  • If I may re-purpose (and change) a phrase: Social Media is the opiate of the masses.

    I would quickly add that opiates (and Social), like all drugs are abused and used. I guess the larger question is how many of our children (and colleagues) have addictive Social Media tendencies.

  • Mark

    @Gregg — Interesting to connect an article about connection with an article about disconnection and historical views of activism with the present. I like where you are going with this. Thanks!

    @Shelly — You know, I had so hoped you would comment today. Great points and i agree. I love the wise and grounded parenting perspective you bring along with your new media expertise. Thank you so much!

    @Randy — Actually, I agree with what you’re saying here and don’t think the perspectives are mutually-exclusive, especially if you make the distinction between social change and social revolution.

    One comment you make has me thinking though “The gap between technology and interpersonal communication should get less and less.”

    If we believe the old model that says 80% of communication is non-verbal (i.e. the message is coming face, tone and body language), how is it that an increasing reliance on 140-character messages will close the communication gap? Perhaps if non-verbal is not available to us, we will depend on it less? Interesting to think about.

    It is a always a joy for me to see what you have to say about these issues Randy. Thanks!

  • The advent of gaming via mini-handheld devices spawned a generation of children with inept social skills. The proliferation of mobile, texting, apps, and social media continues that trend. Nothing new here.

    As an employer and business owner, I see the effects of this on teens and 20-somethings, and it ain’t pretty. These are the “leaders” in the future.

    Young people who enter the job market will be forced to engage interpersonally. It will be the responsibility of employers to provide the training to reverse the dependence on technology for communication and socialization.

    What social media is doing for all of us is to provide natural leaders, activists, fund-raisers, etc. with new opportunity to jump on a dais and loudly project while innovating on a more leveled playing field.

    The shy can overcome fear of engagement; the leaders can develop a stronger flock; the followers can identify a variety of mentors; and, the activists can spread the word to all corners.

    Social media is not the culprit here; it is the avenue and fuel for activism and change to those already fueling activism and change in traditional ways.

    Remember how we say social media is a CHANNEL? It must be blended within the marketing mix to be successful?

    You say you agree social media is a connection of weak links. I don’t believe so; all of these multiple, scalable connections provide for the amplification of message, brand, and yes, change.

    Perhaps the unanswered question here is “how do you define change?”

  • Mark

    @Aspree — “These are the folks who will be wiping our noses when we are old.” They will probably develop an app for that! Thank you for your comment.

    @Kim — And how many parents will abdicate their role and allow them to have that addiction because it is the easy and popular thing to do? Good question! Thanks.

    @Jayme — I like the way you are bringing in implications for the workforce, something that is so interesting to me. Eventually, the workplace will adapt to include new ways of communicating and learning that are consistent with the way the next generation works and plays but there is probably going to be a clash in the near-term as you say! Thanks for contributing today Jayme!

  • Mark in answer to your question, believe the premise of 140 character interaction won’t be relevant. The way bandwidth is going, all the social networks will one day be live video streaming and you’ll be able to see all the non verbal stuff s well.


  • Mark

    @RG — Yup. Happening now. All social media, all the time baby. And people think it is slowing down? We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

  • @tom- I dare say Mark should read TRUST ahead of all else.

    Mark, I don’t disagree that the technology is going to change the way of socialization. And I am glad you can paint yourself as Chicken Little.
    I think Gladwell goes way to far a field and wrote a post that I will be putting up later today about it.
    the gist is, that while Gladwell can browbeat the few cases that he cites, he ignores the fact that technology is fundamentally allowing for some role in the revolution. Twitter may not have played a huge role in Iran, but camera enabled cellphones certainly did.
    quoting myself:
    ” Do you not think that MLK Jr. wouldn’t have wanted a Blackberry with all his closest allies emails and phone numbers on it to get them somewhere fast?
    Or that they would not like something to record every action like EVERY cell phone now has?”

  • I’m what you’d charitably call an “older” guy who got into social media some time ago. I have seen the negative tendencies related in this post arise in my own personality to a considerable degree, and lately I’ve come to the view that if social media didn’t exist, the establishment would have invented it and made it mandatory.

    All the talk about social media and activism is just BS. As I commented on the Mashable article, “This must be why things are getting better and better.” What’s more, the highly emotional reactions I’ve encountered to the view I’m expressing here confirm the psychological & spiritual danger inherent in relying on these digital distractions.

    I left Facebook for these reasons. Twitter is more emotionally neutral and far less socially coercive than FB, so I still maintain my account, but with reservations. Maybe “we ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” but I’ll be out there in the world, living a real life, and may not even notice.

  • Mark

    @Todd, I did not paint myself as Chicken Little. I held out the possibility that I could be wrong … but I don’t think so. I also cited research to support my point. Respectfully, you seem to be entirely missing the point of my article. There is clinical evidence that child development may be significantly altered by “screen saturation” and it will create new ways of thinking and relating for the next generation. That reality has nothing to do with the usefulness Martin Luther King could have found in a cell phone. We’re not connecting on this topic but I’m appreciative of your willingness to put yourself out there and express your view.

    @Taos Jon — A healthy attitude! Thank you very much for caring enough to comment.

  • This is a great account of how the world is evolving, however, it is quite scary to think the next generation may not have a more dynamic or expressive approach.

    I agree with you, Mark, a lot of the major social networks such as Facebook have a lot of impact on our comms and to some extent can replace many phone/ face-to-face conversations.

    A while back I followed the #adtech event on twitter, it was great to see people tweeting the different sessions. However, there was one tweet that caught my eye (“Twitter is a information network not a social network” Twitter product manager #adtech) and I completely agree! Twitter targets an array of people that you don’t know initially so to focus your personal tweets around your non-professional life is perhaps not the best of idea and this is where @Jayme’s comment “…it will be there responsibility of employers to provide the training to reverse the dependence on technology for communication and socialization,” should be recognized by managers and hence instilled.

    Social Media is like a drug it is results driven but can have the odd, awful side-effect; I am also very curious to see what else it has in-store for us…

  • Sorry Mark- I was focusing more on the interconnection BACK to Gladwell’s piece.
    I think the Gladwell assumptions are flawed to begin with.
    Revolutions are occurring differently because of the technology. Choosing to focus on the social media aspect doesn’t change that.

    I don’t miss your point, I have kids that are RADICALLY different than I remember being at their ages in large part due to the technology they are surrounded with.
    I’m just on the other side of the fence.

    While you do cite those pieces, I would contend that there is definitely a wide enough digital gap right now that the fears that you have can at least be allayed if not eventually laid to rest.

    I don’t disagree that our kids are in a new world, I just am not ready to see the entirely negative story being woven just yet.

    And more to the point, I think the genie is out of the bottle on this- I’d be curious how you rein in the problems that you foresee coming?

  • Mark

    @Krupa — Thanks for this anecdote! Really glad you shared your perspective today.

    @Todd — For most of my posts, I tell stories and discuss business applications that are entirely positive about social media. I love social media … and also fear it … because I know that where corruption can occur, corruption will occur. So this post brings a little balance perhaps.

    There is no way to reign in what is going on except possibly through legislation. For example, after kids starting dying from exhaustion related to all-night online gaming, South Korea imposed game curfews. We will probably end up with legislation in the U.S. related to privacy at some point but I doubt we will see anything that will change the trends I have illustrated in this post. Thanks, for the clarification, Todd. I’m glad we had this exchange.

  • You may laugh but actually history isnt written exactly they way it happened, now thats suprising…

    We may laugh about the Founding Fathers Tweets above, but actually it prettyn much happened like that, not with TV, but really a lack of interest to make creating a new state.

    Through-out history are those who are afraid to speak up, even some of those founding fathers didnt want to be apart of the declaration, thats why it took over 6 years to be signed and ratified.

    check out:

  • Mark

    I’m glad SOMEBODY noticed the illustration! Took me longer to do that than the darn post! : )

  • Wow, I think I never had to scroll this long before finding the comment box. 😉

    Wow Mark, what a great post. As I already tweeted before, I do agree with your opinion wholeheartedly. I’m and probably a long way from having kids since I’m still coming to terms with having to face real life in general but what I do know is that if I do have kids at some point I want them to grow up knowing a life outside the virtual world.

    I grew up having my head in the books due to limited amount of TV time. Back then, TV was the greatest thing and just like any other kid my brother and I LOVED to watch it. My mother was adamant that too much TV is not good for us. She wanted us to go outside and play with other kids, read, listen to music, play games.. whatever we could come up with. At the time I considered that to be rather uncool. Now, 18 years later, I’m grateful. Not spending so much time in front of the TV gave me the opportunity to develop social skills which are highly important. I was able to read and write when i was 4 1/2 and reading a book is like watching a movie in my head. It sparked my imagination.

    When I look at the generation of kids that are now in their teenage years I often shake my head. A lot of them are lacking basic social skills, their free time is spent in front of a computer, a play station or the TV. My question is, how is our world supposed to produce leaders if all we do is encourage our kids to all the things that are currently in. Or if we don’t encourage them, we don’t care.

    Personally, I’m still a lover of real mail. Writing a letter is special. Many kids don’t have a sense for writing anymore. Or speaking for that matter. The online language is transferred to real life. Abbreviations, Memes etc.

    I’m very careful when I say a lot of kids because there is still a lot of kids out there who spend their time doing other things. With the Internet the need to be social in real life becomes less significant. I’m a social media nerd. I’m the last to say that I don’t love it. Yet, I make sure to still take the time to interact and be social offline.

    Aaron mentioned above that social media can in fact make you more social and I tend to agree with it. BUT only because the Internet takes away the barrier of actually having to approach someone in person. It’s a little bit like drinking alcohol. You lose the fear. With it, however, I believe that the level of respect for others is sinking. Hiding behind fake identities, speaking up under false pretenses etc. has become too common. Cyber bullying is more current than it ever was. It doesn’t matter how old you are. 5, 10, 15, 25, 40..

    As much as I love the Internet, social media and everything it enables us to do, I still consider it to be a critical influence on our social behavior. I’m sad to see how far we have come and how much fun we deny the next generation by living our lives completely online.

    I guess it’s up to us to lead by example. Write a letter from time to time. Read a book. Go out and socialize. Teach our kids to be social.

    I loved reading this post and know that you are not the only blogger with this opinion. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Mark,

    I really enjoyed your article. I’ve been sitting at my desk for for a few minutes trying to wrap my brain around my own feeling on this subject.

    I use Social Media pretty heavily for my Blog. I have been asked to speak at various National and Regional industry events as expert on Social Media and Creating a Professional Presence online. So I obviously have a bit of passion for Medium as a Communication tool.

    At first glance your article seems an affront to Social Media. But the more I think about what you are saying the more I tend to agree with you.

    However, I don’t think that Social Media is culprit for degeneration of the 21st Century child in the United States. I don’t think it helps and believe that Social Media has added parenting difficulties I’m sure many people with mature children are glad they didn’t have to deal with. What I feel is the true problem is today’s parents. We live in a Selfish society and that is seen most evidently in today’s Parents. Not every parent obviously but Children are not held accountable. They are allowed to live their lives through facebook. Schools are cutting Sports and Arts and Science programs that force children to interact on a personal level. Teachers are not allowed to discipline.

    Social Media may be the Vice, but a lack of Discipline, Accountability, and Values within the home is root of the evil…


    Ryan H.

  • Hanley’s got it and stealing from his site:
    “If you weren’t good at Communication before Social Media, you are not going to be good at Communication with Social Media.”

    My bigger concern is not that social media and tech are going to dumb down our kids into veggies, but that those that are not allowed access to the tech that exists are crippled in the economy.

    Look at the latest business week under 25 list…. CRAZY!

  • Mark

    @Antonia — Well, you just wrote a blog post on this topic! What an amazing comment. There is just so much there but the thing I will comment on is the lack of respect that comes with anonymity. Boy, that is a subject unto itself, isn’t it? Thanks for this wonderful comment/mini-post and do come back and comment on some future posts too, OK?
    I’m impressed!

    Ryan — This is an extremely compelling comment. I sure appreciate the thought you put into this and I’m glad the post touched you enough to take action and write out your thoughts.

    I didn’t mean this to be an affront to anything so I’m glad you did not take it that way. As I said… social media, yeah, I’m a fan. But I’m just saying that it is what it is and man, it’s going to be really different. I’m a parent too so I can relate to what you’re saying. Well done!!

    @todd — Oh man I wrote about that a while back and got scalded on the comments. Where were you when I needed you? : ) I think there is a real chance people will be left behind. I mentor an 8-yr-old inner city kid. He has no access to a computer, let alone the Internet. Is he falling behind? Yup. In a lot of ways. Will he be able to catch up? I’m not going to let him fail but it has opened my eyes to this growing digital divide. Maybe in the future, no tech, no check? Thanks so much!

  • My Triangle tweep Gregg (@greggvm) led me to your post and I’m glad he did. You’ve taken the discussion of Gladwell’s article to an interesting new level. Frightening and puzzling. No matter what people say about the studies and findings you share, we all know that our new tools (social media, mobile phones, whatever) are changing behaviors in some not very comforting ways. Have you ever shared a dinner table with younger compulsive texters? I feel like shouting, Hello, we’re here in real life!

    I blogged about Gladwell’s piece too — Grumpy Gladwell: Why the Fuss? ( His assumptions about social media and those who use it got me riled up. Not as eloquent as yours but the topic does make for fascinating conversation.

  • Oh, forgot to tell you, I also LOVED your founding fathers tweets. I’m glad you took the time.

  • Deidre- your dump was PERFECT.
    I think you nail part of what he does get right- it does take a structure to AIM the weak ties into something grander, but it does not mean it isn’t possible. I daresay, the Obama campaign figured that out well yes?

    I’ve seen “unconferences” do well- folks step up and organize for their issues.

    My issue is part w/ Gladwell is his comparison of grand civil rights issues with the only two things he could nail down Moldavia and Iran. But the comparisons hold little water.

    As you suggest, it is about the tools and our founding fathers only used what they had:

  • Thanks, Todd! I forgot about the whole unconference angle. My online association community organized one when our association’s tech conference was canceled because of the DC blizzard last year. Most of the folks who organized the #unTech10 conference first met via blogs or Twitter, so weak online ties can turn into a strong organizational virtual and real life structure.

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  • Mark, right on target. When you combine this thinking with lack of authenticity it becomes even more of an issue. But, my question to you (and the Grow community) is “Obviously we get it, but over time will the next generations be just lulled into acceptance?”.

  • Mark

    @Deirdre — Thanks for the link. Well done! Love the anecdotes and any friend of Gregg’s is a friend of mine!

  • Wow – this is a fantastic comment stream! I’ll try not to duplicate what has already been stated by others, while also stating that I fully endorse Ryan Hanley’s thoughts.

    For me, Social Media is a conundrum: as in, what is considered to be a tool for full engagement and connection as it widens the gap of disconnection in a passive and potentially dangerous way?

    Social media is what it is ~ how it is used determines its ultimate effectiveness (or not). I do not believe Social Media is creating a generation of anything, let alone cowards. But I do believe that those who endow it with powers it simply does not have render it one more disconnect from personal responsibility and accountability.

    If a revolution were to take place ~ I believe it would be Tweeted. And then RTed ad nauseum. But not from the ignited fires of activism ~ the motivation would likely stem from a desire for Influence, Reach, enhanced Klout scores, visibility, etc.

    Yes, people become inflamed over causes ~ and lately, they do it in very passive ways. Like Tweeting, and RTing. Pushing information at the speed of keyboard touch is significant ~ if not followed up by action, with no personal investment beyond ‘look, I care, I’m involved, I’ll throw money at it if that will help but what else do you want from me, I have a life too’ – the majority of the engagement is passive at best; lip service, as we used to call it back in the day.

    One key indicator of Emotional Intelligence is the ability to Delay Gratification. To remain focussed on a goal and to work towards it, sacrificing along the way if necessary, to realize the desired outcome in time. This ability is shrinking on a collective basis and marketing and advertising are catalysts to this trend. (Buy now, pay later, etc.)

    There is a significant difference between Social Cognition/Intelligence, Social Marketing Intelligence, and the creation of Social Identity. Not everyone seems to be aware of this and the boundaries have become blurry.

    I love the technological advancements that are being made. I am frustrated at the hands-off, I’m overwhelmed, everything works out in the end, the kids will figure it out approach that is sweeping through households at an alarming rate. I am an active, engaged parent and human being who is doing her best to raise socially responsible citizens that will make meaningful contributions in this world. And I agree with Malcolm Gladwell.

    In the words of Elvis: “A little less conversation, a little more action please. All this aggravation ain’t satisfactioning me. A little more bite and a little less bark, A little less fight and a little more spark, Close your mouth and open up your heart and baby satisfy me.”

    PS: A high five on your Founding Father graphic Mark.

  • I disagree with you here, Mark, but I do admire you’re poise. And, well, that’s my contention: the irony of the topic and your choice of medium for making your opinion known. It takes courage to say something you think the vast majority will disagree with. That’s certainly a model for any generation, young or old. As for the social community, I recall years ago a tidal wave of articles saying the Web was keeping us from meeting our neighbors. What they left out is the fact the Web enabled us to meet people we might not otherwise meet — and the same is true for social media today. Clearly there are benefits and drawbacks, and only so much time in the day!

  • Mark

    @Sally — Thanks for the amazing “blog post” slash comment. I love it that parents are standing up and being counted. I fall into the category of “Thank God I don;t need to deal with this.” My children are grown and are much more conservative about their social web presence than I am, ironically. Thanks for bringing your caring heart to our community today, Sally.

    @Frank — Always a pleasure to hear from you … but I’m not sure what you’re disagreeing about really. I never said the social web is not a great place to build connections — I’m the poster child for that. Likewise, I did not say the social web is ineffective to share your voice, even a controversial one. I’m not sure this was even implied in the article. Based on your blog topics, I think you and i are usually philosophically very close and believe we probably are in this case, too. Thanks so much for caring enough to comment Frank!

  • Whew, finally got down here to comment. I didn’t know if I was going to make it through the rest of the comment stream. It seems you’ve really stirred the pot here Mark, well done.

    I think this might be the first post I don’t totally agree with you on, and although I’m disagreeing in some areas, I hope we can still be friends.

    While I think there are good and bad things to Gladwell’s article, I tend to lean more on the side with Ryan and Sally. I think technology has taken some away from of the deeper communication ability for some of the younger population, but if they were instilled early on and communicated *with* by their parents, they would have learned how to use the tools that they now live in. There’s a great book called “Everything Bad If Good for You” that actually shows studies saying the complexity of television shows, communication devises and video games are actually setting the stage for children to be BETTER problem solvers than previous generations, but they have to have a “learner’s foundation” or they will simply get sucked into the system.

    There has always been and will always be a sect of the young population that gets caught up in whatever technological advances are new, but the ones that stand out, that lead (and there are ALWAYS those that will stand up and lead) are the ones who learn to use the tools rather than the other way around. I think the revolution starts at home and from there it can be crowdsourced and Tweeted and RTed across the world. We have to raise people that know how to lead, the rest will follow.

  • Mark

    @Joey — I can agree with everything you say here — technology can harm our kids without parental guidance, some amount of technology is good for a kid, and that good citizenship starts at home. No problem with that at all. In fact I would say interaction with technology is essential for children if they are to thrive in the digital world. Thanks for the excellent comment!

  • I just can’t believe the part about the two teenage kids – I mean com’on, a CD? No way.

  • Michael Reilly

    “the next generation will define themselves by the responses of others instead of their own self-worth.”

    This differs from high school pre-Internet how?

    “that you can’t see or hear other people makes it easier to reveal yourself in a way that you might not be comfortable with. You become less conscious of the individuals involved (including yourself), less inhibited, less embarrassed and less concerned about how you will be evaluated.”

    Like many things, this works both ways. You could share more than you intend, but you may also be able to share parts of yourself you would be too embarrassed to share in real life. While the potential exists for negative reactions online, the same potential exists in real life as well. And in reality, having formed a connection online means you’re more likely to base it on common interests without the pre-conceived notions of race, gender, age, dress, etc. If/when you meet in real life, you may find you’re friends with someone you might never have talked to otherwise.

    Communication is communication. It doesn’t have to exist in spoken form to be valid. People can learn manners and ethics at home just as well as they could before. People can be abusive to others online as well as off. All that has really changed is the medium and the availability/accessibility of those connections. What we choose to do with it, is up to us.

    “Anything invented before your fifteenth birthday is the order of nature. That’s how it should be. Anything invented between your 15th and 35th birthday is new and exciting, and you might get a career there. Anything invented after that day, however, is against nature and should be prohibited.” – Douglas Adams

  • I screwed up your analytics this week…I’ve had this open since Sunday night.

    A quick story: Last summer I learned, almost by accident, that my staff were saying HORRIBLE things to one another over email. I mean, a wall separating their cubes, they would email one another and say terrible, awful things. When I saw some of the emails, I was FLOORED. Things you wouldn’t say to another human being even if you despised their very existence. And they were supposed to be teammates and colleagues.

    So I banned email. Just internally. And instant messaging. They, gasp, had to talk to one another! But I could almost visibly see morale rise. There were less issues. I heard less complaints. And all because I made them talk to one another.

    I can’t help but wonder if this conversation is the same one our parents had about us? Television, radio, and Atari are killing their brains. And we all turned out okay…well, most of us.

    I don’t know, but I do know (from experience) that we ALL say things to one another behind a computer screen we wouldn’t say to people’s faces. In some cases, it’s good because it breaks the ice for introverts and makes them comfortable when they do have to speak, face-to-face. In other cases, it’s horrible, as my example illustrates. And it’s not just our kids…it’s all of us.

  • Mark

    Anybody who has had the patience and tenacity to make it to the 58th comment, I congratulate you and thank you!

    @Michael — This is a terrific comment and addition to the dialogue and you make a lot of relevant points. It occurs to me that perhaps I didn’t explain something very well in the original article.

    I have an advanced degree in applied behavioral sciences and in fact wrote my thesis on how we learn many of our eventual adult workplace behaviors from our first work group — our families. When we are very young our synapses are forming at an amazing rate and are being strengthened from external stimuli in our environment. Fact is, by the time we are 15 years old, the basic framework for how we approach the world is pretty well set.

    You are correct that many of the things described here sound a lot like high school, which are behaviors that come from counter-dependence, jockeying for mates and a lot of other things that are not necessarily dependent on that synaptic framework I mentioned. And, most important, you grow out of it.

    And that is the big difference. If you are conditioned as a child without “normal” socialization skills, you probably won’t grow out of it. This reference to a loss of identity will extend into adulthood.

    I think I did not make this point clear in the short space I had in the blog post which is leading a lot of people to conclude, what’s the big deal, they’ll grow out of it. They won’t. That is my vital concern. We are creating non-social adults, not just kids.

  • Mark

    @Gini — You had this post open since Sunday? You must be one slow reader : )

    This is a relevant story about communications but I think it is an even better story of leadership. That was a gutsy and inspired move that you made. Very impressive!

    I know how busy you are running your company, which makes the fact that you took time to offer this thoughtful comment even more humbling. Thank you!

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  • The moral of the story is that when you write an “important” thought provoking post, people care. I recommend to those commenting here, that they read or reread your Easter Island post ~ Falling in love with Skynet

    I read “Is social media creating a generation of cowards?” last Sunday when there were no comments, but unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, I just did not have time to comment as I would have liked ?

    Just about everything I would have said, and more has been addressed in your comments already. Some highlights for me are as follows:

    I agree with Kathy Snavely that social media is a new medium and I don’t think we’ve begun to see what it will (and not) be able to do.

    Todd mentions how in the 50’s TV & radio were supposed to destroy American life. And said it hadn’t happened! However, If you visit a senior residential center today in some parts of the world, including the US, where the residents are plonked in front of a TV blaring at then 16 hours a day, and any semblance of friends & family has vaporized; you truly believe this HAS happened.

    Mark I do agree that any reasonable person would conclude that this(immersing in SM) is going to have some effect on the socialization of these young people. Moreover as you wrote, the research is starting to show that is the case. However, to balance this view I am optimistic that people such as yourself, and many others I have encountered recently (including those above commenting) who have both the awareness and leadership, WILL balance the scales.

    I share what Tom Webster said “that maybe our children, like our data, will be supported by “the cloud” in ways unimaginable to folks like us” And agree with Shelly Kramer that there is such good in the online space, too…… including the many friendships made via twitter.

    Randy Gage made a point, which really resonated with me when he wrote “the real issue here could become the definition of social skills. Many of us remember “books” and actually read them. We interacted in person with people. But the truth is, social skills and interactions are changing and texting and social networks are now part of the equation and will become more so”

    It was this part of the equation, that prompted me almost two years ago, to join twitter in order to research and learn about Social media. And I am so glad I did. @CASUDI

  • I have high hopes we’ll weather this perfect storm in fine shape. History keeps reminding us of that.

    Technological advances simply amplify the good, bad and ugly of our society. That which we brave. That which we fear.

    Most promising I think is how social-enabled technologies connect multi-generations to elevate learning, mentoring and evolving ideas. Ideas that evolve into more enriching real life solutions resulting from contributors who reflect a variety of life experiences, cultures, income levels and yes, even generations.

    A wonderful example of this can be experienced in an urban Starbucks. I’ve seen baby boomers, Gen X’rs, Y’s, Millennials and every other character in the alphabet strike up conversations about tools, business processes, marketing strategies, whatever. The point is, we can all stand to learn something from each other… healthy cynicism from millennials… business sensibilities from boomers. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve reached out to a millennial across a latte who removed their ear pods and eyes away from their platform to answer a question. Most times, they ask one back. This is engagement. And yes, it does take a village. It does take active parenting. And it does take getting beyond the stereotyping of outcomes.

    Outcomes become the energy we give them. Or not.

    We’re all in the same boat. So let’s all rise with the tide.

  • Mark

    @Casudi — Thanks so much for the encouragement and the outstanding commentary. Your addition to the dialogue means a lot! And I’m glad you joined Twitter too! Thank you.

    @Glenn — Wow. What a beautiful comment. I agree with you and do not think our views are mutually exclusive. I absolutely love the connections that occur from the social web. I realize we are at an amazing time in our history. Thanks so much for sharing this with us Glenn.

  • “Risking a reputation” is a good point. “The past” doesn’t exist anymore, and moving on from friends or a hometown to leave it behind is no longer possible. Who will be motivated to be revolutionary with that reality to consider?

    There weren’t many solutions presented here, beyond keeping kids engaged socially IRL as long as possible. The change is occurring and we need to begin working with it, mitigating and molding it towards a future we can be proud of. We’re the last generation (X) who has both perspectives.

  • Mark

    @Erica – A very powerful comment. I’m not sure there is anything we can do other than try to raise our kids in a balanced way, as you suggest. But the fact is, the kids who are most immersed and most anti-social may end up as the most well-adapted people in the emerging digital world. Who knows?

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  • Hey Mark –

    Interesting post… yet, I agree with Jordan. We often hear that Social Media – and truthfully, the full advent of an integrated electronic network: information & news at the speed of fibre optics, social gaming, mobile connections world-wide, etc… – creates “a generation of ADD suffering, sensationalist, selfish, insecure cowards, incapable of making real sacrifice or bringing about any kind of meaningful social revolution”. And, we hear of this by very intelligent, well educated and well versed folks, including business people and neuroscientists.

    But, I disagree… As a marketer, I would tell any client that social media – and the entire integrated social electronics network of the world – is but another tool to communicate with the audiences we wish to reach. Similarly, I would suggest that this network is simply another tool that influences and shapes people, but doesn’t CREATE people.

    A person’s character/personality is inherent to multiple elements, of which social media can play an important role, but it cannot be isolated to how said person interacts within a social network – whether live or online. Many psychologists talk about character and personality as the sum of experiences and genetics that influence who a person is, at his/her core. I would be hard pressed to suggest that social media is the sole impetus that creates personality or character, or even a single element thereof.

    If someone is a coward – whether in person or virtually, they will act as such anywhere. If social media wasn’t available, they would find other ways to hide and shelter themselves.

    Personally, I think that Social Media offers a platform for people who previously did not have one, to discuss opinions, information and opportunities. Those who would be sensationalized by this or would become coward – hiding behind it – would have found other ways to do those exact same things should social media have not existed.

    In recent times, we see that social media has shed light on the injustices that have happened in the streets of Iran and to many teenage bully victim in the US. We’ve seen results to the reconstruction efforts of Haiti and we’ve seen networks of like-minded people come together, world-wide, to generate higher awareness on green efforts reducing the global carbon footprint. None of these would have been possible without social media – or at least, not as quickly, as deliberately, and as emphatically. Through social media, people who would have not previously known about these issues were exposed to them, and were given additional opportunities (easier ones) to contribute to spreading the message, donating and taking stands like taking part in “Earth Hour”. Even more recently, the live streaming of the rescue of Chilean miners was a situation where “good news” actually held the limelight for longer than ever before.

    So, where I agree that Social Media – in the wrong hands – can be a contributing factor to cowardice or to violence; I also think that in the right hands, it can be a tool to spread messages faster and more effectively than any we’ve had ever before.

    What social media also does, in my opinion, is creates a very public forum… where all your actions and comments are scrutinized by others. If you are a coward, and can’t own up to – say – a break up, everyone on your friends’ list can see this. And, although when you are 18 you may not care, one quickly learns that exposing these pieces of yourself can affect you in the long run.

    And, as a final note… like pop culture’s influence, I think it is imperative for parents to teach (and lead by example) their children that social media is a tool for communications that makes everything you do/think/say very public. In the long run, this can affect you. It is important for all users of social media to be aware.

    There is a fine line between the comfort and protection of the screen, and the real impact your words have in your immediate circle of influence, and the larger community. When you wake up tomorrow morning, you still need to leave the house and go to school or work… It is more than likely that those people you will see “live” have read your comments. Teenage or adult, I think it is important to realize this and take responsibilities for all actions and words.

    (Apologies for the long post.)

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Judi, I agree with everything you say because your entire premise involves adults. But this article is not about adults. It’s not about communication or networking or Iran. It’s about kids. It’s about kids who are spending an average of 7.5 hours a day (in the US) and that is bound to inevitably, systematically and inexorably change them. In fact the research verifies that it IS changing them. That is the entire point of the article. At a minimum we should be aware of this. And perhaps some of us should even be concerned.

  • @Glenn – Very, very well done. I don’t know if that 2nd to last line is your original content or not but I really like it.
    “Outcomes become the energy we give them. Or not.”
    Those are words to rally behind.
    Thank you

  • Brilliant, simply. Gladwell’s article was clearly a catalyst for a good deal of debate and discussion. I do find the reactions interesting, certainly across generations.

    You are not the only one (blogger)out there who agrees with Mr. G.

    I recently responded to another post, before reading yours, in which I referred to a point in time when I thought I was in a scene from “Back to the Future” – honestly.

    I was a photojournalist in the 90s. I was based in Sarajevo in 1994-1995. When I returned to Washington, D.C. at the end of 1995 I swear I thought I stepped out of my Delorean. People were talking walking around talking on cell phones, there was a Starbucks on every corner, there were commercials on TV that included this www thing – website addresses… and then it happened.

    I tried to call any number of businesses that less than two years earlier a human being answered the phone… huh? No more humans, only voicemails. Oh and email became the new ‘fashionable’ way to communicate …

    Here’s the thing. Careful what you wish for.

    The landscape changed forever.

    I know that I (or others for that matter)could not have said it better. I agree, and I hope we are wrong, that our best and brightest are diminishing and getting more lost in the noise.

    Yes, as you so eloquently say, it takes courage to risk criticism, risk a reputation — or even a life — in the name of truly revolutionary change.

    It takes experiencing ‘in real life’ for real, not virtually, to know what it is.

    And while we have this amazing technology allowing us to communicate in numerous ways – to teach, learn and heal, our next generation of leaders are not communicating, or learning to truly communicate at all.

    My hope is to see more in our society that teaches embracing and understanding “why” it is important to take personal risk and how that can bring about change.

    Your piece has produced some of the most thoughtful and insightful comments I’ve read.

  • Mark

    @Debbi — On behalf of the community and all that have commented here, thank you for that wonderful compliment. This is really a spectacular story and perspective you have shared with us and I’m so very grateful you took the time to connect today. Thanks!

  • Great perspective. While I disagree with Gladwell’s article (I think Social Change can happen with Social Media), you do make valid points regarding the “dark side” of social media, and technology in general. We are becoming a society that lives behind a screen. Games, computers, phones, at work, at school, in the car…and the list goes on. We are losing basic social skills. It is essential for all of us to understand this trend and place restrictions on ourselves and our kids so we do not lose the “social” in our real lives.

  • Mark

    @Mouyyad — This has been a difficult issue for me to come to grips with. I want to be sure that I’m not turning into an alarmist who is wary of this upcoming generation. I suppose every generation is suspicious of the previous one in some way so I don’t want to be speaking from this generational mode.

    Without necessarily passing judgment on whether it is “good” or “bad,” I don’t think you can look at the data and the behaviors without concluding the next generation is going to be radically different. Every generation goes through a period of counter-dependence but eventually they acquire the human communication skills needed to relate as adults. I’m not so sure about this now.

    So this begs the question, do we want to “protect” our kids from this re-wiring? Or, is this going to be the new norm? My instinct is like yours Mouyyad, but that could just be the father in me talking now!

    Thanks so much for your comment!

  • This was a great read. I do believe that sometimes we focus too much on the positive aspects of social media and forget about how we sometimes let it control our whole lives. Young children these days know how to use computers better than adults because they’re raised with it. And just the other day, I was in an elevator when an older woman glanced at a girl texting on her phone and said with a touch of humor in her voice, “Excuse me, but does your generation EVER stop texting?” It can really make you think, do we as people really even realize how much our lives depend on this stuff? Just my two cents.

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    Hey @Elise. My “a-ha” moment” was watching a swarm of girls walking through the mall … texting each other. I admit it … I don’t get it. Thanks so much for commenting!

  • Hey Mark,

    Lots and lots of comments here. Many differing opinions and arguments. Some really, great posts here.

    As I read through many your readers comments and also reading other blog post reactions (Gregg sent me two VERY credible links – one being from Tech Crunch – in support of Gladwell’s position) my immediate thought is this: where are the actual ACTIVISTS in these conversations? I have yet to see anyone self identify as an activist (maybe because they are actually out there, on the front lines where REAL activism is taking place.

    Anyone who has been part of a movement to abolish political totlitarianism (Iran), freedom of travel (east Berlin after the fall of the Soviet Union) or systemized descrimination (the Jim Crow era of the South) will know first hand that there is a TRULY emotional space and existence for these realities that simply don’t and will never exist online. Malcolm is talking about social CHANGE (not social introductions or social networking, or idea swapping) and CHANGE in the examples he talked about in his article, can ONLY happen offline.

    I am in agreement with most camps that say ‘social media’is changing the landscape,(as an entrepreneur in today’s environment I am passionately engaged in today’s emerging tech trends), maybe it’s changing our behavior, but it is not changing human nature.

    From where I sit, until you have been consistently treated as inferior, held against your will from freedom of travel, or had your voice or opinions systematically oppressed by a political authority and have been in that emotional space (that in NO WAY can be experienced or conveyed on a social media platform) then you are at a SEVERE disadvantage in having your argument holding any water about the ‘revolution’ being tweeted.

    I’m of the opinion that technology has so consumed the conversation that we don’t look at the landscape organically and see how other parts of the human condition factor into this emerging narrative.

  • Mark

    Brilliant observation Rasul. Where are the activists period. Last week I received Twitter requests asking me to wear purple to support some cause. Today I was asked to “like” a page to get people to vote. Huh?

  • Ron Schmidt

    Maybe I overlooked this fact if it has been previously stated, but the point of electronic communication in my humble opinion is for a trojan horse like effect. The offense is defensive in pre-emption. Is is really believed this form of communication is anything more than an allusion of direct democracy? Corporate’s interest aligns with their security guards and as soon as a known movement is shaping and organization is ready for a battle “robots” and drones with video monitoring will posture up and did I mention a kill switch eliminating signal will silence the nation. However, it could be very possible security forces let maybe even agitate action for awhile just so to be ready later. But a revolution in above mentioned tone will never happen. In fact, by buying into these devices we all but squashed a uprising ever again. In a different matter, is it not true that “cowards” now contact that sexy sexy sexy person thanks to technology they were previously scared to approach in public? A redefined coward maybe?

  • Hi Mark,

    This is a really solid post. I like how much you provoke folks to think. My thoughts on the subject lean more towards the parents. I don’t think social media is the issue, it’s just a method of communication (not to say I do not see the point that it can be an issue). The real problem with how kids are turning out is their parents. At one time it was too much TV, then two much on the telephone, then too much video games, too much on the computer, internet and now Facebook. There will always be new methods of distraction and addiction – it is the parents job to instill the proper balance to make sure these vehicles are not detrimental.

    So, if anything is causing kids to be cowards, have weak interpersonal skills, be disrespectful or a laundry list of other issues – it’s the kids’ parents. There’s a quote in the movie Parenthood that always sticks in my head – I will paraphrase: You need a license to drive, you need a license to have a dog, but any moron can have a kid. It does make you think.

    BTW – Gladwell of all people should know the unexpected viral nature of how things become sticky. He’s should stick to writing about epidemics after they occur, he’s unbelievable at that angle.

    Thanks for making me and others think.

    My best,

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    Thanks for the thought-provoking comments!

  • Alexandrea

    Though I don’t completely agree with what’s said in the article, there are some instances that demand some attention. First there’s something to be said about parents that allow their children to be on social networks at such a young age when they’re still socially awkward in real life anyway. Being online will just give them a reason to further alienate themselves from the real world, don’t mean social networking is a creating a generation of cowards and people who lack the ability to communicate one on one with someone. Everything can’t be blamed on social networking anyway.

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  • Shane

    Mark –

    Are you suggesting that no one would have a “Tweetup” for social change? That some of the online networking tools couldn’t rally people to a real live event beyond clicking the “Like” button for a cause? Maybe I’m just getting old at 28 because I really didn’t grow up with both a “live” life and a “virtual” life to manage, but I see the online networks as places to either reconnect or break the ice with people that I wouldn’t mind sitting down to lunch and having a conversation with.

    I think some very highly introverted people may be able to get their social fix with some online chatting, Tweeting, or making some status updates, but I still think there are many people that thrive and grow on real live human interaction.

  • powerhungryfilm

    Greenfield’s phrase “…that the human brain is exquisitely sensitive to the outside world.” is a beautiful phrase. Such a great article. Thanks.

  • powerhungryfilm

    @Debbi Morello Wow, Debbie, love your contribution here. That must have been a bit like Rip van Winkle.

  • carmenstjohn

    Do we really feel that TweetUps and MeetUps can be eroded or done away with? I am on the fence on this one, but I still believe that the need to be social will always include the face-to-face or at least figure out ways to meet. It is not hard to imagine that relationship breakups will occur via some sort of social media because of the fear or cowardness of doing the inevitable. Let’s hope MeetUps and TweetUps do not go away

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  • Is there still disagreement on this subject? That is slightly baffling.

    Social skills are developed over time–hence, skill. When you use primarily one medium to hone those skills, you will develop skills suited specifically for that medium. If I were to practice my writing ability, both my writing ability and my speaking ability would improve. However, that does nothing for my ability to connect with other people; to read the other person, to react to them, to adjust the way I talked. Person-to-person interaction is a system and it is a system that must be participated in to be improved.

    With the current generation, those that are brought up with technology, the medium has shifted from in-person connections to internet snippets. It is shallow. You don’t have to react and, if you are to react, there is no time limit on your reaction. This does not happen with person-to-person interaction. There is no urgency to the actions, little emotional investment and, most importantly, the individual does not have to be active in the cause.

    Revolutions–of any kind, to any extent–depend on invested emotion. I don’t see enough of this, but that is not limited to the Millennial generation.

    Shane tried to make a positive point for social media: that change can happen through social media/networking and that people still rely on person-to-person interaction. It can and no, they don’t. At least, they don’t require that person-to-person interaction the same way that they had before. They require instant gratification from others. If they don’t get it, they’ll move on to other people. This is a lack of invested emotion.

    Which brings me back to the main point: our ability for emotional investment is eroding. Without which, there won’t be significant and lasting change. Name one lasting social change that resulted from social media. Social change may happen because of it, but it won’t last because peoples interest in it will dwindle. Again, lack of emotional investment.

    That took longer than I thought to explain.

  • Social Media is just the latest tool to avoid personal interaction.  I saw it as a sales manager; salesmen devising all kinds of strategies to avoid making sales calls.  Social Media is personal interaction avoidance on steroids.  The great skill lacking today is social interaction on a personal level (people skills).

  • Although I agree with some of your extended perspective re: leadership, human social skills…I have a hard time accepting Mr. Gladwell’s view of ‘social media lacking central leadership structure’. If we look at the history ‘Centralized Leadership Structures’ e.g. Communism has not faired well. Perhaps the power of social media is because of its loose and diversified structure which brings along many perspectives i.e. democracy for the better. 

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  • Brady Cardia

    You’re right. This article is accurate…But what people don’t seem to understand is that this is a cycle. Kids who are introverted and thus already have poor social skills and are made fun of in school resort to the internet because it’s the only thing we have. So we never get better. I wish I could talk to people face to face and develop social skills but nobody will talk to me, and lord knows I try…

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