Everybody’s Right

An accelerant doesn’t cause a fire–but it can sure make it burn.  But even a lot of it, as anyone who has tried to start damp charcoal with lighter fluid, might not be enough.  On the other hand, when conditions are right, a small amount might be a sufficient catalyst for a massive blaze.

Frank Rich references Evgeny Morozov’s ‘mischievous fact’ that a minuscule number of Iranians had Twitter accounts when so much ballyhoo was made over the impact of social networking after questionable elections there.   The fire soon went out, but I doubt that had much to do with the penetration of Twitter, one way or another.  Damp coals just aren’t going to light.  If they had been dry, on the other hand, even that small bit of Twitter might have been enough.

In one respect, the analogy I’m using is poorly chosen.  The death of Mohsen Bouterfif in Tunisia is a grisly reminder of the power of actual accelerants.  But his action of self-immolation certainly hastened a revolution that was probably on its way, anyway.  Twitter and Facebook were simply more oil on the flames.

On the same day, February 6, 1010, that Rich’s column was published, complaining about the arrogance of those who praise social networking for uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Thomas Friedman wrote, also in The New York Times:

Add in rising food prices, and the diffusion of Twitter, Facebook and texting, which finally gives them a voice to talk back to their leaders and directly to each other, and you have a very powerful change engine.

Friedman is right, but so is Rich, when he rakes Piers Morgan over the coals for claiming social networking as “the most fascinating aspect of this whole revolution.”  Still, Morgan, surely, was reflecting only his momentary focus, not expressing “implicit, simplistic Western chauvinism” (though he may have that, too).  Give the poor fool a break, Mr. Rich.  Not everyone has a week between columns for careful reflection.

A week ago, I posted a little piece about the importance of the vehicle in creating the impact of the information.  Unlike Malcolm Gladwell, I can’t see the two as separate (how can you tell, as I love to quote from Yeats, the dancer from the dance?).  I just can’t see things so simply:

How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.

Not exactly.  To be interested in one is to be as interested in the other.  Ranking them serves no purpose.  Charcoal and accelerants do not exist in separate universes, coming together by chance.  You can’t study one without having to study the other–if you want the complete picture, that is.

Yes, Gladwell is right, but his view is just as narrow as Piers Morgan’s.