Malcolm Gladwell's Ideas on Creating and Affecting Social Change


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As life on Earth continues to step into the future, society only becomes more modern. Manners of communicating with people has drastically changed as one can now do so by simply taping on a screen that is most likely in one’s pocket throughout the day. Such means of communication has not only alleviated interaction between friends and relatives who are hours from each other, but also between individuals who live in opposite ends of the world. Many have taken advantage of the ease of communication to help advance society through creating social change with the support of thousands of strangers behind screens. Writer Malcolm Gladwell emphasizes in his article, Small Change, the different effects and manners in which social change can be created. In relation to Gladwell’s ideas, to be able to create social change, one needs to have a personal connection with the cause, have the media involved in the story, and do work outside of a computer screen.

Whether it sounds ideal or not, it is an undeniable fact that humans are selfish. A person who is in no way affected by a social issue is highly unlikely to go out of their way to protest a change regarding the conflict. For instance, a millionaire who continues to make profits off his businesses is less likely to go to Washington D.C. to fight for a higher minimum wage than a single mother who works two minimum wage jobs to support her children. As Gladwell stated in his article, “what mattered more was an applicant’s degree of personal connection to the civil rights movement” (Gladwell, 233). Moreover, not only do people perform acts in support for the cause due to having a first-hand personal connection with it; however, an individual who has somebody they care for affected by the issue is also likely to take action in a complicated manner in regards to solving the issue to benefit their loved one. Therefore, in order to create a social change, the movement will require to be affected by a copious amount of individuals; if a low percentage is affected, the less attention the conflicts will receive, leading to continuous failed attempts to change society.

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If there is a low percentage of people who are affected through social conflict, one has to make it so people understand what it is like to be affected by it and steal the media’s attention. In 2014, Anthony Carbajal was determined to raise awareness on Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a very rare genetic nervous system disease that impacts the victim’s entire body, causing them to lose function in their muscles. ALS only impacts a few thousand people in the United States, including Carbajal and his family. Due to the lack of people that had some sort of connection to the disease, research to find a cure lacked funding. To resolve the issue and speed up the process for a cure, Carbajal created a video introducing the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” a challenge where one had to drop a bucket of ice-cold water on their head and nominate three other people, if one had not completed the challenge after twenty-four hours of being nominated, they required to donate money to ALS foundations. The challenge was a manner of allowing people to understand what it physically felt like to have the disease. As the ice cold water made contact with one’s body, the body would feel numb for a brief moment, mimicking ALS’s power to weaken a victim’s muscle movement to the point of being unable to communicate. After going viral, both alternatives that the Ice Bucket Challenge provided in some way benefit victims of ALS through the increased awareness and the donations being made. Due to making a painful situation into a fun game, ALS has increased over $100 million towards its research and has some closer to finding a cure. Even if a personal connection is nonexistent, the media has the power to make it seem like there is. Furthermore, if a certain situation is turned into a game or simply a way to entertain the public, people are likely to pay attention and want to become a part of it, increasing awareness of the cause through sharing it with their friends.

Due to industrialization, members of society have become dependent on the media. People no longer obtain their knowledge of current events through newspapers being delivered to their home, but through social media or news channels. Today, one only needs minutes to have a story go viral. All one needs to do to have a story being reported nationally—or internationally—is record a video and post it on YouTube, write a story and share it on Facebook, or start a hash tag and trend it on Twitter. With this manner of spreading news, people try to gather others to join them in supporting a cause by taking action. If lucky, the right people—also known as the “strong ties”—will become aware of the story and physically join in to create a major change in society. Strong ties, as Gladwell explained in his article, are the kind of friends whom an individual has a genuine relationship with, whilst “weak ties” are those whom one simply knows about or talks to every so often. The strong ties are the ones who are willing to stand together with a friend and help them fight for a cause. In relation to social media, the least a weak tie can do is click a button and share a story to make others more aware of the situation, creating a minor—if any—change. For example, Gladwell shared in his article the help that the media had on saving Sameer Bhatia, an entrepreneur who was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. Due to not having any friends or relatives who matched Bhatia for a bone marrow transplant, he solely depended on a donor with his ethnicity; therefore, an e-mail was created “explaining Bhatia’s plight to more than four hundred of their acquaintances, who forwarded the e-mail to their personal contacts” (235). After twenty-five thousand people registered to become a bone marrow donor due to Bhatia’s shared story, he eventually found a match that saved his life. Social media is a key factor in creating a movement due to it being the messenger of such stories; however, the media can create a small change in society, not a major one. For instance, through the media, one can make a petition to change a policy in a school or workplace; however, to make a change such as granting equal rights to African-Americans or members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community cannot be supported solely online. Individuals have to come out and take direct action to force a change, not behind a screen that can be easily ignored with the touch of a button.

In order to live in a fair community, equal rights have to be granted. An individual is not able to create equality in society simply by typing a few words into a screen; he or she has to work as hard as they possibly can to obtain what they believe they and other members of society deserve, as the meritocratic model represents. Author Namit Arora introduced in his article, What Do We Deserve, different types of economic models that could in some way grant equality to all people, one of them being the meritocratic model. The meritocratic model, as stated by Arora, believes that “we are the authors of our own destiny and whoever wins the race is morally deserving of the rewards they obtain from the market—and its flipside, that we morally deserve out failure too, and its consequences” (Arora, 88). Therefore, the meritocratic model stands for working hard for what one believes they deserve. In relation to creating social change, if one is not being granted the equality that they are deserving of, they must work hard to obtain the results that they hope for. Before technology made its debut in society, people with the same hopes and desires of equal rights achieved their goal without its help. African-American hero Martin Luther King Jr. was able to eliminate segregation between white and black Americans through continuous actions having being taken, such as non-violent protests and resistance. One of the most influential activists in history, Mahatma Ghandi, headed India’s movement for independence through peaceful protests and rousing influential speeches. Both heroes have been able to create a change by spending years working hard through physical work to gather thousands of individuals to fight peacefully for the social movement they stood for, without the help of the social media. Both stood beside their cause up until their death and successfully gave each individual beside them what they deserved: equality and independence.

Everything that occurs in the modern world goes through the media. One is unlikely to hear about a social movement that was not recorded and placed online or on the news channel. In order to begin a movement and create social change, one needs to spread the word as fast as possible to a large amount of people. However, to change how to government leads a country, one cannot depend on online sources, but actually go outside and make direct contact for a change. Moreover, a major social change is nearly impossible to happen if it does not affect copious people, due to it being easily ignored if it is only affected by a few. Although many are against social media to attempt at creating a change, it is a necessity to increase awareness on certain causes. If a movement personally affects many individuals—or individual’s loved ones—it will increase action; if a movement is being spoken about on television and read about on television, it will increase motivators.

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