Malcolm Gladwell’s “Small Change”: A Rhetorical Analysis
Piercing screams, angry chants, and heartfelt tears: that is the climate of change. Compare this to the placid clicking of keyboards, the casual transmission of emoticons; it is evident which situation will go down in history. This is Malcolm Gladwell’s central argument in his essay “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.” In order to convince readers that progress cannot be made through social media, Gladwell uses logos and ethos, an intellectual persona, and his unique writing style. He draws his audience in and convinces his readers that “social media cannot provide what social change has always required” (315).
Gladwell’s abundant use of real world examples and facts allows him to validate his argument. The best example of this tactic is the anecdote at the beginning of his piece: the two page-long summary of the well-known Greensboro sit-in during 1960. By the end of the spiel, Gladwell has caught his reader’s attention and has put his audience right into the situation, making his statement, “…it all happened without e-mail, texting, Facebook, or twitter” (314) potent and sufficient without any kind of explanation. Similarly, he does not express any opinion without giving a valid real-world example of why he thinks a certain way. Bringing up the demise of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Al-Qaeda supports his perspective on how insufficient networks actually are in changing any kind of social order. These well-known examples give him credibility as well as a crucial means of appealing to his audience. Yet Gladwell’s use of logos was not the only rhetorical device that helped in conveying his argument.
The essay itself starts by dropping the reader right into the tense situation of the 1960 Greensboro sit-in. Presented with visual details of how the rebellion occurred, the reader can almost hear the sounds and feel the intensity during that time. This is Gladwell’s tactic for convincing the reader of the wisdom of his point of view. After the long introduction that undoubtedly captured the reader’s full attention, Gladwell gives an explanation for his opinion on the inadequate role that social media has played in activism nowadays. His explanation includes specific examples of the use of Facebook and Twitter, indirectly juxtaposing social activism during the 1960s versus today. He then brings up a different idea of the “so-called Twitter Revolution” of Moldova and Iran, giving the reader a different perspective on the irrelevance of social media in revolutions around the world. After concluding that argument, he picks up where he left off about the sit-in; he continues to do so throughout his essay, each time proving that the use of social media is inferior to directly confronting unjust hierarchies when it comes to social change. This kind of writing strategy keeps the reader engaged, a task which is the most important aspect in conveying an idea. However, this was not his only writing strategy that kept Gladwell’s readers coming back for more.
Throughout his essay, Gladwell maintained an intellectual, yet humble, tone. His word choice and syntax gave him an educated persona. This identity is vital in establishing credibility, which allows the reader to trust that Gladwell knows what he is talking about, helping him in his goal of convincing the reader of his perspective. Consider his statement on how social media has given people a means to speak up, “…the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coordinate, and give voices to their concerns” (314). This quote shows his scholarly personality and revealing him as a balanced, educated observer, therefore appealing to his rational audience.
For the most part, Gladwell makes an effective argument on how the use of social media has not helped to dramatically improve social customs. However, I disagree with the positive connotation that he gives to uprisings and revolutions. By focusing on how inadequate social media is in achieving social change, Gladwell overlooks the deeper problem of how physical rebellions in the past have caused more disorder and destruction than they helped populations that are in need of aid and reform. Moreover, he neglects to mention that although social media is only good for spreading ideas, sometimes such communication is all that is needed in achieving meaningful social reform.
Malcolm Gladwell’s overall argument in showing the ineffectiveness of social media in social reform is efficient. His intellectual person as well as his use of logos, ethos, and a unique writing style helped him appeal to his readers. Naturally, he was able to successfully convey his opinion to his readers, who, in turn, will hopefully act upon this information. Gladwell’s perspective is valid in terms of how he approaches the issue of the insignificance of social media in changing social agendas. However, he fails to mention that the alternative, which includes rowdy crowds and violent attacks, can undermine the better goals of reformers and activists. This lapse weakens his argument, as rebellions could actually create more disorder, keeping society from achieving true progression.
Gladwell, Malcom. “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.” They Say/I
: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing. 2nd Edition. Graff, Gerald, Cathy
Birkenstein, and Russel Durst; New York City: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012. 312-
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