10 October 2007

Mr. Friedman, I beg to differ

So I'm eating lunch today and I savor the sticky-sweet irony of a guy at TechPresident - TechPresident! - lamenting wistfully that Tom Friedman may be right in his column today: perhaps all this social media stuff is making kids more apathetic and forcing them away from the activism they'd do otherwise. So I quickly typed out a rant and posted to TP. I ain't done rantin' yet.

First of all, I think it's fitting and proper that Mr. Friedman acknowledged the unprecedented level of idealism and activity that college kids are currently displaying:

Whether it was at Ole Miss or Williams or my alma mater, Brandeis, college students today are not only going abroad to study in record numbers, but they are also going abroad to build homes for the poor in El Salvador in record numbers or volunteering at AIDS clinics in record numbers. Not only has terrorism not deterred them from traveling, they are rolling up their sleeves and diving in deeper than ever.

Just stop right there. How does Mr. Friedman assume that college kids are learning about and taking advantage of all these opportunities? I'll give you a hint: they ain't readin' about it in the New York Times. But jump on one of the literally thousands of social network groups on volunteerism and you can send your name and email or cell number to get more info on how to get involved. Social media is, in fact, directly linked to action.

But Mr. Friedman apparently thinks this social media stuff is a bunch of hooey until someone in its midst acheives iconic status:

Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy didn’t change the world by asking people to join their Facebook crusades or to download their platforms. Activism can only be uploaded, the old-fashioned way — by young voters speaking truth to power, face to face, in big numbers, on campuses or the Washington Mall. Virtual politics is just that — virtual.
Just how exactly does Mr. Friedman think political rallies are organized these days? Phone trees? Flyers slapped up on billboards? Hordes of 12-year-old boys passing out newspapers like we're in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?

Mr. Friedman may not know about Eventful, which brought a major presidential candidate to a tiny rural town (population 229) in Western Kentucky. He may have forgotten how ordinary citizens in China used cellphone texting to help stop a chemical plant from being built in Xiamen. He may have missed all the videos on Youtube that FINALLY turned the eyes of the world on Myanmar. He might not have known about the virtual nurse-in. He might have missed the post in a New York Times BLOG about how the Chairman of the SEC is posting comments on other people's blogs.

Mr. Friedman makes a mistake that all too many people in the communications world do about social media -- he focuses on the tools, and not on their strategic application. The whole point of social media is the idea that you can achieve a communications goal in the absence of an MLK or an RFK. Those leaders leveraged the communications tools of their time effectively. The tools we use are still new, and we're still developing them and learning how to use them. In time - not much time - we'll be changing government as we know it. Let's just see what things look like after the 2008 election and see what Mr. Friedman says.

One final point about the NYT column that really didn't sit well with me. Mr. Friedman has one of the most influential pulpits in the world from his desk at the Times, and yet he's telling college kids what they should be asking presidential candidates. I respectfully submit that this advice would be better directed toward his colleagues who tail the candidates daily.

UPDATE: nothin' but love for Il Elefante Irritable for all the shout-out's he's been giving me. Mr. Friedman might want to check out the blog he built for the class he teaches at Georgetown.


L. Kirkland said...

The "Quiet" generation is an interesting characterization by Mr. Friedman. Perhaps quiet in terms that they aren't marching and shouting, but this generation likely has written more and communicated more often and more broadly than any previous at their age. They are having influence, it's just not the big, dramatic marches.

David said...

Absolutely, LK. I think we're seeing yet another symptom of a generation gap...

buy Ginecomastia treatment said...

Friedman should look around him and realize that we are not leaving in the 18th century anymore.

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it actually not the 18th century, and we should realize it. other than that thanks God its not a lecture.