I recently left a comment on Sivacracy responding to a post about Malcolm Gladwell's bestselling book, The Tipping Point. My remark was pretty snarky, admittedly. I said this: "Isn't The Tipping Point a readerly, if watered-down, version of Everett Rogers' The Diffusion of Innovations--a book that's been out for decades?" I still stand behind the spirit of comment, at least, insofar as I believe Rogers said essentially what Gladwell is now often credited with saying (and Gabriel Tarde before Rogers....You can see where this is going.). By the same token, I regret having too quickly dismissed Gladwell's work and contributions.
Perhaps what impresses me most about Gladwell's writing is his ability to make the history of the idea of communication engaging to popular audiences. Take his piece on "The Spin Myth," for instance, in which he tells fascinating stories about the role the late public relations doyen, Edward L. Bernays, played in shaping perceptions about media influence. Then there's the video I've embedded above, in which Gladwell shares a series of parables about the food industry's discovery of diversity-in-taste (spaghetti sauce is the operative example). This is no small matter. What Glaldwell is addressing are the epistemological assumptions individuals and groups bring to bear when making judgments about right and wrong, good and bad, tasty and displeasing, and more. He is also offering some intriguing commentary on personal influence and group dynamics, two longstanding issues in communication theory.
All that to say, having taught about the intellectual history of communication, I can appreciate the work that must go in to making his stories and lectures as captivating as they are. And while I wish his work were more critically inclined, I can't really hold that against him. After all, who am I to criticize an apple for being an apple, and not an orange?
In other news, after weighing the decision, I've decided not to join Facebook after all. I still may sign up one day, but as I said earlier, it's hard enough for me to keep the lights on here at D&R. Another online commitment (to whatever extent Facebook is a commitment) would just be too much right now. I'm not sure if anyone had designs on friending me, but if you were, sorry to let you down.
Also, in case you're wondering, I'm going to leave the design of D&R as it is for the foreseeable future. Ron tells me it's a bit busy, and I agree. But until I can get the issue with my old design template resolved, I don't want to change the site again. I worry that folks might come looking for D&R and think they've stumbled on some other blog.