Yet, OWS is a testimony to how much Gladwell had underestimated the power of this new medium. Having legitimate grievances is one thing, but to willfully express them against powerful institutions is quite another. It is still hard to believe that this bold first step in the fight against corporate greed had at last been taken. Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, which is in the vicinity of NYSE, was the site chosen for the historic moment. On 17th of September, 2011, a thousand-strong group of demonstrators showed up to the call to Occupy Wall Street. From that point on, each day, at least a few hundred people took turns to spend the night in the park so as to keep a round-the-clock vigil. Although a few hundred people may not sound like a lot, the very idea to occupy Wall Street was both revolutionary and provocative. ‘We are the 99%’ is a perfect slogan for the movement, for not only did it make clear the situation of gross inequality in wealth, but also suggested the great potential power in the hands of the majority – the power of numbers. The movement grew in strength each day for several months, before a collective fatigue set in and its power fizzled out. However one cannot point to a ‘tipping point’ or a ‘critical mass’ either during its ascendency or during the descent. In this respect the phenomenal occurrence of OWS is outside the theories presented in The Tipping Point.
One of the key features of OWS is its decentralized organization and a lack of hierarchy among the participants. Modern communication tools such as mobile phones and the Internet have ushered in the era of social networking. Here, instead of hierarchies one sees a spider web of connections among people. After OWS happened, Gladwell is forced to rethink his assessment of new technology. Gladwell makes amends to his earlier position by finally revising his understanding of the power of new media. In a lecture delivered in 2013 he refines what is stated in The Tipping Point by contrasting the idea of hierarchy against the millennials’ idea of the network:
“Millennials don’t think in terms of hierarchy, as they are accustomed to looking “out” for information instead of looking “up.” The Internet and social networks give you the information you need. When you think about the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, that was a hierarchy. There was a clear leader—Martin Luther King Jr.—and there was a structure and order in the people below him. Now take a look at the two big millennial-driven movements of recent years—Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring. Who was the leader? Who drove those initiatives? No one really. They were inspired by social media and the power of the collective. Again, a dramatic difference from other generations with a powerful impact on what you will be like as a leader.” (Karsh & Templin, 2013, p. 61)
In conclusion, it is evident that those who try to predict or project events years in advance are on a slippery slope. The statistical and analytical tools employed by Gladwell to arrive at his inferences were based on linear models. Real life events, on the contrary, are shaped by several factors whose exact influence is unknown. To this extent social phenomena can be said to progress non-linearly. This is true of OWS and similar mass movements witnessed in recent years. Gladwell, as well as much of the popular press, got it wrong for this reason. But Gladwell can be credited for bringing insight to the nature of social phenomena. He should also be commended for refining his theories based on the facts surrounding the Occupy Wall Street movement.
- Bush, Harold K. “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.” The Christian Century3 Apr. 2013: 37+.
- Farhat-Holzman, Laina. “The Next 100 Years-A Forecast for the 21st Century.”Comparative Civilizations Review64 (2011): 117+.
- Karpf, David. The Moveon Effect: The Unexpected Transformation of American Political Advocacy. New York: Oxford UP, 2012.
- Karsh, Brad, and Courtney Templin. Manager 3.0: A Millennial’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management. New York: American Management Association, 2013.
- “Tweeting toward Freedom? A Survey of Recent Articles.” The Wilson QuarterlySpring 2011: 64+.