Green and growing

My story about being a Green politician in Canada, and why it was the best thing I ever did.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

On social networking

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a very interesting piece in the New York Times about social networking. It is well worth the read ...

One of his arguments is that there is a difference between strong-tie connections and weak-tie connections. Strong-tie connections are groups and issues for which we have a strong desire to become involved due to the involvement of ourselves or our close friends and relatives. They require some significant personal commitment in order to make effective change. Gladwell uses the civil rights movement of the US in the 50's and 60's as an example. Weak-tie connections are groups and issues which we are not as intimately involved with, such as our Facebook friends or Twitter follows. He argues that these social networks can only be effective in creating social change when the "ask" is minimal .. that is, sign a petition, watch a Youtube video or pass on an email to your contacts. In that type of ask, however, the effect can be massive due to the exponential growth of the network of people contacted.

This got me thinking. Of all the political issues facing us in Canada, which would we consider to be "strong-tie" issues? The first thing that comes to mind is the observation that participation rates in elections are falling, which suggests that more and more issues are seen to be "weak-tie" issues. By this, I mean that the issues that we often call the ballot box questions are simply not motivating enough to get everyone involved, particularly youth. On the other hand, once you get involved in politics, you see lots of issues which are important, issues that may mean life and death to a lot of people. Yet, try as I might, I cannot seem to transfer my sense of urgency to others. Quite often, the effort results in the directly opposite outcome ... people turn off and tune out.

The past year or so in Canada has handed us a few surprises as to what Canadians react to. The first is the proroguing of parliament. Who would have guessed that their would be such a reaction as we saw across the nation? The most recent surprise was the reaction to the changes in the long form census. Again, if I were betting, I would have lost that one! I can only muse at this point about how Canadians will feel about losing the bid to attain a temporary seat on the UN Security Council. Will our social networking tools rally Canadians to demand a change in our foreign policy and repair Canada's reputation in the world? Time will tell.


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