Ever since Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street-vendor, set himself on fire and sparked protests across North Africa and the Middle East, New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell has become a target of ridicule for so-called social media experts. For them, the revolutions there were proof positive that Galdwell’s October 2010 article, Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted, was pure bunk from an old media writer who had no clue how new media actually worked. It was also a chance for hangers-on of the tech industry to think themselves smarter than Malcolm Gladwell.
So Monday’s Personal Democracy Forum, where Tunisia and Egypt sat alongside network neutrality and user privacy as oft-applauded talking points, was another chance to hear some great quips. Among the best: Micah L. Sifry, the curator of PDF, referred to the October article as Gladwell’s “tripping point.” Zeynep Tufekci, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, said, “I was going to recommend Google Scholar to Malcolm Gladwell, but I don’t have his fax number.”
Laughs all around. This was almost as good as New York’s Social Media Week, when Huffington Post co-founder Jonah Peretti said, “We’ve all read The Tipping Point. Has anyone read The Tipping Point and been able to make something tip?”
But like Social Media Week, little of substance has been generated from what takes place on stage. Indeed, like almost all tech conferences, the real exchange–and networking–takes place over lunch. As we speak, on the balcony of New York University’s Skirball Center, academics and self-professed entrepreneurs are in fierce debate.