My second sojourn into the world of Malcolm Gladwell was again pleasant. The Tipping Point’s analysis of trends and epidemics proves yet again a fascination with the influence of context on social phenomena. After reading Outliers (Gladwell’s most recent book) and Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely’s meditation on irrational behavior in decision-making) I realized a coincidence with the idea that the forces that surround an individual; date of birth, emotional state can affect their actions and fortune.
Moving back in time to The Tipping Point (Gladwell’s first book) I noticed the trend is much the same. Perhaps its a zeitgeist, perhaps just my choice of authors or just plain postmodernism. The Tipping point looks at how epidemics start in fashion, information, and in disease. No matter the exact factor– Gladwell identifies three main factors– the common denominator is mostly just the right thing happening at the right time.
I find this all very compelling. Some where not far back there was a lot of backlash against postmodern thought. A most explicit example might be the segment in the film Waking Life where a character argues the merits of Existentialism by saying that postmodernism just opens up layers of “excuses.” What reading all these books makes clear, however, is how relevant postmodern thought is. The idea that context plays an important or almost chief role in various aspects of social interaction is quite appealing to me personally.
While I am still quite enthralled by Existentialism and agree that postmodernism’s fractured identity (among other thoughts) provides avenues for excuses it is a good framework for understanding why some benefit from privilege or simply timing and others fail consistently. It explodes the idea that hard work and a good idea are all that are needed for success. What Galdwell and Ariely prove is that many more factors are at play. 1 + 1 doesn’t necessarily equal 2 but can given the right opportunity and context.
But maybe this is just an excuse to explain why my blog isn’t more read than it is.