The Efficacy of Physical Presence versus Electronic Presence

Protests have been around since man decided that things in his world needed to be changed. There is not just one particular type of community or society that is prone to protests, but rather, every society has seen some sort of movement calling for change. In Malcolm Gladwell’s article “Small Change” in The New Yorker, Gladwell recounts the Woolworth’s incident in Greensboro, North Carolina, where four black men sit at the counter designated for whites only. The protest spread in a matter of days to over a thousand people, by just word of mouth. Now, protests such as the Occupy Wall Street movement have gained supporters through social media and networking, such as Facebook and Twitter.  With so many people on the Internet these days, it is amazing how quickly news can spread. Facebook and Twitter have become some of the main ways for protesters to get their claims heard and to get more people involved. However, as Gladwell claims, just because a protest is supported on the Internet, does this make it more effective? What made the 1960’s civil rights protests so effective was that everyone involved was committed. Since anyone around  the world can join the Occupy Wall Street movement, perhaps people are interested in the movement, but are they willing to become committed to the protest? Perhaps the social networking and media perspective will only be useful on a broad platform, merely introducing people to the topic, and from there they can choose to become committed to the project or not.


Gladwell article:


4 responses to “The Efficacy of Physical Presence versus Electronic Presence

  1. coffeeshoprhino

    Do you have any examples of the “less committed” issue you discuss for the OWS movement?

    • Thanks for the comment. For example, on Facebook, there is an Occupy Wall Street page page for the cause, where there are over 158,000 people who “like” the page. However, while there are many people who “like” the page, how many are actually involved in the movement itself? Are they actively protesting, or rather, just supporting the cause verbally? While both can be effective, actively protesting seems to be the best way to get a protest movement moving. However, to play Devil’s advocate, word of mouth can be a great way to spread information and get more people involved. I merely raise the question of whether physical presence is more important to a cause than an electronic presence.

  2. I think this argument fails to account for the fact that those who are not actively protesting can still be involved in the movement. Yes, protesting provides a visible example to the rest of society that a certain perceived injustice exists and will not be tolerated, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. The actual knowledge of this injustice is what brings about change. Voting in elections and going to great lengths to not support those in a position of power that use it to subjugate others goes much further than camping out in a park. All this hinges on how “committed” is defined.
    Other than that, I find your stance quite interesting and I feel it was well reasoned. I would suggest adding a definition for how one actually commits and bringing in a source or two that relates to the bandwagon effectc (or something like that) thst strengthens the argument that one needs to be physically present to motivate others to join a group and become actively involved.

  3. ramblerofoccasionalbrilliance

    I agree with Nick that “this argument fails to account for the fact that those who are not actively protesting can still be involved in the movement.” So much of the rhetoric found in the movement talks about creating ideas and that ideas cannot be erased or eradicated (very V for Vendetta….or Batman even, in Batman Begins a quote goes “People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne, as a man I’m flesh and blood I can be ignored I can be destroyed but as a symbol, as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting. ” So both of the examples I just gave are fiction but are they not true? Let’s say for arguments sake that Occupy Wall Street is an idea. That idea is planted in peoples heads and while they may not be committed to say, going to a Occupy protest in person, they may start to think about bigger questions of where they fit in the economy, what importance money plays in their lives, it may change their vote in upcoming elections. But it may also make very slight changes in an individuals personal life. I know we’re all in love with empirical data, but I don’t think the “effectiveness” of this movement will be known for maybe years to come. The definition of “effectiveness” is also very different when comparing this movement to that of the 1960’s civil rights movement. In that movement there was one explicit demand, and in the OWS movement the only explicit thing that really can be agreed upon is that there’s a problem(s) in the status quo.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s