12 December 2006

Tipsy point?

Are you struggling to keep up with the conversational gambits of your erudite friends at holiday parties? Do you find yourself at a loss when conversation turns to fashion, the latest trends, and the marketplace of ideas after a few eggnogs generously spiked with rum? Let me introduce you to an author whose ideas can enliven your chatter for months to come.

I recently ran into an old friend in the audiobooks section of my dear old library - Malcolm Gladwell. I love this guy's books. I've found myself referring to him recently in a few conversations and email chatter about blogging, so I thought I would re-acquaint myself with him through a quick listen to his audiobooks. Speaking of audiobooks, I highly recommend finding a few read by the authors themselves; take a listen to their inflections, emphasis, and intonations and help yourself to a new or better understanding of their works. The best example of this I know is the audiobook of Jim Lovell's Moon Shot, whose story is known to most people through the movie Apollo 13.

Gladwell may be familiar to some as the fellow whose analysis shows that swimming pools are far more dangerous to children than handguns, or that the crime rate in NYC fell in the 80s not due to a tactical cracdown on squeedgy wielding ne'er-do-wells, but due to the legalization of abortion in 1973. Of course I simplify these ideas and arguments here for the sake of brevity, so please do take a look at the work in its entirety before you make any final conclusions about Gladwell's efforts. If you're pressed for time, his reading of The Tipping Point is excellent. His basic idea is that social trends spread using methods and vectors analogous to those that spread disease through a population. He identifies three types of people who are vital to this kind of idea epidemic: connectors, mavens and salespeople. He then disects and analyzes a variety of events and activities, ranging the gamut from Paul Revere's Midnight Ride, the production of Sesame Street, and the parlor game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon (who is, coincidentally, an actor in Apollo 13.). I know I'll never look at Sesame Street the same way, although I still love the muppets.