The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point is a catchy book that explains how social epidemics work.
* epidemics don’t spread gradually; instead, there is a tipping point that turns a small trend into a mass phenomenon
* small changes can have big results in the outcome
* several types of people: salesmen, connectors, mavens; play important roles in catalyzing epidemics
The exposition isn’t rigorous but the writing is memorable. Gladwell has lively stories and catchy names for the roles people play in spreading epidemics. Stories about Sesame Street and Bernhard Goetz provide colorful illustration for the idea that small changes have a big results.
The lack of rigor bothered me less than it bothered Peterme. The book has footnotes, so readers who want more rigor can go find it.
One peeve with the book is that Gladwell questions common theories of gradual social change; yet takes the cultural constructs of our society for granted.
* people want to be “cool”
* fashion trends begin with the self-expression of outcasts and are popularized through the efforts of mass marketers
* teenagers inevitably experiment with dangerous activities like drugs and smoking
These things are socially constructed. Many of the problems of teen culture can be explained by a social structure where teens can’t do anything useful, and forces them to “spend years cooped up together with nothing real to do.”
Mass marketing is a modern invention; do the same dynamics apply to pre-modern social trends: the spread of religions, technologies, languages?
This reaction isn’t a criticism of the book. It’s a compliment that the book is so memorable that it invites readers to think about whether its ideas apply in other domains.

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