Malcolm Gladwell’s recent New Yorker article “Small Change” has set the blogosphere buzzing with its strongly stated argument that social networks such as Facebook and Twitter will not usher in a new age of social activism, as some digital evangelists have proposed, but that they and the relationships they foster are actually detrimental to real social change. As Gladwell puts it, “The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo.”

It’s been a busy few months for Facebook: a government investigation, another in a seemingly endless series of changes to the site’s privacy controls, a New Yorker profile of its famously publicity-shy founder and the upcoming release of The Social Network, a thoroughly unauthorized account of its early days. With all of the publicity and controversy around Facebook – not to mention its still-growing popularity – it’s almost impossible to remember what online life was like before it. In fact, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that those who began using the Internet after the introduction of Facebook and its competitors do so in a way that is fundamentally different from older users.

New York’s Gramercy Park is a curious institution: two acres of fenced-in greenspace that is accessible only to those who own the houses surrounding the park. (Non-residents must either stay at the Gramercy Park Hotel or join the Players Club or National Arts Club if they want to visit, and each of these institutions has a limited number of park keys.) Private parks like it are the exception, of course, not the rule: since the days of Frederick Law Olmsted, who campaigned for and designed city parks across North America (Central Park, in New York, and Montreal’s Mount Royal Park among them) we have come to expect most of our recreational spaces to be public. Cities and neighbourhoods are routinely rated on both the quantity and quality of their parks, and any suggestion that these services should be cut back always receives violent reactions from taxpayers; playgrounds, too, are public by default.

When Marlene Kane’s sixteen-year-old son Andrew asked her to drive him to the nearby town of Midland last December, she was surprised to hear that he wanted to meet with someone he had met while playing the online game World of Warcraft – and even more surprised to learn that the person he was meeting was a 42-year-old mother of four from Texas. Experts on sexual solicitation of youth online were less shocked however. In fact, for them the only surprising thing was Lauri Price’s sex. Everything else about the scenario – how they made contact, Price’s openness about her age, Andrew’s willingness to meet her, and the lack of deception about her intentions – all fit the evolving picture of how youth are sexually exploited online.

This winter the Olympics return to Canada for the first time since the Calgary games of 1988. For many people, the most vivid memories of that Olympiad are the colourful stories of some of the less accomplished athletes, such as British ski jumper Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards and the members of the Jamaican bobsled team. It’s unlikely, though, that there will be any charming underdogs in this year’s Olympiad, as the games become more and more the province of professionals. As audiences and advertising revenues drop, however, will the professionalization of the Games spell their downfall?

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