Blink

Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. First Edition. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005.

Blink is concerned with the importance of first instincts and subsequent impressions, and the ability to “thin-slice,” or to make accurate decisions about people, places, events, or moments in the blink of an eye. Do you think this seems like a difficult and potentially disastrous act? Don’t think. Blink.

As animals, human beings are equipped with an adaptive unconscious that is necessary for survival in every “natural” situation, but appears to be obsolete in most aspects of modern society. These are the instinctual reactions to virtually every living thing has to the extremes of fire, flood, and famine, but also relates to almost imperceptible ability to read faces and body language and sense the pheromones in those around you to help you best gauge a situation. However, as animals with highly developed cognitive reasoning, human beings have become considerably detached from their natural instincts. Furthermore, even when we are fortunate enough to become aware of them, most people have trained themselves to not trust their instincts as fully as they should and feel they must continue to gather information and analyze that data, which eventually results in what is Gladwell describes as “Analysis Paralysis.” The theories Gladwell discusses in Blink can be applied to the issues stemming from the expansion of Web 2.0 in a number of fascinating ways.

The first way that Blink is applicable to Web 2.0 culture is centered around the theory and practice of Thin Slicing and how it can be (and effectively already is) used in social media. Every day, people make snap decisions about other individuals they come across online based almost entirely on a profile picture and a typically brief “About Me” blurb on any number of social networking sites, and this raises a number of questions. How accurate are these snap decisions? Can you appropriately judge someone based on this little bit of information? Do you need to meet with that individual face-to-face, or is only Facebook truly necessary? How important is movement, scent, sound, and the feel of an encounter? If these elements are rendered insignificant, is this indicative of a loss of humanity?

These questions (and still others that remain unasked) prove that the ramifications of thin-slicing in Web 2.0 culture are not wholly in alignment with Gladwell’s exact interpretation of thin-slicing. He defines thin-slicing as an approach to life that is extremely sensory and animalistic, whereas the thin slices gleaned from social networking sites are generally only visual and highly cognitive. However, the basic principle remains essentially the same (the ability to gain a lot of insight based on a little information), and one of the researchers whom Malcolm interviewed for his book has since run a separate study on the role which Facebook now plays in assessing personality from a technological distance.

This is the article about how Facebook can serve as a personality test.

Secondly, Analysis Paralysis is becoming an ever increasing hazard as we sally forth into the Information Age. Interestingly, the same social networking sites which are (perhaps unwittingly) founded on the technique of thin-slicing are also almost entirely responsible for the excessive influx of personal information and personal opinions. Twitter is another excellent example of Web 2.0 thin-slicing; it has a strict limit of 140 characters and sparse profile options, but with hundreds of thousands of tweets being sent out every minute (and many of them are certainly of no particular importance), it is tremendously easy to become overwhelmed and overloaded with information.

Finally, Blink also speaks to the leveling of intellectual society, through Gladwell’s belief that even an expert’s opinion may be fundamentally biased by the aforementioned excess of information, and also by known or unknown prejudices, prior experiences, preferences, and aversions. He does not believe that the existence of experts is insignificant, it should be noted and as is clear due to the many experts whom he interviewed during the course of the book. Rather, he seems to feel that they should remain as aware of their own limitations as non-experts already are, as a way of creating and sustaining intellectual equality. Wiping the slate clean and balancing opinions effectively leads to the leveling of society, which is currently being experienced due to self-publication through online social media. For example, corporate news stations are still very much in business, but many journalists are getting their start (or even basing their entire career) in blogging. Cookbooks are still widely available and popular as ever, but anyone can start a cooking blog of their own, and if that blog garners enough attention, a book deal is usually right around the corner. This is a tremendously positive thing in most respects, because it blurs the lines between expert and amateur and has the potential to keep both readers, aspiring writers, and everyone already in the publication world on their toes.

Gladwell is a truly gifted writer and draws from a great variety of studies and resources provided with wonderful commentary by expert individuals. I chose to listen to Blink as an audiobook rather than read it because of time constraints, and I was very pleased by the narration (the author did it himself) and the thoughtful and strategic use of music. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in having their mind blown and their eyes opened.

Be sure to check out The Pioneer Woman and The Frenemy, too! Ree got her start blogging and now has a whole series of cookbooks, and Alida (of The Frenemy fame) has a book coming out sometime in 2012!

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