Saturday, September 03, 2016

Tipping Point or Bottleneck

I love Malcolm Gladwell, as much as I love any man I've never met in person and to whom I am not closely related, but I wonder about the central metaphor of his book The Tipping Point (published in 2000), although I do think the implication of leaving behind the possibility of going back to the way things were before is altogether accurate.

What for me seems to be missing from this metaphor is the limited capacity of any culture to process change. You might think of it as being analogous to inertia or friction, but I think it might better be characterized in terms of density and pressure.

It's as though we are being forced, by the pressure of innumerable events, into a conical channel with what at present remains a tiny opening at the pointy end, like the nozzle of an acetylene torch, being accelerated into an unpredictable future beyond anyone's control. The effect is rather like an extreme roller coaster, both exciting and terrifying.

Perhaps we should be reaching back 30 years further to the publication of Alvin Toffler's Future Shock to find the other side of the Tipping Point coin, and the explanation for why so many people are so ready to support such regressive public policies.

Afterthought: Perhaps an even more apt metaphor is quantum tunneling, in this case between paradigms. Any individual has some probability of finding themselves in an alternative paradigm at any moment, and should they find a place there they may make the transition to that new paradigm permanent.

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