Malcolm Gladwell presents an interesting theory in his work, “The Tipping Point”, expressing his belief that social behavior can be predictable to the point of following a specific pattern. Gladwell insists that, “Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do” (344). However, unlike Gladwell’s opinion, human behavior is not a harsh, absolute, and repetitive trend, but rather; human adaptation is a process that builds over time, is unique in every instance, and is constantly evolving. There is a significant distinction between scientific and social behavior.
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The difference between scientific and social behavior is that scientific actions are those that can be proven time and time again, with minimal change in results. It has been proven that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit every time. The only exception is when an outside influence reacts with it, such as salt. Salt will always lower the freezing and boiling point of water. On the other hand, what scientific evidence can back up the measurement of love, craziness, or pure emotion? Gladwell’s theory of a ‘tipping point’ can be appropriately applied with concrete ideas such as science, but it can only slightly relate or analyze more abstract concepts such as human behavior. Love, for instance, is an emotion that cannot be replicated; it is different for everyone, and thus cannot have a precise ‘tipping point’. Emotions and behavior can be better compared to the ebb and flow of tides, than the see and saw of a balance.
Gladwell naively asks, “How does a thirty-dollar pair of shoes go from a handful of downtown Manhattan hipsters and designers to every mall in America in the space of two years?” (342). He answered his question with his earlier supportive evidence, “‘It was total word of mouth,’ [Joe] Fitzgerald remembers.” (342). Gladwell contradicts that statement with, “No one was trying to make Hush Puppies a trend. Yet, somehow, that’s exactly what happened.” Finally, he concludes, “The shoes passed a certain point in popularity and they tipped.” (342). It is difficult to realistically consider a change over a span of two years as sudden. Many environmental factors may have been involved with the spurt of popularity, including having shops in one of the biggest cities in the country, and being a decently priced product that everyone could use. What caused the tipping point for the Hush Puppies brand? Was it word of mouth that caused the surge in sales, or can the Manhattan hipsters and fashion designers take credit? Instead, it is better to look at the combination of all those factors in addition to a significant amount of time that led to the eventual fashion trend eruption of Hush Puppies.
Gladwell mentions that, “Tipping points are moments of great sensitivity,” (349). He focuses too much on moments, rather than logical conclusions. Change is a gradual action that is best and most accurately analyzed over a long period of time, and is most apparent when done so. For example, when does a person stop hating someone and start loving them? At what point does water stop being cold and become hot? Although birth and death are popularly viewed as a beginning and ending; at which point is a person growing and at which point are they dying? The cynical view that all emotions and actions are indecisive and polar opposites is the exact proclamation that Gladwell’s, “The Tipping Point,” supports. His logic would be more impressive if all earthly things were governed by the definition of perceptible opposites. This, however, is not the case. Although trends may seem to fluctuate quickly, when taking a look at a larger time scale, it is evident that developments are much more gradual.
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Gladwell’s captivating ideas on a social ‘tipping point’ provide fleeting entertainment, but nevertheless loses effectiveness when put into a human social behavioral context. His evidence is more often than not transient and vague, leaving too much room for his audience to make broad, biased conclusions. He inaccurately affirms his sociological statements with unrelated mathematically concrete evidence. Other than the instances where he contradicts himself, his argument is only valid to those who consistently believe in polar opposites instead of gradual change and infinite degrees of difference. Perhaps it is Gladwell’s educational background as a history major (“Malcolm Gladwell”) that causes his view of tipping points. Gladwell may argue that the tragedy of Pearl Harbor was the tipping point for America’s involvement in World War II; however, further research reveals that there were many events and factors, such as pressures from other countries, leading up to America’s eventual involvement. Unfortunately for Gladwell, human behavior clearly does not follow patterns and cannot be restricted to the assumptive analysis included in his theory of a ‘tipping point’.
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