What to expect from Malcolm Gladwell’s talk on social media at the F-5 Expo in Vancouver, BC

Photo of Malcolm Gladwell by Kris Krug

Last January, Malcolm Gladwell told CBS talk show host Katie Couric that he doesn’t use social media.


“My goal is to do less things online not more, because I have a limited amount of time,” the best-selling author of four books, one about the power of social connections, said. “My whole goal in the world is to clear big spaces of time to think and to explore and to follow my curiosity and if I’m constantly on my BlackBerry it chews into my time.”


Couric asked him if he would be writing about the subject of social media and Gladwell answered, “I feel like lots and lots of people are thinking and writing about social networking. I always try to avoid things where there are many, many smart people who have gone ahead…(and written about it…)”


So what should the attendees expect to hear from Gladwell, who will deliver the keynote speech at the F-5 conference, a speech whose subject conference conveners have described as: “Malcolm Gladwell on Innovation and Limitation”?


“The explosion in social media has created enormous excitement about how these new tools can transform human engagement. But is there a downside of things like Twitter and Facebook? What aren't they good at? And how does understanding the limitations of these innovations alter the way we pursue social change?” the teaser for the $350 a ticket talk reads.


But is an author who eschews social media, even an author who is a columnist for The New Yorker magazine, qualified to comment upon a phenomenon he doesn’t think much of himself?  In the case of Gladwell,  the answer is very simply: yes. 


Whatever his habits regarding social media, Gladwell has some surprising connections to it.  The British born, Canadian-raised son of a rich cultural mix mentions on his blog that he comes  from the  town where they invented BlackBerry.  “My great claim to fame is that I'm from the town where they invented the BlackBerry …”


Gladwell's family tree includes ancestors of West Indian, English, Jewish, Irish and Scottish heritage. One of his European ancestors arrived in Jamaica in the mid-17th century and seeded a long line of privileged mixed-race Jamaicans, the Fords. On his father's side, his great-great grandparents, Thomas Adams and Jane Wilson, left England and Ireland to take part in the Castlemaine gold rush in Victoria, Australia in the 1850s, his Wikipedia  entry says.


 Gladwell has said that his mother, who published a book titled Brown Face, Big Master in 1969, is his role model as a writer, the Wikipedia entry says and then goes on to describe Gladwell’s Canadian coming of age. Though born in the United Kingdom, Gladwell was raised in Elmira, Ontario, Canada. He graduated with a degree in history from the University of Toronto's Trinity College in 1984. During his high school years, Gladwell was an outstanding middle-distance runner and won the 1500 meter Midget Boys title at the 1978 Ontario High School championships in Kingston, Ontario, in a duel with eventual Canadian Open record holder David Reid. In the summer of 1982, Gladwell interned with the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C. Gladwell then went on to work for a series of conservative publications, finally wending his way to the New Yorker where he became a widely read essayist publishing perception-shifting essays, coining terms that became part of the popular consciousness and demonstrating an ability to produce prolifically and consistently thought-provoking prose.


After garnering a book deal for his first book, The Tipping Point, for a reported $1 million, Gladwell began to draw fees in the range of $40,000 for public speaking.


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