Expressive Capability

Friedman (2007) learned from Jaihirth Rao that “Everyone has to focus on what exactly is their value-add” (p. 15).  What do we have that no one else has to offer?  Florida (2005) noted that “We see its effects in the political backlash against globalization in the advanced world . . . urban and rural . . . now have very different, often conflicting political and lifestyle values . . . creating destabilizing political tensions” (p. 51).  Friedman (2007) answered Florida’s (2005) critique when he noted that “those who get caught up in measuring globalization purely by trade statistics—or as purely economic phenomenon instead of one that affects everything from individual empowerment to culture to how hierarchical institutions operate—are missing the impact of this change.” (p. x).  Shirky (2009) pointed out that when people have nothing left to lose they fight back against tyranny, as in the example of how the Chinese people protested after they learned of the bribes that public officials took rather than have schools constructed according to safety codes.  All of this reminds me of “The Hunger Games” trilogy that have riveted the attention of the American public.  I believe it has struck a chord with people, as they see the few who have everything and the many who struggle to live. Friedman and Florida’s works are still relevant today as the United States congress has shown recently that it is willing to shut down government to prevent access to healthcare insurance for all.

In the workplace, we have continued to craft social media policies as technology advances.  As Shirky (2009) recommended, we are trying to find out how to make the best use of this media.  The “expressive capability” (Shirky, 2009) of one displeased customer can spread everywhere in a quick fashion via social media.  I work at an undergraduate residential institution of higher education.  The Master’s degree programs have embraced on-line classes, but the undergraduate classes have limited on-line availability.  Students are asking for more on-line classes.  Despite resistance from some faculty and staff, I believe more on-line classes will be added in the future.

My town was hit by a tornado in early October.  We were fortunate that it hit the industrial area of the city and missed the college and downtown.   Social media was an important tool in the aftermath of the tornado, as the cell towers were overwhelmed.  It allowed quick communication between families and friends.  Some people in their haste to be the first to upload images of the tornado took unnecessary risks.  At the college, we had to reexamine our disaster response plan, as the storm struck too fast and the text based notification system was not used.  Perhaps the lesson here is that social media is powerful, but other methods of communication are vital as well.


Florida, R. (2005). The world is spiky: Globalization has changed the economic playing

          field, but hasn’t leveled it. The Atlantic Monthly, 48-51.
Friedman, T. L. (2007). The world is flat 3.0: A brief history of the twenty-first century.

New York:  Picador / Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Shirky, C.  (2009, June).  How social media can make history.  Retrieved from TED:


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5 Responses to Expressive Capability

  1. Bonny Barr says:

    I was drawn to Florida’s comment about the potential destabilizing effect of global technology. I have often wondered what it is like for individuals living in poverty to see on TV or on the internet the images of affluence and material assets,etc that are so ubiquitous. Is it inspirational, such that a person would feel determined to go out and work to achieve that “wealth” or does it lead to anger and resentment?

    • lybrarylyon says:

      I suspect that the response depends upon the person and the environment from which they were raised. A person lives within a system that can reinforce a person’s aspirations, or detract from those same aspirations. How ethical is it to give people technology without explaining to them how to use it responsibly? It is a sort of Pandora’s Box in some cases.

  2. bwatwood says:

    From tornado warnings (and risk taking) to the Arab Spring, social media has impacted areas for both good and bad. As China, Iran and Syria demonstrate, it is now much more difficult for governments (or businesses) to control the message. At the same time, the web is full of mis-information. Lester Holt of NBC News spoke at a conference I attended a couple of years back, and discussed the recent death of Michael Jackson. No major media outlet broke the story of the death…that happened in social media. Holt noted that the web had fundamentally changed journalism…that his job was no longer to break stories but rather to vet stories…to ensure ultimately that the truth gets out. I would suggest that leaders have a similar mission.

    (…and I have to admit that I devoured all three Hunger Game books…even though they were written for teens…)

    • rgzinkan says:

      This topic reminded me of a story from a few years ago. We have 10 undergraduate online programs at my campus (which is more than the other 7 campuses of our university system combined). We have a famous women’s tennis player who is one of our online students. No one knew (although she was fine with others knowing…she was wearing our sweatshirt in the stands at Wimbledon) until our chancellor sent an @reply tweet to her wishing her good luck at the U.S. Open. (Our chancellor was one of the first, if not the first, university presidents or chancellors in the country to start using Twitter.) From that single tweet, a flurry of media coverage ensued.

  3. lybrarylyon says:

    As you suggest, one of the responsibilities of leadership is that the truth gets out. I suspect the perception of the truth is judged as to whether one is operating in the light or the shadows, as Osama bin Laden was a prime example.

    Teenagers are perceptive creatures. They understand more than we think they do sometimes and can easily point out injustice and inequity.

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