I have very mixed feelings about Leonard Sweet’s newest book, Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival. The key message of the book is that there are two cultures: the Gutenbergers and the Googlers and that the culture of the Googlers with their social media and yearning for connection and community is ideal for creating a ‘viral’ revival.
That key message is certainly inspiring and as someone who’s very interested in social media I was very interested in reading Sweet’s thought about this. I wasn’t impressed with his previous book I am a follower (though others were, which proves once again how tastes can differ), but I wanted to give this author another try since loads of people really dig his books.
There’s a lot of good stuff in Viral, challenging analyses that make you see the world around you in a different light (though a lot of this analyses is somewhat personal and not really backed up with research and data). But the book also has some serious shortcomings that hae a lot to do with Sweet’s style. I have to explain these first before I can highlight the positive sides.
Sweet discusses two cultures in his book: the Gutenbergers and the Googlers, also referred to as TGIF’ers (Twitter, Google, iPhone and Facebook). He offers analyses on both cultures throughout his book and keeps coming back to the stark differences between the two. He acknowledges in his epilogue that he has “grievously simplified the two cultures”, but in my opinion, he’s done more than that: he’s polarizing.
Of course there are huge differences between generations and the classification in Gutenbergers and Googlers is perhaps somewhat random, but as good as any. But what Sweet does, is stating that the Gutenbergers have gotten it all wrong, especially when it comes to church, leadership, and being a Christian. He keeps stressing the many mistakes Gutenbergers have made, how wrong their focus and priorities have been, how far they’ve strayed from what being a Christian is all about. The way he does this is in my opinion to harsh and too judgmental. And I think I’m allowed to say that because according to Sweet’s criteria, I am a Googler. For me, polarizing this way and basically trashing the best efforts of a generation really isn’t all that helpful.
Secondly, Sweet is over-optimistic about these Googlers. He embraces everything about the TGIF culture without much critical thought, especially social media. He quotes a few critical voices, but at the same time lashes out to for instance Youthwork Magazine for being critical about technology and the effects on young people.
What’s interesting to me is that I think this book will be outdated very soon. Sweet is raving about Facebook, but people are already leaving Facebook and even social media in general in huge numbers. He’s praising the iPhone (or what it stands for) but after a few setbacks, Apple is facing a serious imago problem. The vey things that he is claiming are the keys to this viral revival he’s hoping for, are the exact same reasons why Googlers are turning their back on for instance Facebook.
Still, not all is bad, absolutely not. It’s refreshing to hear someone rave about young people and their culture for once. His analysis of how Twitter can make you a better follower of Christ was also very challenging. He also wrote some wise things about focusing in the whole instead of on the parts, especially when it comes to faith and Christianity. Sweet also introduces some new words that really got me thinking, like ‘complexipacity’.
All in all, it was definitely an interesting read, but I have to conclude I’m just not a fan of his style. But like I said: tastes can differ, so try it out yourself. You’ll be sure to learn a few new things from Viral and it will absolutely challenge your thinking.
Disclaimer: I received this book via the Blogging for Books program from WaterBrook Multnomah in exchange for an honest review.