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A K M Adam
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• Small Pieces From 2002-04-27 •

The plug on the cover of SPLJ from Daniel Pink states that David's new magnum opus is "in the tradition of Marshall McLuhan..." McLuhan is one of those authors, like de Touqueville, that everyone quotes but no one reads -- and perhaps with Weinberger around, people won't have to.

McLuhan's most similar work is, I suppose, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, which shares a structural relationship to SPLJ. McLuhan names most chapters after various disruptive media, like TV, and radio, (and some other less obvious media, like money and roads), concluding with automation, the chapter where he anticipates the web. In his most famous quote, he writes "Our specialist and fragmented civilization is suddenly experiencing an instantaneous reassembling of all its mechanical bits into an organic whole. This is the new world of the global village."

SPLJ echoes McLuhan, from the other side of the threshold. McLuhan was writing in the '60s, in the midst of the upheaval caused by TV and rock&roll, and only anticipating the future 'global computer automation' that SPLJ deals with. McLuhan is like Moses, who came to the river Jordan, but could not cross over. David is one of us, living in this new millennium, and approaching the 'new world of the global village' as a villager, with an intensely personal voice. McLuhan was not from the village, he was a visionary of another epoch of human history, and sounds tinny and strident, like a cheap AM radio, rambling in oracular prose from an almost Olympian, etheric, macroeconomic perspective.

Weinberger is nothing like McLuhan, except in subject, and his sense of the inexorable inevitability of us begin changed by the tools we use. His tone is conversational, while McLuhan exhorts from the pulpit; he illuminates from personal example (his experiences as Everyman, his book reading club, his sensibilities about other individuals making individual choices through the web), while McLuhan paints the sweep of human history in broad strokes with a big brush, hardly ever getting into the thoughts of real people. McLuhan is -- let's face it -- difficult reading, but Weinberger is engaging, funny, and touching: a good read. Weinberger is Spaulding Grey to McLuhan's William Blake.

But even such disparate approaches can converge, as the two come independently closer to the key impacts of a medium like the web, which certainly belongs to the club of potently revolutionary communication media, like the telephone and telegraph, and perhaps in the inner circle, like printing or phonetic writing.

McLuhan presaged the world in which we live, and in the final chapter of UM:EM he sets the stage for the moral issues that Weinberger considers: "It is a principle aspect of the electric age that it establishes a global network that has much of the character of our central nervous system. Our central nervous system is not merely an electric network, but it constitutes a single, unified field of experience. " McLuhan intuits the impact of the the web, in 1964. And, even more in tune with Weinberger, he writes "We are suddenly threatened with a liberation that taxes our inner resources of self-employment and imaginative participation in society. This would seen to be a fate that calls men to the role of artist in society. [...] Men are suddenly nomadic gatherers of knowledge, nomadic as never before, informed as never before, free from fragmentary specialism as never before -- but also involved in the total social process as never before; since with electricity we extend our central nervous system globally, instantly interrelating every human experience."

Weinberger is a man of our time, in our terms, a digital citizen, while McLuhan pointed the way into a cloudy, unknowable future like a lodestone.

There is another way that Weinberger is likely to parallel the history of McLuhan, and that is his influence both on popular culture and business planning. Weinberger's axe grinding in The Cluetrain Manifesto -- along with his co-authors -- has shaken up the mindset in the board rooms of many corporations. There is little doubt that SPLJ will have a similar, although more measured, impact on businesses approach to marketing to the new wired world.

McLuhan suggested the world would radically change as a result of a new disruptive medium, suggested the form that the change would take on society, and pronounced that this brave new world would be better than the old. Weinberger is living in the world being changed, and suggesting to us -- as individuals -- that we are each of us better off: more free, more engaged, and more likely to deeply understand ourselves and the world that forms us.

Actually, Weinberger goes further. We are better, not just better off, because of our participation in the web society. McLuhan was interested in comparing the society of his time with the society to come, and declared it would be better, but Weinberger makes it personal, because he knows that it is only through personal involvement, one interaction at a time, that we rachet up the connectivity that the web offers. It is not an invisible hand that is typing this blog review, but yours truly, investing my time and self -- sharing and interacting with the village that I call home. Weinberger understands that viscerally, because he is a denizen of my neighborhood, but McLuhan is a foreigner, a man out of time.

Perhaps we will only read McLuhan now for historical purposes, not for guidance. We can look to Weinberger for that.

Loosely joined by Stowe Boyd22:47 UTC

• Small Pieces From 2002-04-26 •

Hey, gang. Kevin hasn't been blogging in isolation--we've just been listening politely and appreciating his provocative offerings (I especially liked the quotation from Douglas Adams--I'll have to save that reference).

I promised David W. that I'd start naming my quibbles with the book once he got back from China, but since Antonio mentions the really quite thoroughly Heideggerian subtext, I'll join in and second the observation. I've never seen anything quite like it. Although David nods to Heidegger once or twice, he doesn't make any grand gestures to say, "Look, Martin H. figured this all out years ago, and he's generally right, let me explain it to you"--but instead composes a richly Heideggerian net-philosophy with hardly any explicit reference to Being and Time. Reading Small Pieces might almost lead you to infer that Heidegger was a pellucid, approachable author. That in itself is a noteworthy accomplishment--but David does much more....

Loosely joined by AKMA18:09 UTC

Hi all!
I've just finished the book, and it was worthy every single minute of reading. I'm the editor of the Italian version of Cluetrain Manifesto, and was anxious to read the last David's effort: nice job, and it - yes! - it moved me! Consider that I devoted my earlier studies to M. Heidegger's philosophy... what a joy to discover it wasn't wasted time at all!
It seems to me that Dave is underestimating Heidegger's influence on his job: not just about Time and Care (Sorge) and Knowledge, as he's admitting: what about Space, and Thing ("usability"...), Authenticity (Eigentlichkeit), Togetherness (mit-Sein), shared World (in-der-Welt-sein), Death (Sein-zum-Tode), and Brokenness, Science..., isn't it Dave?
Another point is about Alienation and contamination from the Web to the Real World: I wrote something on that here.

Loosely joined by Antonio15:06 UTC

• Small Pieces From 2002-04-25 •

I finished the book last week, but I think I need to read it again before I write a full review. Small Pieces is definately the most heavy weight material released so far by the Cluetrain gang. Almost sociological in tone, good material to stir the brain-matter.

PS- Kevin you are not talking to yourself anymore, now you have another person's thoughts to read, but fear not it's generally considered light reading.

Loosely joined by Thomas20:46 UTC

• Small Pieces From 2002-04-24 •

OK, following my new policy of talking to myself in Gang blogs until someone joins in, here's something I stumbled across again when looking for another piece - Douglas Adams writing in 1999 on 'How to stop worrying and Love the Internet'.

A lot of the Small Pieces ideas are there too:

...people complain that there’s a lot of rubbish online, or that it’s dominated by Americans, or that you can’t necessarily trust what you read on the web. Imagine trying to apply any of those criticisms to what you hear on the telephone. Of course you can’t ‘trust’ what people tell you on the web anymore than you can ‘trust’ what people tell you on megaphones, postcards or in restaurants. Working out the social politics of who you can trust and why is, quite literally, what a very large part of our brain has evolved to do. For some batty reason we turn off this natural scepticism when we see things in any medium which require a lot of work or resources to work in, or in which we can’t easily answer back – like newspapers, television or granite. Hence ‘carved in stone.’ What should concern us is not that we can’t take what we read on the internet on trust – of course you can’t, it’s just people talking – but that we ever got into the dangerous habit of believing what we read in the newspapers or saw on the TV – a mistake that no one who has met an actual journalist would ever make. One of the most important things you learn from the internet is that there is no ‘them’ out there. It’s just an awful lot of ‘us’.

I do miss Douglas, but he has written himself into immortality on the net as well as on radio and paper. Reading dead people's thoughts needs their co-operation when alive.

Loosely joined by Kevin Marks17:59 UTC

I can read people's thoughts.

Using an ancient technology, handed down over millennia, improved and refined along the way, I am able to read people's thoughts. And not just people nearby, or people I know. I can even read dead people's thoughts.
This gives me a great deal of power and knowledge - I can learn from their lives, their experiences, their dreams and fears, their insights and imaginings. I can study their successes and failures, learn from their great ideas and their mistakes, absorb their experiences, laugh at their jokes and wince at their pain.

This may seem like a scary idea - you may feel nervous and want to avoid me, but don't worry. I can only read your thoughts if you want me to. You need to be part of this too. You need to write your thoughts for me to read them.

That's right. I'm not talking about anything mystical or occult. Or perhaps I am - writing is an amazing technology; only slightly less amazing than language itself. To commune with others, breaking the bonds of space and time, is a wonderful privilege.

Small Pieces describes how a newer technology has made it easier than ever before to experience the thoughts of others and share our own. Truly the last thing out of the Pandora's Box of the Internet is this Hope.

(Yes, I finished the book today. Anyone else want to talk about it?)

Loosely joined by Kevin Marks07:37 UTC

• Small Pieces From 2002-04-23 •

Hah! Think you can hide in Beijing? I went into Staceys in Cupertino and asked for it, and they had several copies. The shop owner's comment on being asked for it 'Yes we have it - sounds like it should be a novel, but it's filed under computers'.

Loosely joined by Kevin Marks07:34 UTC