March 28, 2002
SPECIAL SMALL PIECES ISSUE
My book is available in bookstores! And online! At least in some places. I thus luxuriate in the safe, warm environment of JOHO as I watch it be launched against the cold shoals of the sea of reality.
What the book is about: It's harder to say than it sounds...
The review I dread: It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of how many.
Free children's version: Yes, I wrote a children's version. No, I don't know why.
Links: Early reviews, etc.
Call to arms: Don't make me beg
The Bogus Contest: What the hell did I mean?
I can tell you what The Cluetrain Manifesto is about. It's about how businesses have their heads up their asses when it comes to the Web. It says that the Web isn't a marketing opportunity, it's a new global conversation: people talking together in their own voices about the things they care about.
I can't tell you what Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web is about except that it doesn't really present a unified theory of the Web. This is not a good thing, especially from the marketing side of life.
Nevertheless, here's a stab at it.
Small Pieces tries to explain what's behind the global excitement about this relatively simple bit of technology, the World Wide Web. Why is it affecting so many of us so deeply? Why has this set of digital tin cans and string sent an electric charge through our culture? The book explores the Web as an idea, just as you might try to understand the idea of democracy by looking at its effect on a constellation of other words: liberty, equality, citizen, authority, etc. Small Pieces looks at bedrock concepts the Web experience is altering, including self, group, space, time, perfection, knowledge and even reality. It finds that the Web is helping to clarify our understanding of ourselves, overcoming the alienating misunderstandings that have become taken-for-granted in the real world.
See? That totally sucks. Even I think the book is more interesting than that.
Maybe a more marketing-savvy approach would work:
Move over McLuhan!
The Web isn't just spam and porn! According to Visionary, Futurist, and Leader of the Free World, David Weinberger, the Web is changing the way we think about ourselves in the real world. But in a fun way! Really fun! Jokes, and anecdotes and stories! Like The Cluetrain but without all the swearing and rock and roll.
Ack. Maybe it would help if I tried to summarize it in the voice of RageBoy:
I can still remember
It wasn't long ago.
Things you used to tell me,
You said I had to know.
Margaritaville is filled with hard-stoned executives in bleached denims, their pagers set on stun as they await the call from the mothership. The wind-whipped stars puncture the black curtains forming constellations that for a moment spell out the death sentence I once saw in the eyes of an armadillo I watched die by the side of a road outside of Albuquerque. One minute it was plodding ahead, peering within its 30 degrees of vision, and the next it had achieved oneness with the asphalt like a slab of vertiginous yellow cheese melting into the pre-broiled, pre-charred, pre-preserved, pre-carcinogenic burgers they serve in the flourescent-scented stands that grow like the mushrooms I had just chewed. That was 21 years ago or may be a hundred. I don't do 'shrooms now. Or drink. Or epoxy robins to my window sill. Well, ok, sometimes...
Ok, that's not doing it. Let me try one more time:
Why do we care about the Web? Not because of dot coms and online shopping. Something more important is happening. We're connecting. The Web is a social world free of so much that impedes our sociality that it reveals a clearer picture of our own human nature. In fact, it brings us to rethink some of our most basic assumptions about what it means to live in a world together.
Better? Maybe. But please check this issue's Bogus Contest immediately. Help!
Once upon a time, in a land far away, some self-proclaimed Internet gurus wrote a book about how the Web was going to end business and transform the world into the sort of place middle-aged hippies have always insisted it ought to be. The Cluetrain Manifesto, a book with the depth and staying-power of The Strawberry Statement, was distinguished as much by the obnoxious adolescence of its writing style as by the emptiness of its thought. Now one of its co-authors has labored mightily to bring forth a new book about which we can safely say: it's not as obnoxious.
In Small Pieces Loosely Joined, David Weinberger sets the bar seemingly high. "The Web has not been hyped enough," he writes. Well, now it has been. As if oblivious to the failure of the Web to live up to its promise — or, more exactly, to live up to the promises made by professional cheerleaders such as Weinberger — the author contends that the Web is transforming the core concepts of the real world. In chapters with titles such as "Time," "Perfection" and "Hope" — could they possibly meet the expectations they set? — Weinberger instead shows that if you close your eyes and wish real hard, you can get yourself to believe anything. And he writes about these topics without any acknowledgment of the work of the real thinkers who have been tackling similar issues, except for a stiff-armed salute to Herr Heidegger.
While the writing style may not be as over the top as Cluetrain's, it is just as mannered, a faux New Yorker-ish voice without the grace. The book is quite funny, but the humor is unintentional. The Web Weinberger describes is so unlike the Web the rest of us, who don't spend 14 hours a day in front of our computers, deal with that the author manages to put himself into a fugue state, issuing such thigh-slappers as the Web is "a return to our best nature." I invite Dr. Weinberger to check the contents of my inbox on any particular morning to tell me how the ads for comely coeds and penis extenders represents our soul at its most buff. Please!
Self-seriousness, willful blindness, intellectual pretension ... you know what, The Cluetrain Manifesto is looking like a pretty brilliant achievement in comparison.
[Note for those who find this review via a search engine: It is a nightmare version written by the book's author. Don't cite it as a real review. Got it? Damn search engines!]
For reasons I can't begin to fathom, I've written a children's version of Small Pieces. It's called "What the Web Is For." You can read it online at www.smallpieces.com/kids where you'll also find a printable Word version and a legible PDF version. (Note: I've gotten some reports that the non-HTML versions aren't working on every system. When in doubt, go with the HTML.)
The two weblogged reviews I've seen so far are fantastic:
Tom Matrullo: http://tom.weblogs.com/stories/storyReader$891
Steve McLaughlin: http://saltire.weblogger.com/books/smallpieces
Steve, Lord love him, says the book "just might be the first classic of the new century." Let's keep those overstatements coming, folks!
No, really, I mean it.
Marek is running and oddball discussion with me about the process of writing the book: http://soapbox.radiopossibility.com/conversations/weinberger/LooselyJoinedOne
You can listen to an hour-long interview on the Voice America "Inventing the Future" program, hosted by Janice Maffei and Joanne Spigner: http://www.voiceamerica.com/cgi-voiceam/hlarc?0=01085-180302-1500
The Boston Globe Sunday magazine ran an excerpt from the last chapter of the book, but it's not online. So, this doesn't count as much of a link, I guess.
By the way, I'll be on Talk Radio Network, the Frank Foster Show, airing on 69 stations, at 3-3:30pm on Saturday. Check your local listings... I should maybe start posting the rest of the radio interview schedule.
I'll be responding to reviews and posting links at my weblog: http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger.
What can you do to help make Small Pieces a success? First read it to see if you think it should be a success. (Note: A new act of Congress declares the sharing of books to be a blatant violation of the author's right to profit from his or her intellectual labors, so please buy your own copy.)
Write a review at Amazon.
Discuss it on the Small Pieces home page: www.smallpieces.com
Better yet, discuss it on someone else's discussion site or in a mailing list.
If you are a journalist, please contact Lissa Warren at Perseus (firstname.lastname@example.org), and look forward to my personal gift of hookers and cigars.
Tell me in 100 words or less what the hell Small Pieces is about. Do a better job than I did in this issue.
In other words, please do my marketing work for me free.
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