In 1999, four middle-ish-aged guys who were stars in the development of the still-emergent internet wrote a book about how the internet, an amazing global “conversation” platform whereby individuals could share information at blinding speeds that gave them, us – we the people - a kind of power never before available was being misunderstood and misused mostly to sell stuff.
Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, Rick Levine and Dave Weinberger were pissed off enough to write book. It was/is 95 theses called The Cluetrain Manifesto and it exploded on the scene in controversy.
I recall everybody in the internet world I knew online and off, talking about it. “Cluetrain” was a big topic at the websites where I worked – coworkers arguing, debating, agreeing and disagreeing. There was a lot of lively conversation for a long time.
These four guys were warning us that corporations were turning the internet into a one humongous shopping mall that could throttle the freedom it was bringing to the masses.
Of course, I hoped that wouldn't happen and now that I'm thinking about it again, I'm rather pleased that this blog, which doesn't sell anything except ideas about growing old, may be a pretty good example of the best of what the web can be.
Anyway. Back to the story.
Were these men, in a country as capitalist as the U.S. being idealistic? You bet. To give you a feel for it, here is a handful of those original 95 theses:
• Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
• Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.
• Human communities are based on discourse—on human speech about human concerns.
• We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.
• If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change.
It struck me then as it still does that if you remove the business references, all 95 theses are pretty good lessons for humans to live by.
So here we are 16 years later and two of the original authors, Doc Searls and David Weinberger, now both in their seventh decade of life, have looked around the internet and again, they are not pleased.
In addition to the corporations, they tell us, there are new dangers that can take away our web.
”It has been sixteen years since our previous communication,” they write.
“In that time the People of the Internet — you and me and all our friends of friends of friends, unto the last Kevin Bacon — have made the Internet an awesome place, filled with wonders and portents...
“Now two more hordes threaten all that we have built for one another.
“The Marauders understand the Internet all too well. They view it as theirs to plunder, extracting our data and money from it, thinking that we are the fools.
“But most dangerous of all is the third horde: Us.”
Searls and Weinberger go on to remind us that mass media is the least of the Web's powers and we should not lean back and consume only the junk food of entertainment while the Marauders steal our valuables:
”An organ-by-organ body snatch of the Internet is already well underway,” they warn. ”Make no mistake: with a stroke of a pen, a covert handshake, or by allowing memes to drown out the cries of the afflicted we can lose the Internet we love.
“We come to you from the years of the Web's beginning. We have grown old together on the Internet. Time is short.”
All that is from the introduction to an update of The Cluetrain Manifesto titled New Clues wherein Searls and Weinberger give us 121 New Clues.
Here are clues 28 through 32:
• 28. The Web is an impossibly large, semi-persistent realm of items discoverable in their dense inter-connections.
• 29. That sounds familiar. Oh, yeah, that's what the world is.
• 30. Unlike the real world, every thing and every connection on the Web was created by some one of us expressing an interest and an assumption about how those small pieces go together.
• 31. Every link by a person with something to say is an act of generosity and selflessness, bidding our readers leave our page to see how the world looks to someone else.
• 32. The Web remakes the world in our collective, emergent image.
In the ten years I worked at websites I was, in addition to my "regular" job, the privacy officer, although no one took my concerns seriously. Hardly anyone cared about privacy then (pre-2005) and not enough do now. Here, from New Clues, is the entire section on “Privacy in an age of spies” – the Marauders of which the men spoke in the introduction above:
• 84. Ok, government, you win. You've got our data. Now, what can we do to make sure you use it against Them and not against Us? In fact, can you tell the difference?
• 85. If we want our government to back off, the deal has to be that if — when — the next attack comes, we can't complain that they should have surveilled us harder.
• 86. A trade isn't fair trade if we don't know what we're giving up. Do you hear that, Security for Privacy trade-off?
• 87. With a probability approaching absolute certainty, we are going to be sorry we didn't do more to keep data out of the hands of our governments and corporate overlords.
I have written so much longer than I usually do because what Doc Searls and David Weinberger have created with New Clues call to action is critical to our future.
I cannot imagine life without the internet.
I cannot imagine being old without the internet.
I cannot imagine being without the friends I would never have known without the internet.
It would be so much harder to learn anything, to learn anything at all, without the internet as it is supposed to be, as it should be, as Searls and Weinberger are reminding us it can be.
Please go read all of New Clues for yourself. You will be enlightened and, I hope, inspired to post it or send it around widely. It is an open source document you are free to share and re-use without permission.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clifford Rothband: Material Things