le 14 juillet 2002
If John Perry Barlow is the Internet's prophet and Sherry Turkle is its anthropologist, by writing "Small Pieces, Loosely Joined," David Weinberger has become its first cosmologist, its Stephen Hawking.
In this slender, very readable and sometimes laugh-out-loud book, Weinberger examines the meaning, impact and use of the Internet with great insight and wisdom. He left me understanding how profoundly important the Internet is and how deeply it is affecting our society. It's not just another technological advance...it changes everything.
I realize that some people just don't get it, won't get it and can't get it, despite the crystal clarity of Weinberger's prose. But some people never get it.
Even Alexander Graham Bell was initially convinced the phone would be best used for transmitting music over long distances and I believe there was a fellow by the name of Watson who predicted the US would never need more than five computers. If Weinberger had been around then and writing books about telephoine and computers, they might have better understood the potential of their creations.
If you want to understand what the Internet means for us today and what it might mean tomorrow, I can think of no better basis than "Small Pieces Loosely Joined." His ideas will resonate in your mind long after you've finished the book.
le 6 mai 2002
"Small Pieces Loosely Joined" is not just an apt title describing a unified theory of the World Wide Web. It also describes what it means to be a member of a family, a tribe, a community, a metropolis. It explains how democracy works and the functioning of what the philosopher Charles Taylor calls "nested public spheres." It details the principles of what Steve Johnson calls "emergence" -- the self-organizing principles that let ant colonies, brain cells, cities and eBay all work effectively and collectively.
Mr. Weinberger reminds us of what it means to be human -- to care passionately about the things that move us, to move in very human bodies that experience the world in particular ways, to experience each other through our common interests. He describes how much we are wronged by, and wrong about, our default philosophies of individualism, realism and relativism. He reminds us that passion, togetherness, imperfection and hope are among the human dimensions that draw us to the Web -- even as they are drained from institutions and professions designed to serve us.
I wish that everyone in my profession (journalism) might rediscover these human dimensions, which are all too often squeezed out of news coverage and commentary. I expect every profession would benefit from the lessons of this book.
The more one knows about the Web, I suppose, the more the "small pieces" of this book will resonate. But you only need to know about people to recognize and respond to its plain-stated wisdom. It is a joy to read and reflect upon.
le 4 mai 2002
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.
le 2 mai 2002
Thanks to The Newspaper of Record, we now know that Web is boring; the Web has gotten old, and the frontier thrills of exploration and discovery have evaporated. Fortunately, no one told David Weinberger.
Weinberger's book Small Pieces, Loosely Joined proposes not only that the Web isn't boring, but that the excitement is only just beginning. We haven't missed the main event, only the previews of coming attractions.
He sees the promise of greater things yet to come in the ways that culture's engagement with the Web has already begun to influence the English language. He adopts seven key terms ("space," "time," "perfection," togetherness," "knowledge," "matter," and "hope") and illustrates the ways that their conventional usage might be seen to apply simply and directly to the Web. Then he goes further to show how these terms warp and crack with the torsion engendered by their roles in articulating Web experiences. After they have circulated online, these terms return to colloquial use with changed textures--space, perfection, hope, all signify very differently after their circulation on the Web.
Weinberger gracefully invites technological newcomers into the party. He has a gift for epigrammatic phrases, and regularly summarizes his exposition in memorable sound bites. He cites both familiar and less well-known examples of ways the Web has changed over its brief history, and of ways the Web has changed us. The heart of the book, however, lies in Weinberger's ardent affirmation of the positive possibilities that the Web opens for humanity. Without concealing the seamier dimensions of the Web, he urges readers to take up the opportunity to be better people in new ways, online.
Thus far one might construe the book--at the prompting of its title--as a new, improved theory of the Web. That would miss the point: Weinberger really hits his stride not as a pitchman for e-commerce or a disneyfied futurama, but as a reflective advocate for humanity. The subtitle might more appropriately suggest that Weinberger here offers a theory of how human beings may live more richly human lives in conjunction with the Web.
This mixed thematic impetus provides a great strength to the book. Weinberger writes with passion addressed to his readers' passions, in a way that distinguishes his work from "For Dummies" introductions or technological snake-oil pitches. Weinberger sings the opportunities that reside in the Web not with a self-interested voice, but as one who earnestly wants others to share the excitement he feels.
The mixed thematics also set Weinberger up to frustrate some readers. A book as ambitious as this one will evoke the hopes and passions of its readers, and will inevitably disappoint some. More technically-inclined readers, for instance, may wish for more detail in the discussions of the Web itself. Some readers interested in media theory may wish for fewer anecdotes and more analysis.
But this is not a book that should satisfy readers; on its own terms, the book ought to push its readers to think beyond what Weinberger himself suggests (the book, like the Web, is far from being "perfect," and is paradoxically stronger for that imperfection). This is part of Weinberger's subtle exposition of his theme. In composing a meditation on unfamiliar modes of human self-expression, Weinberger appeals to--and stimulates--our inclination to reach further than the limits of what we presently imagine. Small Pieces, Loosely Joined is not only an extraordinarily apt, lapidary description of the Web--it's the right book at the right time. We should read it appreciatively, in the hope that once we've caught up to where Weinberger leads us, he will again point out to us ways that these practices with which we've grown familiar begin to have decidedly unfamiliar effects on our lives and imaginations.
le 16 avril 2002
Significant technologies affect the environments within which they operate. Environments shape, warp & re-define the technologies that operate within them. But until "Small Pieces Loosely Joined", there hasn't been a single worthwhile analysis of what these effects are and what they mean.
This *may* be the first significant book written about the major changes the Internet is (and will be) causing among the important minority of people who constitute The Wired World. It's not a business book (though aspiring entrepreneurs would learn some valuable lessons from it), nor is it a "how to" guide. The work is philosophical, sociological, but fun accessible to any reader that has interacted with other people or companies on the web or in a newsgroup. Weinberger's language tends to be simple, and sometimes colorful (e.g., "Knowledge started out fat and chewy", before launching into descriptions of opinions on knowledge from the Bible and Heraclitus).
I don't agree with the author on all his conclusions. And I'm not sure that readers who are widely-read on the social effects of computer networking will not know already many of his explanations.
But there's more valuable, insightful thinking in the first chapter of this book than in any other half-dozen Internet books you could name. If you're interested in how the Internet is changing our institutions and our way of relating to each other, and in what directions this might lead in the future should consider this lively and fun book.
le 14 avril 2002
David Weinberger already deserved recognition for his Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization (JOHO) and his vital contribution to The Cluetrain Manifesto, a robust bestseller. In his new solo work, Small Pieces Loosely Joined, Weinberger shows how his thinking about the power of our global interactivity has matured and deepened.
The World Wide Web is a dynamic interplay of separate elements that converge to comprise a cohesive whole. The separate parts may not realize the impact exerted by each individual website, but the collective whole we call the Web already is transforming the worldview of millions worldwide. Never before in human history has there been such a global cultural force changing our society so swiftly.
Approaching this phenomenon from his background in ethical online marketing, Weinberger articulates the growing realization that a widely decentralized global network is empowering individuals in ways never before possible. Offering hope in the face of growing globalization that tends to disregard individuals in favor of monolithic corporations, he helps the reader begin to see how the Web is affecting all our lives, from our homes to our schools to our businesses and beyond. He helps us begin to see how the Internet makes us powerful, how every routine interaction changes the world, to a degree, how that realization changes everything.
For those who want to better understand the power of our global interactivity, I heartily recommend Small Pieces Loosely Joined.
Author, Global Sense
le 22 avril 2002
This cluetrain co-author and host of the Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization presents a compelling survey of not what the web should be or could be, but of what it is. Small Pieces looks at our human concepts of space, time, truth and hope, and how the web may not be a perfect world, but unlike the real world, the web is our world. This book is probably going to be a sleeper, the one we later point back at and say, "Here's where we started to understand."
When I started reading Small Pieces, my first thought was "Nice speculation, but how do you know the first-person web is the best web?" Then it hit me: This is not a prescription for how we *should* do Internet, it's a detailed survey of the who, how and why of those who do. David challenges the pundits and frustrates the gurus of web design, but to dismiss him is to discount the grammar of a civil defense warning: Like it or not, Small Pieces is how it is in the online world.
le 24 avril 2002
Sometimes the web seems like Calibans's mirror, where those who look for the dark parts of mens souls will find ample confirmation.
David Weinberger looks into this mirror and finds connections between people. Messy, uncontrolled, unauthorised, unplanned but full of authentic voices. As he says "Yelling, joking, teasing, provoking, criticizing, grieving, and flirting are all forms of connecting. "
The recent technological and financial hype of the Web have clouded the deeper changes that are happening to our world view because of it. David examines the detailed impact of the Web on Space, Time, Perfection, Togetherness, Knowledge, Matter and finally, like Pandora, offers Hope.
Throughout it all he explains deep ideas through clear writing and precise examples with enough epigrams to fill a .sig file.
Read this book. Think about it. Join the conversation.
le 31 mars 2002
I hope David Weinberger's book reaches a broad audience, not just because I consider him a great guy and a friend. He's on to a major story: this Internet thing is big, not because it puts shopping malls on our desktops, or because we can chatter till we drop, or trade quail egg futures in markets around the world. In weaving a new world within the void of our historical moment, the Web is less a tool than a response, in small pieces, to a wish we'd nearly forgotten we had. For too long, we've been dining on beastly thin cognitive gruel. The Net's unbelievable size, irreducible weirdness and uncontrollable energy reflects how starved we are for the smallest bits of madly inspired life. The above is taken from a review posted here: [...]
le 7 juin 2004
This is a great book that helps define what the internet is and how it is effecting our lives. This book provides great insight and gets you thinking about what we do every day on the internet. Are we being more social or anti-social if we spend more time on the internet? We are creating the internet with every web page and every weblog. It's like writing a book that never finishes.
This book looks at the internet by looking at Space, Time, Perfection, Togetherness, Matter and Hope.. This really gets you thinking about what the internet is and what it will become...