Thesis #1: Markets are conversations
After The Cluetrain Manifesto was published in 2000, I suddenly became what they call "a sought-after speaker" on the corporate dog-and-pony circuit. I spoke all over the world. I was fucking-A famous. Wow, what a racket! If only I were better at it, though. Don't get me wrong, some of the talks were great. By which I mean they felt good. And when they felt good it was because it felt like I was actually connecting with the audience. You can feel that rapport in a room, no matter how big. It's a rush.
But. You know there's got to be a but. Sometimes I really bombed. Stumbled onto the stage. Forgot what I was going to say next. Saw all those perplexed faces looking up at me wondering in a vaguely hostile way, "And just how is this supposed to make me a better Allstate Insurance agent?" That was a bad one. Oh yeah. The worst was the keynote talk to the annual meeting of the Direct Marketing Association in New Orleans. Something like 15,000 professional hucksters all in one place. I made fun of their pompous stagecraft and circle-jerk self-congratulation. They didn't like me. It was mutual.
While some have suggested that civility is the most important value we should propagate in our social exchanges, I think that sometimes the most honest conversation can go a little like this.
After that, if the guns don't come out -- very important not to come to the table armed -- some kind of actual communication can take place. I know not everyone will agree with me on this, but I think too much civility can be toxic. After you. Oh no, after you! But I insist. But you are too kind.
"Yeah, well fuck you too!"
I am trying to give you the impression here of what it feels like to stumble onto the stage. Here I am, at least two days late to this Cluetrainplus10 confab, having promised to write words of wisdom on our book's most oft-quoted dictum -- "markets are conversations" -- and I'm all like oh hai... um... er... that is...
Truth is, Doc Searls should be writing this one. It was Doc's line. Markets are conversations he said, and you could tell he'd thought about it for a really long time. I love Doc. He's the best. Every once in a while he'll call me from some x-random airport and crack me up with some of the funniest shit I've ever heard. Just off the top. Not necessarily connected to any objective issues or events in the contemporary scene -- he knows I don't give a crap -- just these brilliant little dissociated takes on this and that. Hard to explain, really. If Doc were in that ancient marketplace I wrote about in Cluetrain, I'd get out of bed early and go down there to hear him pitch Vegematics.
Because you know it would be funny. And that slicing and dicing cucumbers wasn't really the point. And that right in the middle of things -- in media res, as my Inner Pedant is compelling me to interject -- he could stop on a dime and say something arrestingly important.
Imagine me trying to explain that to 15,000 suits at the Direct Marketing Association. Yeah, brutal.
Now me, I'm still trying to get my head around "Markets are conversations." I often worry (not that I lose any sleep, but still) that people will take this as a reversible reaction, to use a probably inappropriate metaphor from chemistry. I mean: that they'll think, oh right, and therefore "Conversations are markets."
But no, I don't think that would be so good. In one week, Oprah racked up well over half a million followers on Twitter. There's an instance of a "conversation" -- and you know we need the scare quotes -- being treated as a market. No matter how much you like Twitter, no matter how crucial you see it as being to the brave new world of social media, I'm sorry, that's just the same old bullshit.
Somewhat in advance of that blessed event -- I mean, Ashton Kutcher topping the 1,000,000 mark and all (btw who TF is Ashton Kutcher?) -- I created an account for "fake_cluetrain." Yes, and I have 565 followers. It's not fair! Especially when I have such important things to share. Like take for instance this tweet...
"Hobgoblins are the consistency of silly putty." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
10:09 AM Mar 28th from web
In all the hubbub and hullaballoo about who was going to break the One Million Followers Barrier, I don't think my falsely attributed quote got the attention it deserved. I'm hurt by this. I mean, it's subtle, it's humorous (is it not?), and it makes an interesting observation about America's deep cultural and spiritual legacy. But did it garner any mention in People magazine? On TechCrunch? In Wired? No, it did not. So this is the part of the conversation where I say, "Fuck you!"
I'm taking my text editor and going home.
The opening salvo of The Cluetrain Manifesto was not "Markets are conversations." It was: "We die."
Did we fall asleep? Just for a little while.
We only have a little while to live. Such a precious time to be here. Wherever here is. To see each other and this awesome, incredible world. So let us not talk falsely now. Let us be what we truly are, which is human, and try to get our heads and hearts around what that might conceivably mean.
And mostly, miracles of science notwithstanding, let us not take ourselves too overfuckingseriously.