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The Cluetrain Manifesto: A Refresher

cluetrain.gifLast week I re-discovered The Cluetrain Manifesto. I read the book four or so years ago, when it first came out. At the time it was quite a mind-shift for me. In my view, Cluetrain encapsulated what I saw and sensed was changing in the world, having been heavily involved in the internet part of that world since the mid-90s.

Fast forward to last week, when I heard a podcasted discussion with Doc Searls, (one of the 4 writers of Cluetrain) on Cameron Reilly & Mick Stanic's G'Day World Podcast. Doc provided wonderful background to the book, even offering his regret at blogging narrowly missing a mention in the book.

Inspired by this discussion with Doc, I scrounged up the free online version of The Cluetrain Manifesto, turned it into an iSilo book for my Tungsten E and began re-reading.

Wow, I'd forgotten just how direct and clear the message of this book was. Back in '99 and even 5 years later. The message certainly seems insightful in retrospect.

From the introduction:

What if the real attraction of the Internet is not its cutting-edge bells and whistles, its jazzy interface or any of the advanced technology that underlies its pipes and wires? What if, instead, the attraction is an atavistic throwback to the prehistoric human fascination with telling tales? Five thousand years ago, the marketplace was the hub of civilization, a place to which traders returned from remote lands with exotic spices, silks, monkeys, parrots, jewels -- and fabulous stories.

In many ways, the Internet more resembles an ancient bazaar than it fits the business models companies try to impose upon it. Millions have flocked to the Net in an incredibly short time, not because it was user-friendly -- it wasn’t -- but because it seemed to offer some intangible quality long missing in action from modern life. In sharp contrast to the alienation wrought by homogenized broadcast media, sterilized mass "culture," and the enforced anonymity of bureaucratic organizations, the Internet connected people to each other and provided a space in which the human voice would be rapidly rediscovered.

Or the opening statements of chapter 1, Internet Apocalypso:

We die.

You will never hear those words spoken in a television ad. Yet this central fact of human existence colors our world and how we perceive ourselves within it.

"Life is too short," we say, and it is. Too short for office politics, for busywork and pointless paper chases, for jumping through hoops and covering our asses, for trying to please, to not offend, for constantly struggling to achieve some ever-receding definition of success. Too short as well for worrying whether we bought the right suit, the right breakfast cereal, the right laptop computer, the right brand of underarm deodorant.

Life is too short because we die. Alone with ourselves, we sometimes stop to wonder what's important, really. Our kids, our friends, our lovers, our losses? Things change and change is often painful. People get "downsized," move away, the old neighborhood isn't what it used to be. Children get sick, get better, get bored, get on our nerves. They grow up hearing news of a world more frightening than anything in ancient fairy tales. The wicked witch won't really push you into the oven, honey, but watch out for AK-47s at recess.

Pretty amazing to come right out and say it — we all die. Life is short. As I grow oder I realize my time gets more valuable. There is no time for messing around — no time for bad TV shows or lousy books, no time to waste instead of spending it with my family, or doing what I love to do: communicate, design, write, read, sketch, think.

I'll leave today with one more excerpt from the introduction:

But companies don't like us human. They leverage our longing for their own ends. If we feel inadequate, there's a product that will fill the hole, a bit of fetishistic magic that will make us complete. Perhaps a new car would do the trick. Maybe a trip to the Caribbean or that new CD or a nice shiny set of Ginsu steak knives. Anything, everything, just get more stuff. Our role is to consume.

Of course, the new car alone is not enough. It must be made to represent something larger. Much larger. The blonde draped over the hood looks so much better than the old lady bitching about the dishes. Surely she'd understand our secret needs. And if we showed up with her at the big golf game, wouldn't the guys be impressed! Yeah, gotta get one-a those babies. This isn't about sex, it's about power — the greatest bait there ever was to seduce the powerless.

Or take it one slice closer to the bone. Leverage care. For the cost of a jar of peanut butter, you can be a Great Mom, the kind every kid would love to have. You can look out on your happy kids playing in that perfect suburban backyard and breathe a little sigh of contentment that life's so good, with not a wicked witch in sight. Just like on television.

Now that gets right to the bottom of things, doesn't it? We're human beings — so much more than just consumers, designed to consume product or services. The question I ask myself is, why do I settle, at one time or another, for being treated this way?

Good question.

My suggestion: if you haven't read Cluetrain yet, do so. If you've already read Cluetrain, read it again as a good refresher.

Reader Comments (2)

I'm with you on your last point Mike...i actually give the book away to new clients as an intro to what they should expect to be hearing from me....

Oh yeah..interviewing Doc was soooo cool.... ;)
February 16, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMick Stanic
yeah it rocked. A definite highlight. Let's get Rageboy on.
February 20, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterCameron Reilly

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