Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Cluetrain Question

In honor of the 10th anniversary of the cluetrain manifesto I'd like to pose a question:

If markets are conversations what language do we speak in them?

We've all heard the phrase "money talks," and despite all 95 tenets of the manifesto that are all about the things we want to say to businesses and hear from them (i.e. the conversations we want to have) it seems to me that by far the loudest voice in the market is still money's. I think that reason for this, is that more and more, the players in the marketplace are not people, they are social organisms. People speak human languages, like English, but corporations and other social organisms do not. We think they do, because we experience ourselves talking to customer support representatives, and sales people, and so on in our everyday human languages. But the social organism itself does not speak our language. It does, however, speak "money." It may be funny to express it that way, but I think that that's actually the accurate syntactic place to put money in a sentence, i.e. anywhere you could put in the word English, or German, or Spanish, when the speaker or listener is a social organism.

Money isn't the only language social organism speak, just as we humans don't just communicate with spoken language. Both types of organisms, social and biological, have evolved many different expressive capacities. Humans have a quite a range of emotional, and physical, phenomenal, etc. expressive capacities with which to communicate with other members of our species, and even with other species. But for us to communicate with social organisms, and they to us, the largest channel is the formal information token systems that encode the social agreements that bring social organisms into being in the first place. We've actually created a huge range of such tokens (besides the monetary ones we are used to): passports, grades, credits, degrees, coupons, airline-miles, tickets, stamps, green-cards, licenses of all sorts, olympic medals, boy scout badges, taxi medallions, permits, buy-ten-get-one-free cards, and so on. All of these things are utterances of the social organisms in which we are embedded. In all cases these utterances are in some way related to the flows that constitute the social organism itself. These tokens systems are about making those flows visible, and about shaping them by creating incentives.

The full promise of the cluetrain manifesto will only come into being when the underlying patterns and structures of all of these different types of utterances are understood and unified into a new expressive capacity. Right now the social organism is like a primitive creature that makes one-off memorized statements about things that matter to it. The promise of a market in which we as humans can have meaningful conversation with the social organisms that share the market with us depends on evolving that expressive capacity of social organisms into something that is much more like a language, where we understand how to create sentences and paragraphs that enable us to more deeply shape the flows that constitute the social being. Though the social organism doesn't understand English, we can understand this new expressive capacity, perhaps not in its entirety, but certainly in how it affects us in our own corner as a part of the social organism. That's the whole point of it.

My hope is not that protocols of the meta-currency project is such a language--it's not--but rather that the meta-currency protocols will provide things at a more lowly linguistic level, i.e. like a parts of speech, or maybe the idea of punctuation or things on that level. The "language" itself will only arise once we start making lots and lots of currencies and learning really how start using them to build the flows that will make us thrive as a social organism. Then, I think, the vocabulary and syntax of that language will emerge. The vocabulary might be entire currency types, and the syntax might be recognized natural patterns of how to join together different currencies that are targeted at shaping particular kinds of flows. And then the actual sentences in that language, the actual expressions in the expressive capacity, will be when we use those grouped currencies to actually solve the flow problems we need to solve, to limit the flow of CO2 into the atmosphere, to sustainably be able extract flows of fish from the ocean or add flows of nutrients into the farmlands that grow our crops, or manage the flows of people in and out of cities, children through education systems, etc. etc.

So thanks to the cluetrain for the conversations. And here's to the emergence of the new expressive capacities that will allow us to really have them.

1 comment:

Fernanda Ibarra said...

I have been waiting for this article. When I hear people speak about the Global brain I think. Global brain? Do we as human beings need only a brain?

We are building a superorganism where human beings need to integrate into the healthy flows of life. Like nature does. No waste. All serving something else. How can we do this if flows are not visible? How can we do this?

New expressive capacities.

Thanks for holding this and for your capacity for seeing beyond.