David Weinberger
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The Politics Of Merely

03 January 2000

Beware the word "merely" and its cousins "simply," "just" and "only." They are among the most political of words. And they're assassins.

For example, a friend of mine wrote in a mailing list discussion recently that the Web "merely accelerates and amplifies what we've always been doing." Factually, this is true, at least in part. But politically, it's deadly. What's the "merely" doing in that sentence except trying to keep us from shouting in the streets: "The Web is accelerating and amplifying! Woo-double-hoo!"?

Our "merely"s and "simply"s want to squeeze the life out of the moment. And since the moment has everything to do with the return of passion, merely-fying is an attempt to turn back the tide. Can't be done.

Look around. Don't you hear more a-holes on the Web than you ever heard anywhere before? The a-holes are the harbingers of passion, just as robins herald the spring. People are mouthing off, standing on soapboxes, adopting absurd positions, shouting down the opposition, and they're rolling on the floor laughing so often that "ROTF" has entered the vocabulary.

Is all this childish, vain activity good? No, of course not. But, then, sitting in you seats quietly while the teacher reads aloud isn't so good either, at least not once you're out of the third grade.

The strength of the economy and the new forms of connection enabled by the Web are enabling more people to choose jobs based on passion. And passion--call it "enthusiasm" if you're uncomfortable with the "p" word--engenders more passion. After all, anything becomes interesting if you look at it closely enough. Unless we've finally managed to throttle the last breath of joy out of our work environment, the passion is already in our businesses, waiting to be unleashed. The Web accelerates and amplifies it. Woohoo!

Unfortunately, it has been assumed that passion is the opposite of control, so we have tried to stamp it out. And it's true that people who are committed to the products they're building or the services they're providing cannot be controlled in the "old" ways, for their first loyalty is to their craft and to their customers. But such passion--call it "love" if you're uncomfortable with the "p" word, because that's what it is--is also the flame at the heart of the businesses that will thrive in the new millennium.

David Weinberger is publisher of the Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization (JOHO) newsletter and a frequent contributor to KMWorld Magazine