December 18, 2014

Europe’s reactionary movement and the illusion that time can be turned back

As a native German who moved to Sweden some years ago, I am trying to follow the public debate in both countries. Interestingly, right now both Germany and Sweden experience a wave of right-wing populism. Other European countries are seeing similar things happening. In Germany this trend is mainly represented by the advances of the new protest party AFD in some federal states as well as by the recent anti-islamization demonstrations (which, as it turns out, are less about well informed criticism of institutional religious extremism but about sheer xenophobia). Meanwhile in Sweden the right-wing populist party Sweden Democrats scored almost 13 percent in the recent parliamentary election. That result eventually led to a government crisis and the announcement of new elections planned for March 2015. In the public debate, members and supporters of the party, whose major goals are to strictly limit immigration to Sweden and to promote patriotism, have more confidence than ever before.

Much has been written about the reasons for the rise of (right-wing) populism in Europe. What is happening in Germany and Sweden right now is part of a major trend. I would describe it as the desire for simple solutions as well as for turning back the time to the “good old days”. The time when everything worked, when there were enough jobs, when most of the population had the same ethnical and cultural background, when the world order was seemingly easy to understand even for less politically interested people.

The public comments made by supporters of the neo-reactionary European movement reveal a host of perceived issues with the modern societes: Mass immigration is seen as a problem (oddly enough especially in those areas where only small numbers of immigrants live), as are feminism, the alleged manipulation through the media and the decrease in national autonomy due to the increased power of the European Union. There also is high regard for all kinds of conspiracy theories.

Essentially, sympathizers of this movement have lost their trust into the overall functioning and integrity of the society’s “operative system”. Instead they have created their own realities and “truths”. Ironically they are as convinced about their “truths” as their big enemy, the jihadist, is convinced about his beliefs. The similarities are astonishing.

The major cause that I see for this situation is the illusion that the clock can be turned back; that a complicated world characterized by highly interconnected interests, conflicts and power dynamics as well as by inequality, mass job-cuts due to automation, by religious tension, climate change and ongoing economic crises, can be fixed and brought back to balance with the recipes of the past. Or actually with one recipe of the past: Not letting too many foreigners moving in.

Those who spend a bit more time trying to understand today’s world without adding too much personal emotions and who consider different disciplines and dimensions, will necessarily come to the conclusion that there is no way back. Things will never be again the way there were. Genie is out of the bottle. For better or worse.

That’s the kind of fact that needs to be accepted by the reactionary movements’ supporters. This acceptance does not mean giving up on the idea of a better, more fair, more peaceful world. On the contrary: The world never was good, fair or peaceful (our memory is playing lots of tricks on us). But with all the new possibilities, technologies and scientific advancements, it could become – if people do not keep working against each other as much, and if they realize that holding on to the past won’t work because the world around their country’s borders won’t stop moving forward.

Politicians, society leaders and intellectual influencers have failed massively to create confidence into the future; they have failed to create a positive narrative that unifies people through an ambitious common goal, and to make sure that everybody has understood that there is no way of moving back anymore. Once that broad consensus has been reached, future discussions would be less poisonous, less tensioned and less destructive.


Subscribe to the posts of this blog: RSS I Facebook I E-Mail

December 13, 2014

9 articles that I enjoyed reading this week

Some reading tips for the weekend. If you do not want to miss future posts, subscribe via FacebookRSS or E-Mail.

» I launched a new blog: For a dedicated selection of links focusing on the tech world, head to the weekly link post from Thursday.

» Rise of the Machines: Downfall of the Economy?
Outstanding piece explaining the far-reaching changes to the economy caused by the rise of the Internet and IT. We have just seen the start of it.

» In the Golden Age of News Media
Publishing is changing rapidly. Some are pessimistic about it, others call it a golden age.

» My Computer Language is Better than Yours
The fact that IT giants like Google and Apple develop their own programming languages might be a reason for concern.

» The Guardian view on the freedom of the internet: it’s under attack around the world
With an increasing number of governments seeing the free Internet as a thread to the ruling class, censorship and destructive regulation increases everywhere.

» The case against human rights
Out of the box thinking: Since the quest for exporting (Western) human rights to the rest of the world has turned out to work rather unsatisfactory, this piece suggests that a different strategy should be applied.

» What are the risks of overtreating the many to help the few?
Is it worth to undertake preventive health measures with side effects on the individual and collective level when the risks are reduced on a very low level? Aeon Magazine tries to find an answer.

» Unhanded Camera & weaving a very visual web
Some good reflections by Om Malik about the future of photos in the digital age. He asks for filters to surface specific shots from our growing pile of photos.

» 10 Types of Odd Friendships You’re Part Of
I promise that everybody recognizes at least some patterns. Very entertaining and thought-provoking list.


Subscribe to the posts of this blog: RSS I Facebook I E-Mail

December 7, 2014

The new economy of the 21th century in one cartoon



December 6, 2014

11 articles that I enjoyed reading this week

Some reading tips for the weekend. If you do not want to miss future posts, subscribe via FacebookRSS or E-Mail.

» How We Became “Totally Obsessed” With One Thing After Another
A major phenomenon of our time very well described.

» Has progress in science and technology come to a halt?
There are different perspectives on this topic. But definitely worth a read.

» Radical new economic system will emerge from collapse of capitalism 
The Guardian summarizes Jeremy Rifkin’s optimistic book about the upcoming zero margin cost society, which could cause prices for most goods and services to drop radically – end thereby end capitalism. I have read the book, too – recommended!

» Hotel 22: The Dark Side of Silicon Valley
Santa Clara – the county which encompasses Silicon Valley – has the highest percentage of homeless in America. Some of them sleep at the only bus route in the Valley that runs 24 hours.

» Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s Plan to Wire the World details how Mark Zuckerberg and his initiative plan to bring Internet to each of the 7 billion people of this planet.

» Instagram users turn flash into cash, as companies eye new advertising market
You could make a living with becoming a popular Instagrammer.

» How a nomadic startup built their entire product on the road
Runing a startup without a fixed, permanent base? It is possible!

» The Business of the Caliph
Insight accounts from Syria and Iraq about how IS tries to make its terror state economics work.

» HIV evolving ‘into milder form’
The crucial quote from this piece: “We are observing evolution happening in front of us and it is surprising how quickly the process is happening”

» I’m Rich. You’re Hot
Long article detailing the booming, Internet-enabled Sugar Dady culture in the San Francisco Bay Area.

» You suck! Now what? The psychology of handling criticism
One of the things we humans are really bad at.


Subscribe to the posts of this blog: RSS I Facebook I E-Mail

November 28, 2014

9 articles that I enjoyed reading this week

Some reading tips for the weekend. If you do not want to miss future posts, subscribe via FacebookRSS or E-Mail.

» An economist explains what the heck is happening to the global economy
An interesting take on how some of today’s major global issues and conflicts are connected to each other.

» The Astonishing Rise of Angela Merkel
A fantastic, very insightful and analytical piece that really makes one understand how Merkels works, thinks, and how she pulled of to become the most powerful woman in global politics.

» How Starbucks Could Take Wireless Charging Mainstream
I hope this catches on.

» Should digital monopolies be broken up?
As the conflict between the European Union (including lobbyists such as major publishing companies from Germany) and Google is heating up, The Economist looks into the issue how to deal with digital monopolies.

» Why the EU’s “right to be de-linked” should not go global
The European Union wants to export its controversial “right to be forgotten” to search portals outside Europe. But would Brussels be fine if China requires Western search engines to block results for the Tiananmen Incident? Hardly.

» How to Get Away with Uber
Uber has many fans (who usually and understandably are dissatisfied with the service and quality level of taxis) but also many critics. This is a comprehensive collection and analysis of reasons why one should be critical about the company and how it does business.

» Morality is the key to personal identity
An article that leads to interesting, non-conventional reflections about the self.

» The Shazam Effect
The times when mainstream music was produced mainly by guessing what the audience might like are over – access to rich and vast data about listener’s preferences leads to increased data-driven music production.

» Advice from a digital nomad: bootstrapping in Southeast Asia
I love Southeast Asia and I fully agree with this post: If you want to create a company or project without taking in lots of external money, doing it from Thailand, Vietnam or Indonesia might be a very economical (and pleasant) way.


Subscribe to the posts of this blog: RSS I Facebook I E-Mail

November 26, 2014

14 reasons why there is no need to breakup Google

The European Parliament is promoting the idea of having to breakup Google in order to ensure fair competition. While there does not seem to be any agreement over these plans – that partially are being pushed by lobbyists of German media companies – this might be a topic of ongoing debate for the near future.

With a search market share of more than 90 percent in Germany and other European markets as well as lots of other strong services, Google for sure looks quite dominating in many areas of the digital industry. And yet, looking closer, one realizes that the number of challenges for the Internet giant has never been greater. By focusing on the bigger picture, radical regulatory moves appear rather unnecessary. At least in this specific case, the market might fix the issue.

> The Internet is going mobile, PCs are – at best – being turned into second screens. The smartphone is the place where the action happens. And there, people mainly use apps, not websites. Also search behaviour changes. Many specific searches increasingly happen inside apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Spotify or Netflix – not through Google. Furthermore, on small screens, there is less space to show ads. Traditionally Google generates most of its revenue with ads next to its search engine and on other websites. This shift weakens Google and strengthens others, such as Facebook

> Related to these changes, native ads are how many social media platforms and media companies generate revenue. As Ben Thompson explains, this is a segment where Google has hardly anything to offer.

> Smartphone messengers are the big thing within the social media sphere. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, WeChat, Line – none of the major global players belongs to Google. Here again, Google missed the boat.

> Firefox, still one of the leading browsers, changes its default search engine from Google to Yahoo.

> Since the Snowden revelations, more people are trying to use online services that protect their privacy and data. The alternative search engine DuckDuckGo benefits from that and beats Google at its weakest point

> Google Glass is not developing so well.

> Google+ neither (compared to its ambitions).

> Android One, the Android version for developing countries, does not catch on as planned.

> Google’s self driving cars might never really happen as mass market product, and flying could be the better option anyway. Another potential money-waster for Google (that, to be fair, has a lot of money to waste)

> Google probably will be kicked out of iOS as default search by next year.

> For private communication, especially among younger generations, email is losing all its previous importance, as a representative German survey showed. No good news for Gmail.

> When Google Maps was kicked out of iOS, it lost millions of users. Meanwhile, OpenStreetMap is turning into a serious contender.

> Under its new CEO, Microsoft is back and has made some interesting moves lately, such as buying Mojang/Minecraft, releasing free Office for iOS, getting cozy with Dropbox. Hard to say if the company really will manage a comeback among end consumers, but it definitely will try. This means new competition for Google. And lets not forget Apple, Amazon and Facebook, that all invest heavily to enter new markets.

> On a private movie screening event with Hollywood celebrities and Silicon Valley leaders Google co-founder Sergey Brin wore Crocs.

So really. It does not seem as if there is a risk of Google not being challenged properly in its core markets.


Subscribe to the posts of this blog: RSS I Facebook I E-Mail

November 21, 2014

9 articles that I enjoyed reading this week

Some reading tips for the weekend. If you do not want to miss future posts, subscribe via FacebookRSS or E-Mail.

» Steve Albini on the surprisingly sturdy state of the music industry
This might be the best text about the state of the music industry in the digital age that I have ever read. I won’t spoil it here since I really want you to read it – even though it is quite long.

» The Mac’s Second Act: From Obscurity to Ubiquity
About the remarkable long-term increase of the Mac computer’s popularity.

» Writer as Coder: The Iterative Way to Write a Book
This sounds like a pretty intelligent and unusual way of writing a book (and collecting early feedback on it so you don’t write stuff that nobody wants to read).

» Here’s some remarkable new data on the power of chat apps like WhatsApp for sharing news stories
First there was SMS. Then people started to share stuff on Social Networks. Now we are getting back to private communication.

» How to live for a month in virtual reality
This experiment will be fascinating to follow.

» Why Do People Believe in Conspiracy Theories?
Conspiracy Theories are a problem in the digital age, since it is so easy to find websites that seemingly confirm whatever people’s brain tries to sell them. So it might be useful to have an understanding about the underlying processes.

» Welcome to the Experience Economy
According to this article, we might soon pay a fee just to get into a mall – provided that this mall manages to deliver an outstanding experience apart from the pure shopping aspect.

» A quick history of why Asians wear surgical masks in public
When I traveled to Japan for the first time, my jetlag in combination with people wearing surgical masks created quite some strange atmosphere. This article provides some interesting background.

» The Merry Pranksters Who Hacked the Afghan War
About some folks who went to Afghanistan to help providing people with Internet connectivity and other utilities – in very creative and improvised ways. Role models.

Subscribe to the posts of this blog: RSS I Facebook I E-Mail

November 14, 2014

There is not only one truth

If you pay attention, many of the major political, social and economical debates of our time seem to divide people into at least two different groups. Groups who see themselves as being right and who see the other group to be wrong. And both groups have an arsenal of facts, statistics and explanations handy that sometimes actually sound quite convincing. Until the other group responds with their facts, statistics and explanations, that to an outsider might sound convincing, too.

Now, sometimes, groups make up their facts, fueled by extreme, dogmatic ideologies, long-term brainwashing and hurt feelings.

But sometimes, they don’t. So how is that possible?

Maybe because sometimes there might be different truths that can exist side by side.

Does today’s capitalism create inequality? Likely. But it also has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and is still doing so (while causing trouble elsewhere). Did the U.S. harm world peace with some of its past wars? Likely. But it also likely defended world peace in other ways (it’s comparable to the police that is hated when using excessive force and demanded when a crime takes place). Does Social Media give a platform to narcissists who do not care about anything else than how many likes they get for their duckface selfie? Obviously. But it also lets billions of people connect, share knowledge and do good in ways that never existed before. Does music streaming revenue look disappointing for artists compared to what they made with selling CDs in the past? Yes. But it also solves the problem of piracy for the first time. Is Internet surveillance needed in order to fight terrorism? Probably. But it also erodes basic human rights and puts, in the long-term, democracy at stake.

I could go on.

Obviously, based on our own experiences, world view and political ideas, we usually favor one standpoint over the other. Ideally that would be the one that objectively is superior in regards to the availability of convincing data.

Usually though, we don’t have access to nor capacity to process this data (except maybe if you are Thomas Piketty and analyze so much data that your book becomes 600 pages long – and even his facts and conclusions were questioned!). Sometimes a superior, “right” point of view does not even exist.

Which is why I think humans in todays interconnected, polarized world need to get better at acknowledging the fact that there can be different coexisting truths which explains why people might take so different positions in regards to the same issue.

Of course one should try to defend one’s own standpoint. But every time somebody seems to believe that their view or facts are the only “right” ones and that there is only one possible way to look at a still not fully solved issue (unlike the negative effects of smoking on health, where no doubt is left), part of the truth might be lost.

12 articles that I enjoyed reading this week

Some reading tips for the weekend. If you do not want to miss future posts, subscribe via FacebookRSS or E-Mail.

» A need to walk
About the magic of walks. I’m a big fan of long walks, to clear my head, to find inspiration, to listen to podcasts. Thus I enjoyed reading this a lot.

» I used Apple’s AirDrop to troll strangers with photos of space sloths
I guess after this article, the number of pranks making use AirDrop will increase.

» Doing Business in Japan
The title sound dry and boring, but believe me, this is a long but highly interesting, insightful and even quite entertaining description of how Japanese work and business culture works. Hint: It is completely and utterly different from anything that you probably can imagine. If you are not completely uninterested in Japan, you should read it.

» The Benjamin Franklin Effect: The Surprising Psychology of How to Handle Haters
The world as we see it is not really the world how it actually is. That has consequences also about how we interact with other people.

» Germany tops USA as world’s favourite country
Considering Germany’s recent history, this top ranking is quite astonishing. Cars, success in sports and Oktoberfest can get you very far.

» Berlin’s digital exiles: where tech activists go to escape the NSA
The German capital, a place that has seen its fair share of excessive surveillance in the past, is becoming the new hot spot for those who fight today’s global surveillance.

» Typewriters are back, and we have Edward Snowden to thank
I do not believe in a bigger comeback of typewriters and I would not like it either. Typewriters are from a time when knowledge was hardly shared between people. We should not go back there. Of course if the goal is to avoid surveillance, it might be a useful tool.

» 10 million „e-Estonians“ by 2025!
This idea is so creative and unconventional: Estonia will open up its sophisticated and powerful E-Government infrastructure for foreigners, who can apply for a so called “E-Residency”, starting from December.

» The Founder’s Guide To Selling Your Company
If Internet and startup economics are your thing, then you should read this piece – no matter whether you ever will end up selling your company. But it helps in understanding some of the “games” that are going on behind the curtain when those acquisition rumors are showing up on tech blogs.

» The Spotify CEO Daniel Ek’s response to Taylor Swift
I think Ek makes a couple of really good points and reminds everybody of why music streaming services appeared in the first place: Because music piracy was killing revenue for artists and could not be stopped – until streaming startups came.

» Stockholm is the ‘most prolific’ billion-dollar startup hub behind Silicon Valley
That is pretty remarkable.

» Running a South Pole data center
Some tasks and jobs are really extraordinary (tough).

Subscribe to the posts of this blog: RSS I Facebook I E-Mail

November 9, 2014

November 9th 1989 – best day of my life

I am not a very emotional person, rather I am very pragmatic. But every time I watch coverage from the events taking place on November 9th 1989 in Berlin I get highly emotional. Tears in my eyes and an actual urge to express my emotions through crying.

Again, this is very untypical for me. And thus, the other day when watching a new German TV movie about the GDR border guard who was the first to let people from East (where I was born) go to the West at border checkpoint Bornholmer Strasse, while again experiencing these emotions, I realized how much my subconscious still, 25 years later, is thankful for the fall of the wall. And how terrified it is by the idea of being locked in within a dictatorship, in a country and political sphere where I would not have had any chance of expressing myself the way I can do today – the way I need to in order to be happy and in order to reach my full potential.

I always appreciated freedom. But the other day when watching the movie I realized how much I actual value freedom. How much I think it is the key to a fulfilled life for everybody. Whether they are aware of it or not.

November 9th 1989 was the best day of my life. And fighting for free societies where people can live the way they feel is right for them (without harming others) instead of being ordered how to live is a worthy undertaking. I know it. Because I had the chance to experience freedom for 25 years.