Don’t be offended

Posted by on January 12, 2015

A couple of years ago I started to inform myself about basic psychological processes and how they influence our actions and thinking. Since then I have gained much better insights into my own and other people’s emotions and way of handling different kinds of situations. One of the main aspects I have been focusing on is the feeling of being offended or hurt. I have come to realize how poisonous and toxic this specific thought mechanism is: Somebody else says or does something which upsets our ego and leads to a host of possible destructive responses. Nobody benefits, everybody gets miserable.

Today I believe that being offended is one of the worst, least desirable reactions to other people’s communication. Those who easily get offended make their own happiness dependent on other people – even total strangers. It’s a recipe for disaster, dispute and negativity.

The issue of people getting offended obviously is especially relevant these days. The terror attack against the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hedbo would most likely not have happened if the attackers would not have seen the charicatures published by Charlie Hedbo as offensive.

When it comes to religion, people are especially likely to become offended, and this is nothing exclusive to Islam. There is very little tolerance for satire or jokes about religious sacred people or religions in general among religious people. That becomes a big problem when the consequence is a requirement that even people not belonging to a specific religion should respect the rules written in this specific religion’s holy book. 22 % of the world’s countries and territories still have anti-blasphemy laws, which means that there actually is a right not to be offended, which is valued much higher than freedom of expression.

I think this is wrong, and it does not have to be that way, if people would realize that giving in to the urge to be offended is a choice. We are capable of resisting this urge. In most scenarios, people should resist. And I am not only talking about religion. In general, if humans would stop going the easy way of being offended whenever they hear something their ego does not like, the world would be a better, more peaceful place.

There are certainly situations when it is fully justified to be offended. When the spouse, partner or a very good friend for no reason says provocative, hurtful things, then he or she probably deserves to get negative feedback. We usually hold people who are close to us or who we love to a higher standard than strangers on the street. And naturally, as a good human being, one does good in not purposefully hurt or offend others.

But in regards to other people that one has no close emotional connection with, or even strangers, we all would benefit from learning to control our reflex to be offended. Getting to the point where one can let go of whatever provocation or unpleasant comment one has been confronted with takes a while. It requires patience, training and the search for happiness that comes from within (meditation is a good practice to achieve that, because it teaches to observe your own thoughts and to let them go). But it pays off big time with increased happiness, less irritation and less time and energy wasted for unnecessary conflicts that in the worst case scenario might end very ugly or tragic.

Also, in a globalized, interconnected and multicultural world where people from many different backgrounds, cultures and religions mix and interact with each other, it is definitely not practical anymore to expect from all members of a society to follow and respect particular rules of certain ideologies and thought concepts, just to avoid offending others.

So my message is: Let’s learn to stop being offended, because it is a choice.

My home is where my suitcase is

Posted by on January 5, 2015

The past year has been my most intense in regards to travel. The digital nomadism lifestyle that I first tried in 2010 and that I immediately fell in love with is like an addiction – fortunately one with far more positive side-effects than negative ones.

One of the many great insights that come during a lifestyle that includes moving from one place to another, usually within a period of some weeks or months, is the realization of how little stuff one actually needs in order to function. While needs vary a lot from individual to individual, for me the optimal amount of physical things that I have to have access to has turned out to be what fits into one average travel suitcase. At first, this obviously was not a choice but simply a necessarily for flexible travel. Because carrying more than one suitcase of about 20 kilo when traveling the world for a longer period comes with additional costs and lots of hassle.

However, after some years of digital nomadism (including some occasional breaks of a couple of months in between at my homebase in Stockholm) I can state that there hardly ever was a situation when I was critically in need of something that I didn’t have in my suitcase. And in a real emergency situation, almost any issue can be solved and item purchased as long as one has Internet and a computer or mobile device.

What I also learned is that having access to even less stuff than what my suitcase includes can only be a solution for a couple of days, and it sabotages any attempt to feel “home” anywhere. Recently I went for a shorter trip from Stockholm with only hand luggage. When I came back to my place, for logistical reasons, my suitcase with its content was at a friend’s place. It took me some more days to pick it up. During that period I felt handicapped, despite staying at my apartment with all the other stuff stored that I never take anywhere. I still didn’t feel “home”. First when I had my suitcase and the things inside back, I was completed and fully functional.

I am aware that whether one likes the kind of life I am describing or not is highly dependent on individual preferences. The majority of people I know seem to prefer a less minimalistic, more settled way of living. Some others are even more nomadic and crazy for travel than me. Also, as soon as there are kids involved, the general conditions change completely, I assume.

Anyway, for the moment, my home is where my suitcase is. This feels so extremely liberating, I can barely find words to describe it.

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10 articles that I enjoyed reading this week

Posted by on December 30, 2014

Usually I publish this link list before or during the weekend. But due to the holidays the regular schedule is being paused. Instead, here is a Tuesday-edition.

If you are looking for a fresh link list with technology-only content, head over to meshedsociety.com.

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Books I read in 2014

Posted by on December 27, 2014

Publishing a list of the books that I read during a year is a tradition I started 2 years ago. The 2013 edition can be found here. This year, I have read more online content than ever before. Also I was quite busy traveling the world. However, I still managed to read some books that I really enjoyed. Here are this year’s favorites of mine:

You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself (by David McRaney)

The Zero Marginal Cost Society (by Jeremy Rifkin)

Present Shock (by Douglas Rushkoff)

Everything is Bullshit (by Priceonomics)

Zero to One (by Peter Thiel)

Capital in the Twenty-First Century (by Thomas Piketty)
Note: I tried hard but I could not finish until the end (like most people who started reading this exceptional work).

Das neue Spiel (by Michael Seemann, German only)

Die Paten des Internets (by Joel Kaczmarek, German only)

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

Posted by on December 18, 2014

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.

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9 articles that I enjoyed reading this week

Posted by on December 13, 2014

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: meshedsociety.com. 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.

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11 articles that I enjoyed reading this week

Posted by on December 6, 2014

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
Time.com details how Mark Zuckerberg and his initiative Internet.org 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.

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9 articles that I enjoyed reading this week

Posted by on November 28, 2014

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.

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14 reasons why there is no need to breakup Google

Posted by on November 26, 2014

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.

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