I was invited to participate in a one day workshop by an agency considered to be amongst the leading digital fore thinkers in Germany. The subject was digitalization and a completely networked city. I went there hoping for & expecting an inspired afternoon with good and forward thinking and inspired ideas. Sadly the opposite happened.
Instead I felt shot back to 2005!
- As if Snowden has never happened.
- As if Trump has never happened.
- As if we had not seen Facebook using their data to run psychological experiments how to modify the behaviour of its users.
- As if there aren’t new records for DDoS attacks every other month (in their latest edition with Internet Of Things flavour).
I was & I am still stunned and frightened by an almost complete absence of critical thinking and dangerous naivety in the room: ‘Let’s just collect data about everything and send it to everywhere. This will be cool!’.
They come up with ideas like: ‘Let’s connect sensors to our body that send real time data to a lab that then composes the perfect diet for us and delivers it to our door in the cultural flavour we like.’ I think they would disagree that this is less than a step away from the tanks in Matrix:
Yes! Let’s nuke away this mountain so we can grow organic broccoli on the ground under it. It will be tremendous broccoli!
They brainstorm ideas how to integrate work and free time ever closer – to make more efficient use of our time & in between on the side they make remarks about their burnouts and therapies. But it does not seem like they are making the connection between the first and the second.
Wenn du dich fühlen willst – mach mal nichts.
— Gedrucktes_Internet (@DasHolzspatel) October 29, 2016
I was stunned. And I am really frightened. Those people design destroy (kaputtdesignen) the world I live in.
In a recent discussion someone showed me the research that because climate change is so complex and frightening the natural reaction of people is to simply exclude it from their world view. We are just stupid cows in a herd looking to the cow next to us. I guess the same is true when it comes to surveillance and the other real complex problems of the internet. But why must this be true for the people who design the systems?!
At the beginning of the workshop someone said, that Germany is really behind in digitalisation and far away from pioneering. No wonder! If the people in charge of pioneering trying to be better in being Silicon Valley than Silicon Valley itself. But Silicon Valley will always be better at being Silicon Valley.
But we are here in Germany. We are in a good position to invent a different kind of digital future. We have a problematic past to learn from. We have fantastic organisations like the CCC. We have with Berlin a city that is one of the freest in the world. We aren’t afraid of complexity; our engineers and philosophers really like to think things through. Germany could be the place where we build digital tools for a world we really want to live in.
It is creatively lazy and stupid to think about creating data about everything and connecting it to everything. It takes nothing to build Sci Fi like scenarios on this premise. Only of course if you are willing to also throw in a huge portion of ignorance for existing problems and if you are comfortable to cover up difficult questions about details with phrases like ‘more efficient’, ‘emotionally appealing’ and – incredibly still an evergreen – ‘3 d printing’. But it does nothing good! Much more likely: the opposite.
So why not start differently and take more difficult questions and premises into account?
- Design things that work without producing and collecting data – that can be traced back to an individual. See data minimization as a way to beauty!
- Design tools that work without occupying our mind and fucking with our brain chemistry. At least think about a culture like this. (http://www.timewellspent.io/)
- Think about solutions to overcome the gaps in our society and allow diverse communities and understanding.
These are just 3 problems to start from. A great solution starts with the right problem. Don’t be afraid and creatively lazy.
WEITERLESEN: Open Source Against The Singularity (german)
Two only half related ideas I had in the WS. I liked them and I like to share them here in case someone wants to pick them up.
(1) The Educating Trolldrossel
Linus Neumann invented for his ‘Re:Fefe’ project the ‘Trolldrossel’ (‘dry out trolls’). If someone posted a comment the Trolldrossel did a simple language check. If it detected a possible troll comment the commenter got a Captcha. When it was solved another one popped up saying the solution was incorrect. This repeated … sometimes till the troll went away.
Building on this you could replace the Captcha with questions like ‘Have You Really Read The Article?’ or questions that teach people basic things about Non Violent Communication and similar things ‘How did the article make you feel’ and so on.
(2) ‘Totally Stupid Opinions From People’
A news portal with the name ‘Totally Stupid Opinions From People’. There you have normal news from all realms – extreme right, extreme left etc. The hypothesis is that people go there to get outraged about the stupidity of others. But they learn about other opinions as well.
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