Categorydigital life

Living in the New New Normal

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Image: Unsplash (derveit)

Please note: This post veers a bit outside my usual topics for this blog, so you can read the post in full on Medium.

It’s the year 2019. What’s it like to live in the New New Normal, in a world where the once-disruptive Silicon Valley tech companies (GAFAM) have become the richest, most powerful companies in the world?

In a world in which Chinese tech giants (BAT), too, have reached a level of maturity, and scale, to equal those Silicon Valley companies and are starting to push outside of China and onto the world stage? In which these companies represent not change, innovation and improvement (of the world, or at least the online experience) but the status quo; where they are the entrenched powers defending their positions? In a world that has left the utopian ideas of the early open web (especially openness and decentralization) in the dust, and instead we see an internet that has been consolidated and centralized more than ever?

In other words, what’s it like to live between increasingly restrictive “ecosystems” of vendor lock-in, and the main choice is between the Silicon Valley model and the Chinese model?

Read the full post on Medium.

Visiting Casa Jasmina

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Visiting Casa Jasmina We lived in the open source connected home of the future. And survived.

When I learned about Casa Jasmina (CJ), a connected open source home of the future that Bruce Sterling and Jasmina Tesanovic are building with a part of the Ardunio team – namely Lorenzo Romagnoli and Massimo Banzi – I knew I wanted to see it.

(Michelle and I, sitting side by side at Bruce’s ThingsCon closing keynote literally looked at each other and said: Let’s go!)

So Michelle, Alexandra and I got to go – and happened to be the very first official guests: A tremendous honor and privilege, and also a responsibility to kick it off well, contribute and reflect; if we can start a few good traditions there, all the better.

Here are some notes, thoughts, questions and impressions from these last few days, typed up quickly on the way back from Torino to Berlin. Unsorted, a bit rough around the edges, as behooves the project itself, while the impressions are still fresh.

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Edison’s phonographs and the Internet of Things

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When the first Edison phonograph recordings came out – so the story goes – many were freaked out. You could here the voices of the dead, speaking, singing. Audio recordings bridged time. We could hear the past in a way that had not been possible before.

The image His Master’s Voice, showing a dog listening to his deceased master’s voice, still reminds us of the curious effect:

 

His Masters Voice Image: His Master’s Voice (source: Wikimedia Commons)

 

Fast forward through the development of telephones and all the way to the mid-2000s. Skype video calls enabled us to share live presence remotely. Not just listening, but active engagement with the not-here. This bridged space much in the same way that Edison recordings bridged time. After a brief moment of wonder, remote live presence felt natural. An extension of ourselves, a more permanent connection to our loved ones. Today we take for granted that we can video call from a powerful microcomputer in our pockets at any given time through Skype, Facetime or Hangout.

The Internet of Things (IoT) ushers in the next big step along the vector outlined above. As we connect large chunks of our environment – making it more responsive – we find our communications framework and cognitive model changed yet again. We communicate with things. Listen to them signaling to us or each other. Send them orders to execute, or more precisely to actuate).

The IoT does not necessarily let us listen to the dead or share our presence with the not-here (although it could do that, too). Rather, it lets us actively engage with the non-living, with things. Concretely, with things that have an agenda, encoded in their software and not necessarily transparent to us.

I’m not entirely sure what the specific gap is the IoT helps us bridge – maybe a particular kind of physical-to-non-physical? – but it sure sure feels like the rules of communication, and with them our awareness of ourselves in relation to our environment, are changing yet again. If we do it right, likely it won’t be too long before it feels perfectly natural.

Snapshot: The Digital Agenda for the 21st Century: Challenges and Opportunities

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Over the last few months it’s become painfully obvious – once more – that we’re not really set for the 21st century, policy-wise. This probably holds true globally except for very few exceptions, but it’s certainly true for Europe and particularly for Germany. It’s something I’ve been discussing with friends and peers for a while, and I’m more and more convinced that we need to collectively dig into getting the policy level right.

In our industry, and among the tech elite, there’s a widespread school of thought that politics move too slow to bother with, and that pushing ahead and just innovating (aka “doing our thing”) is the preferred way to go. There’s something to say for this mode of operation, too. But I think that we need to also get the actual policy right too, the laws, the codified rulebook that our society is based on.

Trying to collect my thoughts turned into a massive scribbling session.

 

Notes: Digital Agenda for the 21st Century

 

Notes: Digital Agenda for the 21st Century

 

Notes: Digital Agenda for the 21st Century

 

Here are the key policy areas I think need to be addressed as they came to me scribbling away. I tried to list key challenges and opportunities; this list is by no means complete – not even near to complete. It’s a snapshot of my thinking at this moment, in early October 2013, and a note to myself more than anything else. So if you see all the points that might seem out of context or just single words/references, that’s why. Much of it also focuses on a European/German context. Again, these are just quick notes.

I’m hoping that going forward I find the time to explore these areas further, beginning with more detailed blog posts, then let’s see where the path leads.

So here goes. Proceed at your own risk.

Key challenges for the 21st century

  • Education
  • New Work
  • Innovation
  • New Manufacture
  • Connected Cities & Things
  • Health, Tech & Data
  • Politics, Governance & Administration
  • Cyber Foreign Policy

Education

  • Budgets. We need to invest massively more into education at all levels.
  • Embrace technology, foster tech literacy (personally, culturally, institutionally)
  • Peer learning (student-student, teacher-teacher, teacher-student, student-teacher)
  • Collaborations & partnerships
    • domestic/international
    • Social Media Classroom
    • Hive Learning Network
    • Webmaker Movement
  • Alternative certification of knowledge & open access
    • Open badges, etc.
    • Open Educational Resources (OER)
    • MOOCs

New Work

  • Trend to more flexible work structure
    • Less full time employment, more part-time/project-based/freelance work
    • international mobility (global nomad elite/elite nomads). How to enable, empower, capture value?
  • Administration has to catch up
    • We need easier transition between systems
      • between countries/jurisdictions
      • between employment, freelance, alternative phases (family time, sabbaticals, education breaks, etc.)
      • between public/private systems (health insurance, social security)
      • pension plans & social security must follow the person around the globe (at least around Europe)
    • Social security for freelancers & other not-full-time-employed
    • Hubs/coworking spaces, etc., can revive and enrich buildings and neighborhoods. Embrace & foster them!

Innovation

  • Universities
    • Universities need massive budgets for applied research
      • Increase budgets
      • Foster cooperation with industry & non-profits
      • Foster trans-disciplinary cooperation & adjust budgeting processes accordingly
    • Increase cooperation between technical & design universities and departments
      • Create products and spin them off. Feed profits back to research.
      • Research and critically explore societal implications of technological innovation.
  • Fund experimentation and innovation
    • Create easy-to-tap innovation and founders funds & make it easy to raise money from distributed (non-VC) sources
  • Don’t regard political regulation as barrier but as creative constraint/framework to innovate withing
    • Example: Europe’s strict privacy laws are often regarded as a barrier to market entry by US companies. Rather, they can be an asset. Europe as data/privacy safe haven and privacy innovation cluster; home of privacy focused startups and services.
  • Update copyright, licensing, relationship between content creators, distributors, consumers/users.

New Manufacture

  • Germany is well positioned to play a leading role in new manufacturing (3D printing and related technologies)
    • But only one globally leading company in Munich, while most consumer-focused companies in the industry are based in US, UK or NL. Huge potential!
    • Foster collaborations with universities (like in the US), recognition as a policy priority (like in the UK).

Connected Cities & Things

  • Rules of engagement: Core philosophies of citizen/user empowerment are key.
  • Find & foster alternatives to authoritarian/top down models of “smart cities”
    • see Adam Greenfield’s work (Urbanscale, LSE)
      • empowerment instead of control
      • bottom up instead of top down
      • give citizens tools & control
  • Empower the organic networks of researchers & practicioners that exist outside big industry and universities
    • see critical & constructive informal networks exploring connected cities & devices
      • manifested in clusters like Silicon Roundabout/Tech City, or design school/lab Fabrica, built around small groups of committed individuals
      • Driven by practicioners, researchers & connectors like Dan Hill, Alexandra D-S, BERG, etc., who implement their philosophies of user empowerment in their design work/products/teaching each within their discipline
  • Can Europe play out its strength by empowerung these networks & structures?
    • plus a strong set of rules of data ownership/protection equivalent to privacy laws
    • more user/citizen centric power structures are possible

Health & Tech

  • Can Europe’s privacy laws be extended to other kinds of data/data ownership/open access?
  • Find the sweet spot at the intersection of
    1. Privacy/data ownershop/open data
    2. Body data/quantified self/personal analytics/health data
    3. Innovation
  • Potential of cluster in health tech built around these rules/ideals?

Politics, Governance & Administration

Most pressing issues/topics:

  • Legal framework needs to be updated to 21st century requirements
  • Net neutrality
  • Surveillance
  • Privacy
  • Governance, direct democracy, responsiveness
  • Transparency & open data
  • Digital inclusion
  • Update admin, processes (see gov.uk, nyc.gov)

Cyber Foreign Policy

  • Current focus of CFP in Germany is security/defense
  • How can a European version of 21st century statecraft evolve and work?
    • And who can be the actors/drivers?
    • see Ben Hammersley’s work
  • Merge and/or foster exchange between foreign policy/statecraft and innovation

 

Many, many big, gaping holes there, and lots of questions to explore and dig deeper. Hoping I can find the time and resources to do so in some way or another.

How to see through the cloud, translated

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Over on the Mozilla Webmaker site, James Bridle wrote a brilliant piece that explains in very simple terms how to get a better understanding of the web at the most basic level – where the cables and buildings are located, and where our data travels: How to see through the cloud. It’s fantastic!

And since the whole point of the Webmaker project is to allow for quick and easy remixing – and the learning process associated with it – I took the liberty to translate it to German.

We talk about the cloud all the time, the seemingly ephemeral, almost magical place where our data lives and thrives. But only when the system fails and something doesn’t work do we notice that there’s a brick-and-mortar infrastructure that everything runs on. Cables, servers, concrete buildings. Heck, even my mom asked me about the cloud a few weeks ago, and what it looks like.

Well, thanks to James everyone can now just poke around the web and get a better understanding on where the cloud really lives, and how our data travels down the cables hopping from data center to data center.

You can find my translation over on the Webmaker site: Die Cloud durchschauen.

As a side note, if you want to learn in a playful, really not threatening way about how the web works, please go check out Mozilla Webmaker. It’s a fantastic resource and very, very simple to get into.

Merging book stores & ebooks

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filed under: to read/re-read

I love bookstores. I love them for their curation. I particularly love how smaller bookstores have a fantastic selection. However, I have a dark secret — I almost only go to bookstores when I’m traveling, and I go to great pains not to carry more stuff than I absolutely need. So I rarely buy printed books in stores, ever.

Instead — and this sounds (and is) a little sad — I jot down the books I want in the bookstore and buy them later, often online. This feels deeply unfair, almost like cheating on the bookstore owner.

So I’m wondering how both worlds can be merged for the better. In other words, how can we enjoy the curatorial services of a well-run bookstore and make sure the shop stays in business — without having to lug around books in a carry-on?

Here’s an idea: We cut bookstores in on every sale they help generate.

The mechanism could be relatively simple. A store owner signs up online with the big platforms and publishers — say, Amazon. When I go to a bookstore and find a book, I scan the book’s barcode with the store’s Kindle app to buy an electronic copy. The app checks my location, asks me to confirm the store I’m in, and registers all book sales through the app to that store. While the ebook downloads to my device of choice, the shop collects a commission. Amazon (or any other platform or publisher, for that matter) sells another book, I can keep traveling light, and the store gets its fair share. Everyone’s happy.

Where the billing takes place doesn’t really matter at this point: In this example it’s through Amazon, but it could be any number of new umbrella services or publishers’ platforms. There’s probably room in this space for half a dozen startups. But no matter how it happens, the important thing is that bookstores get a share in exchange for their curation. Because we really don’t want to have to rely on Amazon’s recommendation services alone.

Is anyone working on this yet?

 

Update: David D. Levine kindly pointed me to this cooperation between Powell’s Partners and Kobo. Thanks, David!

Update: I re-wrote and polished this post up a bit to re-post it to Medium.

Update: Thanks to the fine folks at Medium, notably Kate Lee, the post has been featured in Medium’s Editors’ Picks as well as the collection The Future of Publishing.

Interview: Apotheken Umschau / Volle Kontrolle über mich

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Apotheken Umschau

File under “unexpected media appearance”: A few weeks ago I was interviewed about personal analytics and the Quantified Self by a good old institution in the German media sphere, Apotheken Umschau. It’s one of those magazines that fly very much under the radar, yet have an incredible circulation of about 10 million printed copies (and 20 million reach): You can pick them up for free at any pharmacy, so they’re pretty much everywhere even if you’ll never see anyone reading it. Mysterious, eh?

Anyway, long story short, along with other familiar faces like Florian Schumacher of the QS Munich meetups I got to give my two cents on personal analytics. As the magazine is aimed squarely at a mainstream, non-technical audience, it’s all pretty much on the surface of things (which also explains how I turned into what looks like a stock photo), but it’s these opportunities to spread the word outside our bubble and immediate networks that I always enjoy – this is where stuff gets applied to real lives, after all.

So if you live in Germany, for two weeks you can pick up a copy for free at the pharmacy near you.