Categorynote to self

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


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


  • 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!


  • 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,

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.

A job I’d enjoy: running an R&D lab


nur dinge / just things

I believe it’s good to articulate personal preferences, wishes and goals clearly and, if possible, publicly. It can help foster serendipity, but mostly it keeps one honest. So as a note to myself, a reminder of something I’d love to do at some point in my life: Run an R&D lab.

More concretely, one that outputs products, services, and insights and works on a project mix spanning the commercially interesting, the purely explorational and the primarily socially valuable. In other words, prototyping tomorrow with business savvy and a moral compass.

The rough organizational framework would look something like this:

  • a serious budget
  • full autonomy in how things are run and what the teams work on
  • a mission statement to work on a mix of commercially interesting, purely explorational and primarily socially valuable projects

And with this, I’d set out to gather a team of kick-ass developers, designers and tinkerers who could have a crack of lots of thorny, challenging issues, fascinating ideas or just inspired whims.

I’m almost sure it’d be much cooler to do this outside the corporate context, more like a self-sustainable autonomous R&D/exploration thing. (Needless to say, initial funding might turn out to be somewhat tricky, but that’s not what this post is about.) But even if it’d happen within a corporation, I don’t assume anyone would just walk up to me with this kind of a job description. More likely, it’s a job I’ll rather have to invent for myself at some point in my life.

Until then, I’ll just work bits and pieces of this mental framework into the way I work whenever I can. After all, to some degree (and minus the big budget) it’s something that’s really quite compatible with how I work. Anyway, I’m pretty sure that would be quite fun.

Japan travel log #1


During my Japan trip, I’ll be posting updates every few days, time permitting. It’s a nice way to reflect and capture some stuff going on.

Day 1

Arrived in Tokyo via Vienna & Frankfurt. First leg impacted lightly by airport personnel strike, then voluntarily bumped to alternate route.

Michelle in Vienna

Taking a first break in Vienna after we bumped flights.

Playing a game of TCP/IP with my bag that never left Berlin for the first leg, but joined me on leg 3 from Frankfurt to Tokyo. (Having watched Gattaca, In Time and just earlier an episode of the BBC version of Sherlock Holmes, I felt a strong urge to go suit shopping. Luckily, none are available on the plane.) Incredibly long travel day (26 hours, maybe?), and running on two days with about 4h sleep each. Dead on my feet. Pulling into Shinjuku Station, a small ramen shop awaits. A bowl of Tonkutso and a cold Asahi later the world looks much better; one shower in I feel alive again, just in time to jump on a late night conference call before taking a little exploratory walk around the block.

M. and I debated whether emails should be replied to, or shelved during a vacation. That said, was very happy that between the two of us we brought two laptops, two smartphones, a large array of power plugs and a LAN-to-USB mac adapter to work around the hotel’s technical restrictions.

Day 2

Kickstarting the day with a quick coffee from an impressive slow drip machine that came with a tiny cup of milk.

Slow drip

Slow drip.

Japan 2012-Shinjuku Cafe

Tiny cup is tiny.

Ran errands in Shinkuju. Of the odd shopping list, surprisingly it was particularly easy to find a quick drying travel towel, but impossible to spontaneously get a prepaid data plan. We had good recommendations — along with a headsup that the Japanese telco environment is still pretty hardcore and aimed at lock in — but even prepaid data plans need to be ordered a week in advance. Mind blown again by the length people go to to help foreigners despite the complete language barrier. Also, mildly surprised at the total lack of culture shock otherwise. Guessing it’s city thing – drop me in any major city and I’m good to go. On the country side, different rules apply.


Arriving at Mount Fuji

Jumped on a train to Fujikawaguchiko, a small town of some 26.000 population at Lake Kawaguchi (Kawaguchi-ko), one of the Fuji Five Lakes. Outside our window I can see a small street, a row of houses and — Mount Fuji. Or as he’s called in Japanese, Fuji-san. It’s a small town, and off-season. It’s still crisp here, cherry blossom is still ways off, and the town is mostly empty. Nature hasn’t crept back out of its hibernation, even though first signs of spring are there if you look closely. We’re at 800m above sea level, about 3.000m more to go to the top of Mount Fuji, which isn’t open this time of the year. Tours up there only go July through August. A long stroll across town and along the lake bring us to a small sushi restaurant where the elderly shopkeeper, upon determining that we don’t share even a bit of common language, to feed us with a mixed set of sushi, mussel soup, and green tea. Lots of nods and thankful bows later, we head back to the hotel for some shuteye.

Day 3

The weather in our little town is spectacular. It’s sunny, and the morning sky is clear. We rent bikes and ride them around Lake Kawaguchiko. Every few minutes we stop to take pictures. Mount Fuji is a fantastic, impressive sight. I imagine it just never gets old. The street around the lake is easy to ride, and along the way we stopped at a little cheese cake place. No English spoken, but some finger pointing lead us to fantastic roll cake and blueberry-orange cheesecake, or something, and a good cup of coffee out in the sun. Finishing the quick round around the lake we jumped on the cable car that in best Japanese fashion is decorated with a rabbit and potentially a beaver. My heart is beating, I can’t tell if it’s my fear of heights or something else. Up on the mountain, the viewing platform allows for the most majestic sight of Mount Fuji yet. I can only guess how beautiful it must be once all once the cherry blossom is on for real; but even with the trees free of blossom, the view is breath-taking. I’m nervous as hell. I pull Michelle aside, away from the tourists, and stammer something I can only assume was unintelligible. Then I got down on a knee and propose. My heart jumped a couple of beats I’m sure; then she said yes and I could breath again. We’re engaged.

Fuji-san, you’re the witness, I’m counting on you.


A quick hike back down and off to the onsen to soak in hot water for an hour before hunting some food. Turns out the town is small, as is the choice, and a slightly greasy looking Chinese place serves us some fantastic Szechuan mapo tofu and some drinks. Thanks again for all the nice words!

Day 4

Early on we leave for Kyoto. Two train changes and one Shinkansen ride later we get to Tokyo to a tiny Gaijin house, a room in a shared house that we just happen to have to ourselves. Exploring the city, it quickly becomes clear that Kyoto’s reputation as one of Asia’s most interesting cultural centers is well-earned. Note that with 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and tons of temples and shrines, Kyoto is one of the world’s most culturally rich cities.


Dramatic light at a temple garden


Narrow streets with wooden houses

A brief walk shows lovely old wooden buildings in narrow streets – alleys, really – and leads us to an antiques place. The things on sale? A mixed assortment of vintage, mostly European Inverness coats, hats, suitcases, figurines (Mickey Mouse from the 1930s, I’d guess?), jewelry, cups, postcards. A lovely, lovely, lovely shop, and if it weren’t for transportation and budget I would’ve loved to take home half of it. Luckily, the cult of less won’t allow that, so I’m saved and we leave with a smile on our faces.

Just around the corner we see a few hand-printed paintings, and a sign in awkward, but kinda cute English, and pop our heads in.

Ukiyo-e Meister Ichimura Mamoru

Ukiyo-e Meister Ichimura Mamoru

It’s a very small printing workshop run by the elderly Meister Ichimura Mamoru, a woodblock printer. He’s a master of the ukiyo-e art, and he shows us how he prints layers upon layers of colors until his prints are finished. Among them are quite a bunch of Hukusai‘s masterpieces, like the well-known Great Wave off Kanagawa, and many others. I’m sure Hokusai would’ve loved this, after all he spent a good deal of his life teaching others how to paint and print. The picture I got has about 10 layers of color, and I couldn’t be more happy about a piece of hand printed art that I’ve always been a fan of. (Show address on Google Maps)

Ukiyo-e Meister Ichimura Mamoru

Ukiyo-e Meister Ichimura Mamoru in his print shop.

A short walk through a temple park, and we dive into a backyard cafe, CafĂ© Opal. After sitting down on quite low chairs, we notice it’s Europe-themed, or at least Western-themed. It looks a bit like a bit more upscale version of a Berlin hipster bar, only that there are no beer-drinking hipsters with their feet up on the table. The quiche is fantastic, as is the coffee. Old town Kyoto is stunningly beautiful, that much is clear even after just a few hours. Plenty to explore over the next couple of days. For now we hunt food and get some sleep. I pretty much lost track of weekdays – the vacation is doing its magic – but tomorrow is going to be a day packed with exploring.

Lessons from Go


Recently, I’ve been trying to get back to learning Go. I had dabbled a little a few years back, but then (like now) at a very basic beginner level. My friend Franz has kindly volunteered to teach me a thing or two, and ever since I regularly get my ass kicked. Which is fantastic as it helps me learn.

Note: If you’re a well-versed chess or Go player, you might want to skip this post. All these observations are from my beginner’s perspective and it’s quite possible they don’t do the game and its nuances justice.


Go is a very complex, rich, nuanced game. It’s probably more strategic than chess, has a strong layer of tacticts as well, and lastly there’s a code of mutual respect to be observed. Rude playing is frowned upon, maybe more than playing weak.

Being based on a military metaphor, it’s key to figure out in advance what your goals are – the strategy for the whole field, the big picture. Digging up good old Sun Tzu, we know that the art of war is to fight wars without actually having to do battle. Now, in a game of Go you won’t get by without some actual up close fighting, yet it’s quite possible to capture large chunks of the field without a fight. That is, if your strategic plan is so good that the opponent doesn’t see a chance to break through and claim that same ground.

In that very early beginner stage that I’m in at the moment, a fair bit of the learning experience is to test the waters by trying out variations of strategies and moves, and yet lacking the foresight to play out certain scenes in my mind, there’s an element of experimentation. In other words, quite often I slap down a stone on the field to see what happens.

black and white

While legit to learn, one thing becomes painfully obvious: Without a thought-out strategy, you’ll invariably fail. Playing against Franz, who’s a few levels more experienced and more skilled and helps me analyze the game while it’s going on, there are some moves that have a clear intention and may or may not be played well, but their function is clear. Then there are the experimental ones, the ones where I don’t know what I’m trying to accomplish. Poking in the dark, basically. It is these moves that lead to a thoughtful frown on Franz’s face, as he tries to find the meaning in my move, where really there is none. And again, invaribly these moves fail spectacularly. (In quite educational way, note!)

Another common mistake is to be too reactive. If you’re under pressure, or if you don’t have a clear strategy that you work towards, it’s easy to fall into the trap of reacting to your opponent’s move. In many cases, though, it would be much better to follow your strategy, to be self-directed, thus increasing the pressure on your opponent. Reacting is necessary sometimes, but mostly you should be shaping the game rather than letting someone else control your moves. A clear strategy is the first step. Getting your priorities right is another.

As someone who makes a living giving strategic advice, of course I should know better than to move without a strategy. Yet, it’s a good reminder that if you don’t know the parameters or are lacking actionable information – possible courses of action, the competition, basic knowledge etc – you’re down to guessing if you don’t have someone to support and coach you. Also, often times it’s better to work out a strategy that may not look big or ambitious or powerful, but start with something you know how to handle and then grow from there. It’s often said that 80% of success is to show up; if that’s the case, then I’d wager that another 15% is to just avoid obvious and stupid mistakes.

So I’m going to continue to get my ass kicked until I get around to putting together a solid strategy from all those black and white stones, and how to connect the dots to a coherent picture. Then, using the strategy as a guiding vector, the tactical pieces should fall into place, and some battles are lost, or won.

Third Wave turns one


Exactly one year ago, I officially co-founded my company Third Wave with my two partners Igor and Johannes. While it feels as if I should be writing a long, deep, witty post about that fact, I’m traveling and my mind is elsewhere today. (On our website I wrote a brief anniversary post.)

I might, or might not, follow up on this with a real post. Until then, I’d just like to say: Today is a good day. This has been one good, nay: fantastic year.

Igor & Johannes: Thank you!

5 years ago


past & future


We don’t take the time to reflect often. Taking the hint from Ariel Waldman, I’d like to do just that. Reflect for a minute – on where I was five years ago, and how I came to be where I am at the moment. It’s both a snapshot of my life and a reminder for a future self, five years from now.

5 years ago, in early 2006, I had just come back from a year of studying in Sydney followed by a trip through South-East Asia. After settling back in in Berlin, in August 2006, I was about to start my masters thesis when I was offered a job as an editor at, a non-profit think tank/magazine where I had interned several years prior. Excitedly, I accepted and started studying hundreds of “web 2.0” services for a study we conducted. (I found Twitter to be the most useless of the bunch. Ahem…) In parallel, I was still building websites with my friend Thomas and helped companies learn about the internet. I left an old blog behind and started to blog at Three months after starting my editor job, after it had became obvious that I wouldn’t be able to find the time to write my thesis, I quit and started my thesis for real.

4 years ago, I had just finished my masters degree and was undecided about my future: Find a job? Go freelance? Maybe even a PhD? I got a call out of the blue and was offered a job as editor-in-chief of (then, a young online magazine. It was a freelance gig, part-time, and the basis for the freelance career I would pursue for the next few years. This phone call quite literally changed my life. I’m still grateful for that call, and still work very closely with the person that made it. Just a few months later, my friends Max Senges, Thomas Praus and I would write the textbook for a Spanish university course on virtual identities.

3 years ago, my business card said: “I do web stuff”. As a freelance web strategist I was feeling more and more at home in my role. I had moved in with Panorama3000, a good friend’s agency, and was learning the ropes. Besides my regular work, I blogged a lot both here and on a number of conference live blogs (including Berlinblase). At a conference, I interviewed a pretty free culture activist. (Three years later, we’re living together.)

2 years ago, in 2009, things really took off. In a crazy year, my job brought me all kinds of awesome internet-y gigs (including as a moderator, an artist, and an election campaigner), I spent one month in New York and another in France, and organized atoms&bits Festival and the first TEDxKreuzberg.

1 year ago, besides work, Matt Biddulph and I put another event – Ignite Berlin – where among others Igor Schwarzmann spoke about smart cities. Also, another TEDxKreuzberg. In March, I went to SXSW with Igor Schwarzmann. I covered for someone’s session, thus having my first SXSW workshop on 48 hour notice. Igor and I got infected with the SXSW energy and started talking. We decided to start a company along with our buddy Johannes Kleske. Six months later, Igor and Johannes moved to Berlin and we launched Third Wave.

Today, Third Wave is heading towards its first anniversary, and moving at high speed. We organized another conference, this time together, about smart cities (Cognitive Cities Conference). I’m fully employed by my own company and yet again learning the ropes. And I’m as excited as ever for what the future holds. These are good, exciting days.

And yes, it freaks me out to think where I was 5 years ago.