Mankind’s knowledge isn’t in the network, it’s in our heads. Oh wait, no it isn’t.


In a fairly ridiculous comment on Handelsblatt.com, CDU (conservative) member of parliament Ansgar Heveling attacked not just the internet, but a whole system of thought. The networked society, if you will. The article is pure link bait, or a display of incredibly obvious lack of understanding, and a pretty cheap political stunt. It pretty much deserves to be ignored. I’m going to fall for it, if only for one reason: It directly contradicts a fantastic book I’m just reading, and so I can’t just let it hang there.

Here’s what Mr Heveling writes in his wisdom knowledge ignorant opinion piece:

Doch Googles und Wikimedias dieser Welt, lasst euch zurufen: Auch wenn Wikipedia für einen Tag ausgeschaltet ist und Google Zensurbalken trägt, ist das nicht das Ende des Wissens der Menschheit. Welche Hybris! Lasst euch gesagt sein: Das Wissen und vor allem die Weisheit der Welt liegen immer noch in den Köpfen der Menschen

Rough translation:

However, Googles and Wikimedias of the world, let me shout out to you: Even if Wikipedia is switched off for a day and Google shows a censorship bar, this isn’t The End of Mankind’s Knowledge. The hubris! Let me tell you: The knowledge and particularly the wisdom of the world is still inside the heads of humans.

Well, Mr Heveling, funny you’d say that. Allow me to just quote David Weinberger back at you, who understands more of this topic than you and I, and – very much unlike you – has facts to back this up:

We have a new form of knowing. This new knowledge requires not just giant computers but a network to connect them, to feed them, and to make their work accessible. It exists at the network level, not in the heads of individual human beings.

You can read up on how knowledge works now and in the future in Mr Weinberger’s new book. And you should. I’ll even include a link to the German Amazon store just for you.

Net Censorship in Germany: Confirmed


Censorship sucks

It’s a sad day for Germany, and an infuriating one. The law hasn’t passed yet, but the major parties have agreed (Netzpolitik.org, in German) to introduce net censorship in Germany. It’s all under the pretense of protecting children against abuse, but the draft of the law clearly shows that it will neither protect children nor put a limit on the distribution on videos of child abuse. It also shows how badly an unhealthy mix of under-informed politicians and overly symbolic politics can go wrong.

The German government will censor the internet. What country am I living in?

I am seriously stunned as I’m writing this. How could this come about? Von der Leyen, the conservative Secretary of Family Affairs, pushed this piece of legislation hard and actually managed to get not just her party (CDU) but also a large chunk of the German Bundestag to agree to legislation that clearly they haven’t read don’t understand the scope of, mostly by using harsh rhetoric and fake statistics, pretending she knows how to fight child abuse. Never mind that even conservative newspaper Handelsblatt stated: It’s official, von der Leyen has lied. (Some conservative politicians as well as lobbyists have already stated that other content – copyright infringements, gambling, violent games – should also be considered for blocking.)

Personally, this troubles me on several levels. These laws clearly intrude my private life as someone whose private and business life revolves around the net to a large degree. Also, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) had the chance to stop this madness by withdrawing support and didn’t – despite a wing within the party strongly opposing the whole censorship project.

I’m an adviser to the online youth election campaign of SPD. Panorama3000 and I organize the online campaign for Jusos, the SPD’s youth organization. (The Jusos oppose censorship plans; former head of Jusos Björn Böhning lead the intra-party stance to stop the censorship plans.) Both on a personal level and as a campaigner I must say agreeing to this legislation hurts democracy in Germany, and the ongoing election campaign.

To clarify, and as full disclosure: I will continue to support Jusos in the election campaign; I still think SPD is one of the very few sound choices in the upcoming elections (the Greens being the other), but that’s a personal choice. The thing is: We all need to make it clear that we oppose censorship. This is not something that just affects the geeks and nerds. This affects all of us.

How could we get to this point? This is ridiculous.

Update: Thomas Knüwer of German newspaper Handelsblatt has some comments on this issue: Dammbruch im Internet (de)