What’s next?

Like many people, I’m scratching my head about the state of the world, trying to make sense of the backlash against globalization, liberalism, science and secularism. The emphasis is on “trying”. It is not working. Too many dots to connect, too many contexts to consider, too many systems that are interdependent, too many ideologies and narratives that interfere with accurately assessing reality. Whenever I think I have arrived at some potentially all-comprising explanation, 10 other ideas pop up in my mind, some of them contradicting my previous hypotheses, while others adding additional layers to it, complicating everything.

And so, a lot of only loosely connected, unfinished thoughts are swirling through my head, which I’ll now pen down. Continue Reading

The internet does to the world what radio did to the world

Over the holidays, I finally found the time to read Marshall McLuhan’s book “Understanding media” (I might have spent time with it during my studies but definitely didn’t pay too much attention back then). Last year, hardly a week went by without me stumbling upon a text which made a reference to the book and its most famous phrase, “The medium is the message”. Now I understand why. McLuhan’s media criticism laid out in his 1964 work feels incredibly contemporary. Occasionally to an almost scary degree.

Among the parts that intrigued me the most were the following three paragraphs, which in my opinion are very suitable to describe current media dynamics and societal events – if one, while reading, replaces the term “radio” with “internet” and “Hitler” with whoever comes to mind.

“That Hitler came into political existence at all is directly owing to radio and public-address systems. This is not to say that these media relayed his thoughts effectively to the German people. His thoughts were of very little consequence. Radio provided the first massive experience of electronic implosion, that reversal of the entire direction and meaning of literate Western civilization. For tribal peoples, for those whose entire social existence is an extension of family life, radio will continue to be a violent experience. Highly literate societies, that have long subordinated family life to individualist stress in business and politics, have managed to absorb and to neutralize the radio implosion without revolution. Not so, those communities that have had only brief or superficial experience of literacy. For them, radio is utterly explosive.

“The power of radio to retribalize mankind, its almost instant reversal of individualism into collectivism, Fascist or Marxist, has gone unnoticed. So extraordinary is this unawareness that it is what needs to be explained. The transforming power of media is easy to explain, but the ignoring of this power is not at all easy to explain. It goes without saying that the universal ignoring of the psychic action of technology bespeaks some inherent function, some essential numbing of consciousness such as occurs under stress and shock conditions.”

“Just as we now try to control atom-bomb fallout, so we will one day try to control media fallout. Education will become recognized as civil defense against media fallout. The only medium for which our education now offers some civil defense is the print medium. The educational establishment, founded on print, does not yet admit any other responsibilities.

Clearly, education has failed to offer a large-scale civil defense against internet fallout.

Update: Have a look at the excellent comment discussion about the thoughts in this post on Hacker News.

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Photo: Flickr/Alan Levine, CC BY 2.0

From someone in a country without Amazon, a few questions about Alexa

Switzerland and Sweden have a couple of things in common. First, the names seem to be similar enough in many languages so that mixing up both countries is a very common phenomenon. Second, there are certain commonalities in regards to people’s mentality, for example a tendency to avoid conflict (for me, as a German living in Sweden and working with Swiss companies, there has been and still is a lot to learn). Third, in neither of the two countries, Amazon is operating its online store. This is in so far remarkable as I know that many people in Amazon’s core markets cannot even imagine anymore how life would be without the e-commerce giant. The reality from a customer perspective: It’s a bit inconvenient.

For the Swiss, Amazon.ch forwards directly to Amazon.de, offers free standard shipping above a certain order value, and obviously there’s no language barrier navigating the site. However, if you order from Switzerland which is not part of the European Union, you might end up having to pay additional customs charges in order to be able to pickup your package. In Sweden and the other Nordic countries, people are also forced to order from Amazon sites in other European countries (or the U.S.). Local versions in Nordic languages don’t exist. In Sweden, amazon.se is only a parked domain. Continue Reading

The obsession with “Fast-moving consumer news”

One suggested solution to the sheer unbearable state of today’s digital news landscape is quitting the consumption of day-to-day news. While a radical step would be to completely stop following any type of media used for the distribution of information that does not qualify as timeless, a more practical and in my opinion smarter approach is to limit one’s information intake to selected sources, trusted curators and channels that focus on specialist topics, bigger pictures and larger questions that remain relevant over longer periods of time.

Those who withdraw from what I would call “Fast-moving consumer news” (FMCN, as an information equivalent to the so called Fast-moving consumer goods) have to face one major point of criticism: To stop paying attention to the reports about tragedies, misery, human misconduct and violence, won’t stop these things from happening.

In the short term, that’s a fact. However, if the many hours not spent on following the latest breaking news are being invested into projects with a larger purpose, into entrepreneurship, or the creation and distribution of useful knowledge, then in the long-term, ignoring FMCN might in fact help improving the state of the world. But admittedly that’s still a shaky argument, because not consuming FMCN does not allow for the conclusion that the “gained” time actually is being directed towards more meaningful efforts. More likely it won’t be. 

Continue Reading

6 years of working location independent

In fall 2010 I started an adventure which would change my life: 6 months of remote working from Thailand. It was my first trip to Asia and my first lenghty trip not intended as vacation. Many more were to follow. The Internet-enabled freedom to open your mobile office from anywhere in the world got me hooked instantly, and I haven’t manage to escape its fascination ever since.

The list of places from which I have spent from a week to several months working remotely has gotten fairly long: Several places in Thailand, Ho Chi Minh City, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Barcelona, Lisbon, Puerto Vallarta (Mexico), San Francisco Bay Area, Santiago de Chile and Vancouver are on it. The most recent addition is Las Palmas (de Gran Canaria, Spain), from which I am writing this text (it’s an outstanding choice for location independent work, by the way).

Creativity & serendipity

There is something magical about occasionally changing your complete environment, relocating to a place somewhere on this planet. It’s a perfect way to find inspiration, to foster creativity and to expose yourself to serendipity. Such as that I really wasn’t very interested to travel to Japan actually, but I still did. After 3 months in Tokyo, I had turned into a Japan fan. Over the years, one learns a lot and gets quite experienced when it comes to the “art” of working from (almost) anywhere. In the next paragraphs, I’ll share a few of my insights. Continue Reading

My year of learning to code, in review

This article can also be read in German.

At the beginning of the year, I started a Python beginner course at Codecademy. It was my first serious attempt to learn programming. My initial experience turned out to be quite positive. In my one-month review I described how the service managed to keep me motivated through various small success moments. However, it was unclear whether that would continue with increasingly challenging tasks. Would I eventually quit?

I did not. Even 11 months after I printed my first “hello world” with Python, I am still pretty eager to dive deeper into Python programming. It’s tremendously rewarding and enlightening to learn more about the processes that constitute the foundation of our digital world.

In hindsight, I conclude that the Codecademy course was the ideal entry point for learning Python. However, only one course is offered. Once you are done with it you have to find other options to continue. I was finished in May. Shortly afterwards I gave Codecademy Pro a try for one month (cost 19,99 USD) in order to unlock a few additional projects but I did not get too much out of it. Continue Reading

I just subscribed to 60 blogs via RSS and maybe you should, too

Over the past years, I have been outsourcing increasing parts of my news/content discovery to the social web, following the famous mantra “If it is important, it will find me”. Today I am changing course.

I decided that I want to decrease the reliance on my social graph for what I read. Both Facebook and Twitter have entered a difficult period when it comes to the sharing and distribution of news. For Facebook, its enormous power, influence and tendency to create algorithmic echo chambers is turning into a burden, with hard-to-predict consequences. Twitter on the other hand suffers from all kinds of strategic and systemic problems, nicely summarized in this post. Some kind of radical change will be necessary for Twitter to survive and thrive. Continue Reading

The U.S. election & Facebook’s other problem

Facebook might just face its biggest crisis since the founding more than 12 years ago.

A lot of people think that the social network’s newsfeed impacted the US presidential election by fostering filter bubbles and by encouraging (and benefiting from) the politically motivated creation and distribution of fake news. The allegations have been surfacing more frequently over the past months. Ater the surprising victory of Donald Trump, the pressure on the company to fix flaws is mounting. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg just published his thoughts on the issue, emphasizing the “extreme” unlikelihood that hoaxes changed the outcome of the election in one direction or the other. However, he promises improvements and further research into the matter nonetheless.

We’ll see what the company comes up with. But while many eyes are focusing on the factual issue of the newsfeed algorithm’s impact, the crisis includes a second dimension of trouble for the social networking giant, and it’s a significant one: The allegations pose a huge threat to Facebook’s internal unity and employer brand. Continue Reading

A road trip with a Tesla: Being part of the future

A few days ago I had the opportunity to drive a Tesla Model S from Zurich to Berlin. Of course I took it. I don’t own a car but I love road trips, especially on the German highway system, which in large parts has no speed limit (I still think this is one of the most crazy facts about otherwise safety-aware Germany). Of course I also was curious about the experience of driving an electrical car of the U.S. company that single-handedly is disrupting the car industry.

I decided to describe my experience in few paragraphs. Most Tesla trip reports and reviews are created by fans and therefore come with a certain emotional coloring. I’ll explain the reason for that later on. I however consider myself neutral. I take the position of an Average Joe who knows little about cars, who is not very passionate about them overall but who has done a couple of significant road trips over the past decade through Germany and across Europe. So I can make at least some comparisons.

During my studies I worked for a car rental company, mostly cleaning them, but occasionally I got to transfer vehicles from one station to another. I still remember vividly how I transferred a powerful Audi A8 from the German city of Hannover to Berlin and how simultaneously amazing and scary it felt to pelt along at 250 km/h. Mostly amazing.

However, slightly disappointed, I have to conclude the Model S is not yet suitable for those with a need for speed. Continue Reading

Uber, Lyft and tipping

I rarely use Uber, and even less often its biggest competitor Lyft, since the latter one is only active in the US. However, I attended the two most recent editions of the SXSW Festival in Austin, which gave me the opportunity to compare.

LyftFor the most, the experience is the same. What’s different is that during conversations with Lyft drivers, they end up telling you that they prefer driving for Lyft over Uber. I have yet to hear the opposite. One key reason for that: Lyft encourages riders to tip their drivers after a completed ride, and tipping is done right from within the app. Uber on the other hand has no tipping option and it specifically states that tipping is not necessary.

During my rides with Lyft I realized: Tipping is not only an appreciated option among the drivers, but even I felt much better knowing that I can reward my driver for good service and a nice attitude. Since I usually don’t carry cash, even if I would like to tip an Uber driver (who until now only is allowed to accept cash tips if the passenger insists), I could not. Continue Reading