The end of roaming surcharges is a milestone for the EU

Here is a German version of this text.

On March 26 1995, the Schengen Agreement about open borders within the then “European Economic Community” (predecessor of the European Union) went into effect. From that day on, people crossing borders between initially seven countries didn’t have to undergo the usual border checks. Today, people living in or visiting 26 European countries do not have to show their passport or ID when crossing the border to another participating country (with a few temporary exceptions). The treaty must be considered a milestone for the internal integration of Europe. This week’s finalized decision by the European Parliament to end EU roaming surcharges has a similarly significant dimension.

After many years of tenacious negotiations, various setbacks and fierce resistance by the telecommunications carriers, customers of mobile operators from EU countries who travel to another EU country will, timely for the summer holidays, be able to call, send texts and use the Internet without additional charges. The target date of June 15 2017 will therefore go into the history books of European integration as March 26 1995 did previously. Continue Reading

The benefit of a strong Europe

The theme of this site is “the present and future of the connected world – from an European point of view”. Unfortunately, the “European point of view” is broadly under attack these days, due to various internal and external crises which put heavy pressure on the continent. The currently discussed parting of the EU and the UK is the most symbolic in a chain of events which, at least for the moment, weaken the EU. Based on the polls, about half the British actually do support a breakup between their country and the EU. You can find plenty of EU skeptics in many other EU member states, too.

I do understand the underlying motivations that make people turn against the idea of a unified political Europe and I try my best to be empathic. However, I think people who believe that exiting or weakening the EU will make their life and their country better in the mid and long run are wrong. Continue Reading

When it comes to its digital future, Europe could suffer a double defeat

In conjunction with the outlining of the European Union’s strategy to create a single digital market, a lot has been written and said about the difficulties of the continent to establish strong technology companies that are able to compete with the big tech giants of the Silicon Valley.

This failure to produce a significant number of big digital players with international importance is causing wide-reaching fear that Europe’s chances for future growth and prosperity are decreasing. But the absence of forward-looking Internet juggernauts from Europe does not only raise questions about where the economies of the region are heading, but could also cause major damage to the core of the ecosystem where all this innovation is supposed to come from. Continue Reading

Europe needs to reinvent itself and let go of some of the old things

Castle

When you as an European travel outside of the continent and chat with fellow travelers from countries far away, they often start to explain why they love Europe so much, or alternatively, why they dream about going there one day. The reason mentioned is almost always the same: History. The museums, the castles, the impressive century-old architecture, the cozy old towns one can stroll through – these things attract crowds from everywhere.

Europe’s history seems to be the main selling point of the continent. Unfortunately, what tourists see as highly desirable and stuff of their dreams, easily becomes baggage for those living in Europe. The common association of Europe with old history stands symbolic for the state of the continent: A place with so much to look back at and – with a few dark exceptions – to romanticize about, that the look ahead easily is ignored. Continue Reading

Fighting the language fragmentation

Throughout the years while being the editor of netzwertig.com, one reader question arose frequently: Why would we not publish in English in addition to German? Personally I did not feel this would have made sense, but for a very long time I was playing with the thought of launching a dedicated tech blog in English. A site where I could publish analysis of and comments on events taking place in the global and European technology and Internet industry. Now, finally, I am doing it!

The main problem with writing about the events, trends and companies that shape our digital present and future in a language other than English is that your reach is pretty limited. That does not matter if a text concerns a local or national issue, which we have enough of in Germany when it comes to the (comparatively neglected) digital society. But as soon as one covers a major news or service from the U.S. – where most of the latest tech still comes from – the possible impact one might have is radically diminished by sticking to German or any other tiny language present in Europe. It feels a bit like looking through a one-way mirror from the operator side: You see what goes on and you can comment on it, but the crowd on the other side does not notice it: They do not see nor hear you.

I would put it like this: Everything that is not being expressed in English does not matter on a global scale, is not being seen by others, is not being shared, questioned and re-thought by enough people with different views and experiences. Or, if it matters, it happens with a delay (until the translation and distribution in foreign circles).

When you look at the major sites and blogs covering the latest news from the San Francisco Bay Area (which includes the Silicon Valley), from New York (an increasingly important tech hub) or elsewhere, most of the voices are American, or at least from the English-speaking countries. There is certainly no lack of European journalists and bloggers who follow and write about the evolution and revolution of the technology world. But most do it in the many different languages of Europe. I find that to be an unfortunate situation, and it means that voices from the “old continent” are hardly being heard on the other side of the pond. Except those from questionable politicians and media tycoons that, out of desperation about Europe’s failure to create its own giants, are on a crusade against Google.

Obviously I will not be able to change the fragmentation with this modest little site. But my hope is that other fellow European writers who are passionate and opinionated about tech will eventually make the switch as well, or at least try to publish in English occasionally. Europe notoriously has failed to produce the kind of far-reaching Internet giants that the U.S. west coast has given birth to. One of the many reasons for this is the massive language fragmentation and micro-competition between dozens of small ecosystems, which kills a lot of potential strength and network effects.

That is nothing that can be changed within a day. In many countries of Europe the majority of people still lack a common language to communicate with across borders. On the other hand, especially within the Internet industry, it is happening, and language barriers as well as cultural barriers are being dismantled. It takes a while, and it won’t lead to big results immediately. But if everybody contributes, over time improvements will be seen. I simply want to contribute with what I can do.

My plan is not to position meshedsociety.com as a site focusing on Europe though. The only reason why I keep mentioning that word is because this is where I grew up, where I live when I am not traveling somewhere else, and where most likely major parts of my values and view of life were initially shaped. As everybody who has spent enough time in the Bay Area knows: Mentality and culture there can be quite different.

I see this site as an experiment. My goal is to write stuff that people who are interested in the digitization of our lives enjoy reading. If it works out and if I at one point in the future can find an exclusive sponsor or another type of readership-respecting business model to finance my work, great. If not, I will run the site as a side-project or stop eventually, knowing that I never need to regret not having tried it.

If you like to join in on this journey, here (and in the right sidebar) are some easy ways to subscribe or follow. Thanks for reading and good to have you here!

Illustration by jakubmarian.com