Verwirrung ist gut fürs Geschäft – leider…

23. November 2014

Dreimal verflucht sollen sie sein!

Spieglein, Spieglein an der Wand, wer ist der beste Mobilfunkanbieter im Land? Diese Frage klingt ja eher wie der Einstieg in ein modernes Märchen, aber die Analystenfirma T3i Group wollen es tatsächlich sagen können. Mir flatterte jetzt eine Pressemeldung ins Haus, in der über die jüngsten Ergebnisse der jährlichen „Tarifica“-Studie berichtet wird, die von denen einmal im Jahr durchgeführt wird und in der es darum geht, Preise und Leistungen der unterschiedlichen Spieler im Mobilfunkgeschäft gegeneinander abzuwägen.

Ein solcher Dienst ist ja auch dringend notwendig, denn nach wie vor ist mobiles Telefonieren für den Verbraucher vor allem eines: verwirrend! Wenn man die Kombination der beiden Suchbegriffe „Mobilfunk“ und „Verwirrung“ bei Google eingibt, spuckt die Suchmaschiene mehr als 160.000 Fundstellen aus, von „Mobilfunk: Verwirrung um Mobilcom-Schulden“ über „Mobilfunk-Discounter – Verwirrung um Guthabengültigkeit“ bis „MOBILFUNK: Verwirrung im Netz“. Am schlimmsten ist es aber bei den Verträgen, bei denen eigentlich keiner mehr so richtig durchblickt. „Absolute Verwirrung um Vertragslaufzeit“ schreibt ein gewisser Wolfgang mit rührender Hilflosigkeit im Kundenforum von Vodafon. In der Schweiz muss es offenbar auch nicht viel besser aussehen, den die Bern erscheinende Zeitung „Der Bund“ warnt in einer Headline vor dem „Geschäft mit dem Handy-Wirrwarr“ und zitiert im Beitrag den Chef des Vergleichsportals, Lukas Brüderlin, mit den Worten: „Durch die hohe Komplexität der Angebote hat die Transparenz massiv gelitten.“ Weiterlesen »

Evolution in fast-forward

22. November 2014

This chapter is available as an audio podcast I recorded myself. what's next?

…so what’s next?

Humans have always lived in symbiosis with their tools. By inventing more and more sophisticated and intelligent tools, mankind has changed itself and become smarter over time. This is a natural process, and it is nonjudgmental. The mistake the prophets of doom make is to assign value to it. One typical example is the belief in “progress”, as though mankind were striving throughout its history to reach a certain goal that will make them better humans. Another is the worry about technology-induced human degeneration, or as Frank Schirrmacher once put it in an interview, “my brain is being squashed by the Internet”.

Ray Kurzweil is a visionary as well as a serial entrepreneur which gives him sufficient financial independence to pursue his investigations into the way technology is shaping human destiny. He is one of the founders of the so-called “singularity movement” which can be traced back to the early computer scientists John von Neumann in the 1950s and Irving J. Good in the 1960s and which hopes to achieve man’s age-old dream of immortality. Singularity describes a world in which mankind, far from being dominated by machines, will become one with them, melding together and thus producinga new, superior kind of intelligence which can help become better and more “human” beings.

Kurzweil first came in contact with singularity in the 80ies at about the same time he first heard of Moore’s Law. Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, predicated that the power of semiconductor chips would double every 16 to 18 months. Doubling down, as every gambler knows, leads to enormous acceleration. We call this “exponential growth”.

The oldest story about exponential growth comes from ancient India, where it is alleged that the inventor of the game of chess was told by his grateful sovereign that he could have a wish. He asked for as many grains of rice as would be needed to fill a chessboard, with one grain on square one, two on square two, four on square three, eight on square four, and so on, doubling the number of grains on each succeeding square. Weiterlesen »

Uber, Buzzfeed and the Future of Journalism

20. November 2014
Whom to believe?

Who do we believe?

Newspapers are dying  – and so what else is new? New Orleans, a metropolis of some 380.000 and number 51 in the list of the largest US cities is without its own daily, since the Time-Picayune went online-only in May 2012. Previously, the Detroit News cut the frequency of its print edition to three days a week. The newspaper industry as a whole has shed at least a fifth of its journalists since 1971, and no end in sight.

On the other hand, blogging has largely taken over as the prime source of news and commentary for many digital netizens, and not only just the young ones. Publishers regularly bemoan this at conventions and trade shows, and in Germany the mass-circulation Bild-Zeitung relys increasingly on what they call “reader-reporters”  for breaking news and exclusive images taken by somebody with a smartphone and the luck to be on the spot at the right moment. In fact, they pay amateurs more than they do professional photographers.

The New York Times famously still claims to run “all the news that’s fit to print”, but that is obviously an exaggeration since paper pages can only hold so much text, while websites and blogger’s homepages are infinitely extendable, and your idea of what’s fit to print may be very different from that of “Auntie Times”.

But is there a difference in quality, at least? To get my first job as a reporter I had to undergo a two-year “apprenticeship”, living and reporting from hick towns out in the boondocks, interviewing old-timers who had just turned 90, noting down fatstock prices, listening to town commissioners droning on for hours or covering the latest deadly car crash on Saturday night. I graduated to a big-town daily and went on to become a – professional – reporter for BILD, where I reached an audience of three or four million every day. By now I can claim to know what I am doing, including what rules serious journalists play by, what you can and can’t do in print, and most of the ethical and legal points involved in those decisions. Weiterlesen »

Living at Internet speed

20. November 2014

This blog post is also available as a podcast that I recorded myself

I feel the need, the need for speed!

I feel the need, the need for speed!

In “Behind the Looking Glass”, Lewis Carrol’s charming little book for children of all ages, the Red Queen takes Alice by the hand and pulls her away, running hard until the little girl is tired out and has to stop to catch her breath. To her surprise, she discovers that she is still standing where she started off. When she complains, the Red Queen replies: “You must come from a slow sort of country! Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Welcome to the land behind the computer screen where we all have the feeling that things are happening much faster than in the real world; faster than we can realize or understand what is going on and everything seems to be happening at fast forward. The Internet has given us a new way of reckoning time: “Internet Speed”, a time frame sometimes defined as being seven to eight times faster than normal time –kind of like “dogs years” which most of us believe are seven times as long as a human year.

This is hard for many of us to grasp, and not only for the elderly. It has more to do with adaptability, flexibility, open-mindedness and willingness to accept the new than age. Possibly the best example is Twitter. Mankind seems divided into two camps when it comes to these tiny snippets of text which were once described as “Internet telegrams”. On one side are those who think Twitter is just about the stupidest thing ever invented; the others believe it’s the greatest thing since the telephone. Weiterlesen »

How digitalization and networking are changing us

17. November 2014

This entry is also available as an audio podcast that I recorded myself.

And how are you feeling lately?

And how are you?

The Internet changes everything, so why not its users, too? This is this aspect of digital acceleration and change that cultural pessimists hate the most. Yet in fact it would be surprising if it were otherwise. All you need to do is look back on the evolutionary history of mankind to see that our ability to adapt to changes in our communications environment is what really makes us human.

The present generation has been born into a medial environment that is already marked by digital acceleration. Processes that once took time now can be performed in an instant. Kids are oblivious to this since they never knew anything else.

If Jaron Lanier, Nick Carr and their ilk were right then young people should be the first victims of “digital dumbing down”, meaning that they should be exhibiting symptoms of linguistic and cultural degeneration. Their language skills should be measurably poorer than elder people’s, their literary abilities inferior to those of their parents and grandparents. True: The mother of German thinker and author Ernst Jünger could recite Goethe’s entire “Faust” by heart, an ability that is rare today. And we are told that audiences in the time of Aischylos and Socrates often could recite entire plays after hearing them only once; such talented individuals were often enslaved and sold as private teachers to Sicily. Weiterlesen »

Why “multitasking trauma” is just a myth

16. November 2014

This post is also available as an audio podcast recorded by mayself

The housewife's work is never done

The housewife’s work is never done. Neither is that of the Internet user

The “technicum” desribed by Kevin Kelly in his book “What Technology Wants” takes over the role of awareness as a kind of a technical perception. It forms, in fact, a new dimension of existence brought about by technology, and it is constantly being refreshed and recreated. This new dimension transcends our material reality, but also reflects it, thus taking it forward.

Digitalization and networking add to this. “Virtuality”, a sphere between (material) reality and (non-material) perception of reality, create a new dimension to what we think of as “real”. Reality is no longer just a fixed idea in the heads of a small group of insiders; instead, it becomes a commonplace phenomenon felt and observed by many. Am I less “real” for my circle of friends on Facebook than for acquaintances on this side of the computer screen? Hardly: We need to learn to think about this additional dimension in new ways if we want to be able to shape our future. Neither Google nor the NSA will stand still and wait for us to catch up; the faster we learn to change our lives and our perceptions of reality the better.

However, in order to understand this changed world we need new categories to describe and think about them. Without proper terms of reference (without categories, in other words) we won’t be able to truly understand what is happening. According to the principle of linguistic relativity first proposed by 19th-century thinkers such as Wilhelm von Humboldt, language determines thought, so linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories. Quantum physics, as Niels Bohr famously put it, is not concerned with reality per se but with “what can be said about the world”. Weiterlesen »

Vom Wesen und vom Arbeiten des „Redakteurs“

15. November 2014
Das kommt raus, wenn Redakteure versuchen zu schreiben...

Das kommt raus, wenn Redakteure schreiben

Das Frauenmagazin „Brigitte“ kürzt Stellen, was erwartungsgemäß zu einem heftigen Aufschrei unter den so genannten „Qualitätsjournalisten“ geführt hat. Die „Welt“ titelte gar: “Brigitte schafft ihre schreibenden Redakteure ab“.

Offenbar ist dem schreibenden Redakteur der „Welt“ gar nicht aufgefallen, was für einen Stuss er da abgesondert hat. Aber er ist alles andere als alleine damit.

Und es ist nicht vorausgesetzt, dass er überhaupt ein guter Schreiber sein muss: Spezialisierung ist unter journalistisch Tätigen ein alter Hut. Früher gab es noch Korrektoren bei der Zeitung, heute macht das Microsoft. Bei der „Bildzeitung“, wo ich in den 70ern die Ehre und das Vergnügen hatte, arbeiten zu dürfen hatten wir in der Hamburger Zentralredaktion Kollegen, deren einzige Aufgabe darin bestand, tolle (sprich: zugkräftige) Headlines zu texten wie diese: „Blauer Himmel. Es war kein Tag zum Sterben.“ Weiterlesen »


15. November 2014
Jedem seine eigene Cloud!

Jedem seine eigene Cloud!


Es ist schon eine vertrackte Situation: Während wir alle teures und unersetzliches Heizöl verbrennen, damit wir in der kalten Jahreszeit nicht frieren, wissen die Betreiber von Rechenzentren nicht wohin mit der Abwärme. Das Leibnitz-Rechenzentrum der KMU in München-Garching muss für die Kühlung von „Super-Max“ (wie der europaweit größte Supercomputer genannt wird) immerhin eine Kühlleistung von 8.500 KW bereithalten. Das sind 9.500 Gigawatt – so viel wie eine Kleinstadt.

Die meisten Rechenzentren blasen diese Wärme einfach in die Luft. Die Leibnitzianer haben wenigstens 200 Heizkörper und 2.000 Quadratmeter Fußbodenheizung drangehängt und können das ganze Areal damit im Winter beheizen. Einer Studie der Analystengruppe DCD Intelligence zufolge wächst die Zahl und Größe der Rechenzentren derzeit um ca. 20 Prozent im Jahr, das meiste davon angeheizt (sic!) vom Boom bei Cloud Computing. In den Londoner Docklands, wo die meisten britischen Rechenzentren stehen, ist kürzlich ein Baustopp verfügt worden. Grund: Es ist nicht mehr möglich, genügend Strom heranzuschaffen. Immer mehr Betreiber bauen stattdessen im hohen Norden, weil es dort kühler ist. So hat Facebook jüngst angekündigt, sein Rechenzentrum in der nordschwedischen Stadt Luleaa nahe dem Polarkreis ausbauen. Okay, sie bekommen von der schwedischen Regierung großzügige Förderung, aber das lokale Klima hat bei der Standortentscheidung ein deutliches Wort mitgesprochen: Die Durchschnitts-Außentemperatur beträgt dort nämlich nur 2 Grad Celsius. Weiterlesen »

How digitalization changes our perceptions (of the world and of ourselves)

14. November 2014

Knowledge in this world has less and less to do with specialist expertise, or, as Guardian author Mercedes Bunz notes in her beautiful book “The Silent Revolution: “knowledge tends to swarm all over” This contributes to the fundamental shift in our perception of reality, something that includes our own self-view, as modern cognitive science teaches us. How this comes about is described by Bunz in such as fascinating way that we have decided to paraphrase her essay here in order to explore some of her conclusions and their consequences.

In the “digital space”, Bunz maintains, the nature of knowledge itself is changing:

  • “Instead of one authority that affirms something as a fact, there is now a choir of voices, in whose plurality information needs to stay consistent to be considered a factual..”
  • Vast databases offer a knowledge way beyond everything the memory of an expert could possibly know, and makes it more likely that experts might miss something.
  • Digital information constantly produces news, and facts change fast. This makes expert knowledge supposedly outdated and not accurate.”

This creates something that transcends what we normally describe as media: a new kind of “information sphere” that follows us around wherever we go, thus becoming an important part of our perception of reality. In the past, reality often ended up as media content; now it’s the other way around. Weiterlesen »

Why Digital Natives are not a new generation

13. November 2014
When I grow up I'll be a surfer!

When I grow up I’ll be a surfer!

When the protagonists of the new digital millennium talk about “digital natives”, they aren’t really referring to a “generation” at all; what they mean is a group of people who have already made progress in refining the way they think and their ability to understand and relect upon the new digital reality around them.

Sociologists are fond of dividing human development and history into so-called generations which is slightly misleading because it assumes that a group of individuals born before or after some arbitrarily assigned date either belong or do not belong to the category being described. “Digital Natives” are a prime example.

The ability of the individual to adapt to a changing communications environment has more to do with how we experience and react to changes around us. “Digital Natives” therefore are not just those born after, say, 1989; instead they represent those who have grown accustomed to dealing with digitalization and acceleration and who know how to use them to their own advantage. There are many people around who were born long before than 1989 and who feel perfectly at ease with the digital world. And there are obviously many younger people who have problems adapting to the future.

We believe that is no such thing as a digital native, at least not if the usual sense of attempting to describe a complete generation. Digital competence has nothing to do with biological age but instead depends on the individual’s ability to recognize and adapt to changing surroundings and developments. Anyone attempting to understand a computer by using terms of reference from the Middle ages will fall into the fallacy of describing it as a giant calculating machine. Such a description completely misses the point. Only by employing new terms and principles such as “data” and “data processing” can we truly grasp and appreciate what is going on in technology today. Weiterlesen »