Our Digital Future, Or: With Design-Thinking To Hell

I was invited to participate in a one day workshop by an agency some consider to be amongst the leading digital forethinkers in Germany. The subject was digitalization and the networked city. I went there hoping for & expecting an inspired afternoon with good and forward thinking and inspired ideas. Sadly the opposite happened.

Instead I felt shot back to 2005!

It was:

  • As if Snowden has never happened.
  • As if Trump has never happened.
  • As if we had not seen Facebook using their data to run psychological experiments how to modify the behavior of its users.
  • As if there aren’t new records for DDoS attacks every other month (in their latest edition with Internet Of Things flavor – created by toasters and video cameras).

I was & I am still stunned and frightened by an almost complete absence of critical thinking and dangerous naivety in the room: ‘Let’s just collect data about everything and send it to everywhere. Awesome!’

They come up with ideas like:

‘Let’s connect sensors to our body that send real time data to a lab that then composes the perfect diet for our body and delivers it to our door in the cultural flavor we like.’

I think they would disagree that this is less than a step away from the movie Matrix:

In Matrix human bodies are the energy source for AI-machines. They are feed well and are provided with a perfect illusion of a real life.

Yes! Let’s nuke away some mountains so we can grow organic broccoli!



They brainstorm ideas how to integrate work and free time ever closer for more efficient use of our time. And the next minute they make remarks about their burnouts and therapies. But they don’t make the connection between the first and the second.

I was stunned.

And I am really frightened now! 

These people are payed to create the future of our digital world. And they seem to lack completely the real challenges we are facing for that.

In a recent discussion someone showed me the research that because climate change is so complex and frightening the natural reaction of people is to simply exclude it from their world view. We are just stupid cows in a herd looking to the cow next to us. I guess the same is true when it comes to surveillance and the other real complex problems of the internet.

But why must this be true for the people who design the systems?!

At the beginning of the workshop someone said, that Germany is really behind in digitalization and far away from pioneering. No wonder! If the people in charge of pioneering trying to be better in being Silicon Valley than Silicon Valley itself.

But we are in Germany. We are in a good position to invent a different kind of digital future. We have a problematic past to learn from. We have fantastic organizations like the Chaos Computer Club and Netzpolitik.org, die Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte and many more. We have with Berlin a city that is one of the freest in the world. Germans aren’t afraid of complexity! We are good at thinking things through. Germany could be the place where we build digital tools for a world we really want to live in!

It is creatively lazy to think about creating data about everything and sending this data everywhere. If you start with that premise ideas for new services and products come quickly and cheap. Of course you need also a lot of ignorance for the problems this creates. But it will help if you are comfortable throwing around phrases like: ‘more efficient’, ‘emotionally appealing’ and incredibly still popular ‘3 d printing’.

But this will not do anything good! More likely the opposite!

So why not start differently and take more difficult questions and premises into account?

  • Design things that work without producing and collecting data – that can be traced back to an individual. See data minimization as a way to beauty!
  • Design tools that work without occupying our mind and fucking with our brain chemistry.  At least think about a culture like this. (http://www.timewellspent.io/)
  • Think about solutions to overcome the gaps in our society and allow diverse communities and understanding.

These are just 3 problems to start from. Good solutions starts with the right problem. Don’t be afraid people!


The sad thing is: the Internet of Things will come. Not because customers need it or ask for it. But because large companies need to innovate and sell new products. Therefor they will throw creative brains on the invention and marketing of those products till they found a solution.

The IOT-tech is there. And companies are desperately looking for ways to make it look useful.

Creating and using data about everything is a way for this. Sadly. And once all the data and the possibilities attached to it is there – well isn’t it fantastic how we can use it to control and manipulate ppl. to buy even more new things!

If you are a person hired to create those products. Please. It is possible to make less bad products – for example if you start taking the 3 points above into account (no data, no manipulation, no ‚filter bubbles‘). It is probably creatively hard and more challenging. But …


WEITERLESEN: Open Source Against The Singularity (german)


Two only half related ideas I had in the WS. I liked them and I like to share them here in case someone wants to pick them up.

(1) The Educating Trolldrossel

Linus Neumann invented for his ‘Re:Fefe’ project the ‘Trolldrossel’ (‘dry out trolls’). If someone posted a comment the Trolldrossel did a simple language check. If it detected a possible troll comment the commenter got a Captcha. When it was solved another one popped up saying the solution was incorrect. This repeated … sometimes till the troll went away.

Building on this you could replace the Captcha with questions like ‘Have You Really Read The Article?’ or questions that teach people basic things about Non Violent Communication and similar things ‘How did the article make you feel’ and so on.

(2) ‘Totally Stupid Opinions From People’

A news portal with the name ‘Totally Stupid Opinions From People’. There you have normal news from all realms – extreme right, extreme left etc. The hypothesis is that people go there to get outraged about the stupidity of others. But they learn about other opinions as well.

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Broccoli CREDITS: Broccoli and Cross Section, by FIR0002, CC-BY-NC