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28 Aug

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What keeps me up

August 28, 2011 | By |

Sitting down with a cup of coffee brewed from the excellent Balzac’s beans that an even more excellent person brought me from Toronto, my mind started wandering. There are a whole number of challenges – big and small – that I keep thinking over. Some of them seem rather insolvable, others not so much. Here’s a brief, entirely incomplete and pretty much unstructured snapshot of some of the things that keep me awake at night, and get me going in the morning.

How can we get the insights from the Quantified Self community to work for more people, more easily? How can we use them for medical purposes on a much more mainstream level? And how can this work in government-run health systems – think interfacing with the institutions etc. This is big, and there’s a lot of potential here on many levels (societal, individual health, institutional organization etc).

On the one hand, there’s this huge startup hype going around in Berlin welcoming expat technologists. On the other hand, a creeping anti-foreigner attitude that creeps in disguised in an “anti party tourist” rhetoric. Dangerous and annoying – what can we do about it? And how come the Green party seems like they’re in on it? Looking at my personal environment, it’s all about this diversity: I share offices with people from four countries; my girlfriend is American; a large chunk of my friends are from abroad. Where gentrification is used as a proxy argument against global exchange, my sympathy stops.

Speaking of global exchange, there’s all kinds of global problems that need global solutions, but there are currently no institutions that could tackle them. It’s the incredible complexity of global economics and the speed the world changes that seems to break institutions. This goes down to the personal level and my previous point: the small but growing number of people who live lives on a global or multi-local level (as opposed to nation-based, the state is almost reduced to a backdrop and issuer of identity) almost falls out of the governance structures. At the same time, while totally privileged to work that way, and also contributing lots to local economies and communities, this group faces all kinds of hurdles while moving back and forth. Just ask anyone who tries to work for a few months from another country while on a project of sorts, or founding a company. Again, others have written at much more depth about this – I recommend starting reading Ben Hammersley’s excellent blog.

At least in Germany (but also in many other developed countries), the job market is doomed almost by definition. Demographics look dark for both jobs and pension plans, education can’t keep up, immigration restrictions are tough even for super skilled workers. We produce more as a society/economy, yet still aim for full employment, which only half makes sense. How can we make sure everybody can get by and participate fully (particularly those whose jobs have been made redundant by technology) without getting into early-20th-century capitalism v communism debates that help no one? (This, of course, is kind of the big question here.)

Globally, trust in institutions is way down, including political parties. As someone who majored in political science and worked in election campaigning, this is particularly tough, yet totally understandable. However, how to fix this? No real alternatives to parties have emerged. (Personally, I’m disappointed by the Pirate Party that seemed to take an ambitious stand on this issue, yet ended up combining the worst of both worlds.) We kinda need a quick fix for this, too, as a strong disconnect in politics leads to the rise of dangerous freaks – of which the Tea Party is only one. (Not to invoke Godwin’s Law too early on in the discussion, but having grown up in Germany I’m somewhat sensitive to populism.)

Besides those heavyweight questions, there’s lighter & more positive challenges ahead, too. Funnily, they tie right into the same mechanics as the rest above.

Why can we still not get a decent video streaming service in Germany? (Netflix, I’m looking at you!) As long as national borders – here in shape of licensing deals – delay the global distribution of inherently global services, we all lose. There are many, many, many examples of this, and truly, it’s 2011 – this is a problem of the past that just sticks around because we’re all used to it. Let’s tackle that. Seems doable.

Infrastructure! The apartments I know are still relatively (!) barebones in terms of network infrastructure. Yet, both offices and apartments alike have an abundance of screens large and small. (I’m aware of five in my household – two phones, two laptops, one under-utilized TV. Not counting some smaller gadgets, disused phones etc.) There’s huge potential and so little going on. The good folks at BERG and others have been digging into this for awhile. There’s so much more to do there yet.

And then, of course, there’s always the loveliest of Sunday questions: Who to meet for coffee, and where? And that’s where I’m off to now. Enjoy your Sunday.