Seven Ways of IoWT

Do you feel this gender divide as I do? I don’t lack for help from the capable male “Jasmini” but I need women to come to live with me, to talk with me.

Guest contribution by Jasmina Tešanović[1].

It was my idea to have an open-source connected home of the future. My scheme was accepted by brave new geeks, brilliant people, but mostly male. They gave the house, “Casa Jasmina,” my name: I am grateful for that, but the house is not altogether comfortable.

People are diverse and live in bubbles of limited human understanding. Men and women, poets, philosophers, musicians, architects, designers, engineers — we might try to classify them as idealists or realists — the people in cloud bubbles, or the people in ground bubbles.

Now, a project like Casa Jasmina — is it a hands-on, practical, maker’s project struggling up toward ideals, or is it a set of ideals searching for grounded realities that might prove that high concepts are possible?

Is it a house for the cloud-bubble people, those who invent their own cloud-world before crashing into the ground (or at least landing on it, now and then, to pick up supplies)? Or is a grounded launch-pad for aspiration, where the ground-bubble people assemble tools to reach for the sky?

How can a dream bubble become a real house? How can a “cloud” be a “platform”? Does your grandmother’s beloved chandelier have a role in a space station? What objects belong — not in the world as it is, but in the world as it should be?

When designers think “out of the box,” what box do they unconsciously imagine: an antique carved wooden dowry chest, or some translucent tinted minimal plastic box? We all have our bubbles and boxes, but how is a woman’s box that of a woman?

The “Internet of Things” is a platform cloud that is also a conceptual box. That is its nature as “the IoT”: it is a digital platform for software, it is wireless, computational and data-centered, and it is also a paradigm.

This is why, as I explored a kind of third road between feminiusm and design, an “Internet of Women Things” occurred to me. Could this “IoWT” become a generous place for conceptual projects, ideas and advice, for a sense of emotional beauty and purposeful living? Concepts like these are not often the first impulses for a technology project, but they generally last the longest.

The IoWT is something I saw in the fog, as a “cloud” that is also on the ground. The IoWT might even be an “underground” cloud in some way, of not just airy ideals but of suppressed female energies.

An Internet of Things cannot be merely by and for web technologists, for it embraces-and-extends not just “Things” but also us women, as well as children, or animals or plants, or robots… Right now, my strong belief is that “the IoT” is dangerously outside of women’s world-views. The IoT is so alienating, and so narrowly obsessed with today’s technical and economic needs, that it might well fail altogether. It would be a shame if its profound potential was lost for a generation, in a heap of failed, too-ambitious toys, as happened to similar tech visions such as Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence.

Women as much as men are responsible for technology, and we were major participants in the internet revolution, for good and ill. Women can’t be excluded from modernity by mentioning our chromosomes.

Even when the Internet of Things is under critical attack — for some just and excellent reasons — we should not allow abuses, crimes and accidents to create the rules. “Things” have always been troublesome, while the frontier “Internet” of the twentieth century is also showing its ugly side in seamy business practices, cyberwar and acts of repression.

Well, women know how to survive, and — at least I think so — even how to prevail. I have seen women dealing with wars, humanitarian crises, political and economic disasters. I personally outlived the Atomic Age and the Space Age, so digital fads and fashions don’t alarm me. The Internet of Things, that box, that cloud, that platform, is not beyond my comprehension. On the contrary, I have my hands on it, and I even have something like principles to offer.

And here are some…

1. Critical thinking

Since women are living actively in a men’ s world, a critical rethinking of the things already existing is necessary for upgrading the IoT, into the IoWT. Whenever people collide with tools engineered for the high-tech commercial ambitions of young white male 4 entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley, the results are often clumsy, ugly, tragic or farcical.

Women should not mistake design flaws for gender problems. Women will always be scolded as “bad drivers” if they have to drive oversized and overpowered tanks and tractors, and a similar unfairness and unfitness is baked into legions of historical objects and services, which are just not women-friendly. The devil is in the details, but critical awareness of the devil’s work is a feat that only the best of the devils can achieve.

2. Positive inclusion

The Internet of Things is the project of a technical elite that aspires to universality, so it needs to bring in a much wider variety of people, as participants not just clients. Women must be present and visible, but recent history already shows the very mixed political and social effects of the Internet on language groups, nationalities, ethnicities, regions and peoples.

The world of this decade throngs with frightened refugees, who have Internet but scarcely any “things” left to them. Refugees need bread and shelter first, but these primal needs, which any of us might have after a flood or earthquake, never seems to be any priority for those designing profitable IoT futures of closed-source tech ecosystems and marketing surveillance.

On the contrary, much IoT work is intently focussed on security, hostile exclusion, and physically and mentally-gated communities and buildings — structures and systems designed keep the unwanted, the alien, the dispossessed and the disconnected well outside the IoT barriers.

Human beings need more than roof and bread, points and clicks, to keep us alive and kicking. Where are the positive, inclusive forms of IoT that would keep a screaming two-year-old girl and her mother out of trouble on a broken road? The women who are really “outside the box” are the ones whose boxes have been bombed. How will their voices be heard, how can their visions be recognized?

3. Positive seclusion

IoWT needs a free space for women to meet and teach each other. Women cannot learn all they need to know about their own interests inside technical classrooms where the rules of a male world are long dominant.

When women gather in a space without male oversight, they have a coming-out. The rules change, their behavior changes; women find themselves in a different aesthetic, a moral code that subsumes centuries of female survival traditions, of providing food, cooking, clothing children, fighting sickness, keeping homes from decay and destruction. Much of this is conveyed in quips, jokes and homilies rather than rulebooks and algorithms; very often it is double-talk, since the sociality of the women-to women-world is not politically correct, or even necessarily good.

There are no parliaments reserved for encounters of women. They are gatherings that are un-historical, in a word. Whenever we read historical archives of state affairs and policy, we generally know that it describes and defines whatever was not done by women. But we don’t have records of what women did!

Even creative women professionals, when known as professionals, are generally known for their association with men of the same profession. Our historical predecessors are generally daughters, wives or mothers of some famous guy, touched by celebrity in passing because they are known for joint work. But those stories are not a female history of feminine creativity, it is a kind of spacey conceptual void where women are forever the pioneers, always unexpected interlopers in the world’s official doings, a dissident, often a witch.

These categories vanish when women are alone in the room, though. I’ve witnessed the strength and allure of this, within myself and with other women in small groups where I have been active, sometimes even active against my own will. Groups like the “Mothers of Srebrenica,” the survivors of a genocide who created an alternative women’ s court. Women raped in war in ex-Yugoslavia with their brave testimonies made rape in war into an international war crime, instead of what rapes had always been in the war histories, a footnote at best, a “natural consequence”, certainly known and feared by all women in war, ignored by law and men.

The Internet of Things has many issues affecting women that are never made explicit — some may be grim, but others may be marvelous. Ethics are aesthetics, the content is the form, so “positive seclusion” is not just an experiment, it has good results.

4. Politics and Policy

Women, who are the majority gender, are the world’s biggest oppressed group. They have experienced many and various systems of oppression, and they know that the Internet of Things could simply be another one.

Women on the Internet have long experience in stalking, prying, spying, doxxing, organized harassment and other invasions of privacy by technical means. They’re keenly aware of the insecurity of those who speak out or act up in public digital spaces, so privacy and safety are basic IoWT issues, not just as hardware functionalities, but as rights in themselves: women human rights.

The Internet of Things is advancing in a political era that includes Edward Snowden, Chinese persistent threat hackers, offshore bank leaks, terrorist militias, intelligence services and the titanic surveillance-marketing empires of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft. So when we talk about “connected things” in the IoT, it necessarily means connecting things to these existing entities, and not just some ideal and abstract IoT “cloud.”

Women are subjected to some forms of surveillance because they are women, for instance, at the door of the abortion clinic, or for daring to go un-veiled. They have to fight for the control of their own bodies: our bodies ourselves. For a female celebrity, even a new hairstyle or choice of lipstick can provoke a viral uproar, a situation now increasingly prevalent as any tiny detail in some selfie can become part of a permanent database.

Orwell has already warned us about debasing public language and spiralling into a degraded dystopia. Totalitarianism is living memory, and we’re all paranoiacally aware of how bad things can possibly get. The wringing of hands is not enough. How can the Internet of Things actually improve the private lives of women, and make them more secure in their lived experience as women, rather than less so?

5. Just do it

Some times call for audacity and daring. Women haven’t always lived by the precautionary principle; otherwise there would be no birth-control pill.

In times of tumult, the last may be first. My mother was a teenaged anti-fascist partisan in Axis-invaded Yugoslavia. She used to boast that women in wartime were not delicate sissies, but revolutionary warriors first. Why, she used to argue, should a woman shoot herself in the leg with diffidence and self-doubt, when Nazis are actively trying to kill her? Sure, you as a woman combatant might be crippled in the line of fire, but the enemy might well miss. And the liberation won’t come by itself.

Women don’t emerge from the womb demanding liberation. They become feminists after experiencing frustration and discrimination. A woman doesn’t have to borrow trouble to find plenty of it, but the same goes for opportunity.

We do in fact live in a technical age, where most women are no longer confined to farmsteads, kitchens, churches and endless pregnancies. Technology and women’s emancipation are not identical things, but they are not in binary opposition, either. Because technology and contraception made 20th century revolutionary for women’ s emancipation. Physical strength no longer determined the division of roles and women’s “natural state” was no longer to be a pregnant all her now expanded lifetime.

The Internet of Things has the general flavor of the current Internet major companies and power-players, but the older spirit of the older Internet is not forgotten. The roots of the IoT are as old as electrical networks and telephone networks, where women were always users and participants. Female telephone operators are obsolete now, but there used to be armies of them.

The Internet of Things will also pass some day. New cultural spaces can never exactly reproduce the old discriminations; when you step outside the box you may build another one, but it’s never the same old box.

Why not meet in small groups and boldly build a thousand small boxes, and see what happens? An attractive approach!

6. Design Fiction

We can imagine things we can’t yet do. There is certainly no world peace, for instance, but women create and lead pacifist movements, and are first to clear the rubble whenever the war ends. They don’t do that with male rule-book style of abstract efficiency, but men often save their own bacon by listening and following women.

Gender equality and universal justice are also fantasies, but so is an efficient Internet and a perfectly designed and functional Thing. Every engineer knows the “AM/FM” distinction of “Actual Machines” as opposed to “Fantastic Magic,” so this should give women some poetic license for technological dreams.

So, why not invent speculative, conceptual objects from a woman’ s point of view? Envision and describe things and connections that have never existed before. They may be awkward or pretty, useful or useless, a luxury that becomes a necessity — or vice versa.

Design fiction, ‘fantasia al potere,’ suspends disbelief and makes the implausible more possible. Even traditional artists and artisans can refresh their work by imagining new roles for their work in conjectural worlds.

My favorite form of “design fiction” is not imagining entirely new things — very few real things lack precursors — but in redesigning objects from the heritage we already have. I love old things from our past, because I am sensitive to their emotional and aesthetic value outside today’s store shelves and webpages.

“Things” are just things, especially when they are too many, too old, broken, a useless burden, obsolete, dangerous, dysfunctional, and expensive. But those who know and love their things should have a power to redeem them.

A “lamp” is a thing for an electric power network, but it is also your grandma’s lamp which she used when breastfeeding your mom. Your grandfather’s wall clock is an accurate gravity-powered machine, but is also the presence in the household that played a melody for every fifteen minutes of your father’s childhood.

Find it in your attic, and repurpose it with a little help from your friendly geeks. Women do think differently, and whenever the technology box breaks and cracks a little, it leaks fairy tales of magic wands, self-driving pumpkin coaches and crystalline wearable shoes. Why sweep the cinders, why wait for some remote prince of technology to put that device on your dainty foot?

Workshops of design fiction can make a woman’s point of view explicit: why be patient at the dirty hearth instead of finding love and conquering a kingdom . It is an act of joy and hope to improve one’s dreams.

The atomic bomb was a fairy-tale creation — a monster, “Death, the Destroyer of Worlds” — but although we suffer from realities of our own invention, we also dream. “Technology is neutral,” so they say, as though technology were separate from our imaginings of it, and our mental models for it, our clouds and our boxes. But technology never is neutral, because, unlike nature, technology arises from dream-stuff, and there are no neutral dreams.

7. Diversity

A house is a habitat, a home, a small world, an element of the social cosmos, a nursery and an asylum. A house is primarily the refuge of women with small children, and of the elderly. They who make the most use of a house, and who are most in need of housing, should have roles in creating and maintaining it.

Home technology, home domotica, should expand the agency of people dwelling in the home, rather than removing their creative power in the name of convenience or profit. The elderly are a steadily growing proportion of world civilization, a trend that shows no sign of declining, while the poor, as usual, are everywhere — or, at least, the poor are everywhere they are allowed to go. Children, the world’s new great minority, are fewer in number, alienated from adult sources of power, and even abused by unloving and abstract command-and-control systems.

Those are the needy people for IoWT: we must seek to protect their dignity and capability, empower them, and give them stakes in their growth to adulthood and their prolonged life. The economic crisis has endangered old models of real estate and housing, and the weakest members of society, who once had some obscure niches for survival, now see those places comprehensively commoditized and globalized.

We should not passively allow extremist economic models to instantly crush the character of neighborhoods and cities. This is an alienating process and a transition to nowhere, while the evolution of cities should be toward their deeper humanization and quality of life. Cultural strength and differences will determine the future survival of cities, not abstract electronic vectors of money and power, which spasmodically come and go.

Cities differ radically all over the globe, and standard electronic data protocols will not make the world flat. The way an Italian makes his own coffee is a sacred rite that should be enhanced rather than engineered away, and one should respect and cherish its differences from the way a Briton makes his tea. The way a Serb makes his bread with her own hands conveys a pride that a desktop bread-baking machine cannot grant to her.

Home automation is decades old and has failed many times, enough to fill a science-fiction museum with archaic streamlined pushbuttons. But lack of effort is not comfort, idleness is not wealth, and too many mouse-clicks, like too many butlers, can rob life of its intimacy and dignity. Networks and systems that connect in opaque ways, that camouflage digital decisions, can crash and burn in spectacular fashion; a thousand invisible computers can fail in tangled, thorny ways that a single one never will. When each thing chaotically hooks to a hundred others, what becomes of accountability? If we build human-free systems without an off-switch or an undo button, how will we stop when we err, how will we express regrets and make amends? If we hide from our own needs and desires in tangles of software, how will we even know that we have prevailed?

And now I have a last question, an open question, an eternal question, a no single answer question, to my CasaJasmina brainstorming.
Do you feel this gender divide as I do? I don’t lack for help from the capable male “Jasmini” but I need women to come to live with me, to talk with me. Thank you!

Jasmina Tesanovic in CasaJasmina
Torino April 2016

[1] Jasmina Tešanović is a feminist and political activist (Women in Black; CodePink) she is a writer, journalist, musician, translator and film director. In 1978 she promoted the first feminist conference in Eastern Europe, “Drug-ca Zena” (Belgrade). With Slavica Stojanovic she designs and creates the first feminist publishing house in the Balkans, “Feminist 94″, lasting for 10 years. She is the author of “Diary of a Political Idiot”, translated in 12 languages: a real time war diary written during the 1999 conflict in Kosovo. Since then she has been publishing her works on blogs and other media, always connected to the Internet.

See also ‘Casa Jasmina‘.

Hardware need not be hard: Our BAYDUINO

This is how the story of our BAYDUINO project went.

“There is a reason they call it hardware—it is hard.”
Tony Fadell

“Ideas are cheap. Only execution matters.” This business truism is a mantra, frequently uttered by my co-founder Michael Reuter. And I agree. However, there are two ways from conceiving an idea to executing the project that it entails. The first is the traditional: Go to the workshop, build the prototype, test, and if successful, get orders to build more. The second way, comparably young, is to develop the concept, get a patent, and then find a sweatshop to get your project produced as cheep as possible. The latter became fashionable with companies like Nike in the 1980s; it works of course only if you have global availability of cheap labour and efficient logistics for the goods. The main prerequisite however is that the idea as such can be owned, protected for exclusive exploitation to its inventors.

For artisans, securing intellectual property rights from their creation seems as absurd as it would have centuries ago. No carpenter or tailor would be fooled that their customers would buy their work because of its unique originality of its design. The separation of idea and manufacturing came with industrial mass production, when for the first time the designer became a specialized function within the process of manufacturing. Since the design dictated all the products’ properties and how to do them to the manufacturer, the blue collar workers were rendered exchangable. Once designing things was severed from building them, it was almost natural to split the two no longer connected businesses into separate companies.

Over the last thirty years, we have seen many branches of the manufacturing industry crumble. Textile, once strong in Germany, is almost totally lost. Worst is electronics. If you want to start something with electronics. it seems almost impossible to do without globally sourcing the components. All concerns, environmental and humanitarian likewise have to be abandoned.

When we started working with data, it was obvious that the richest source of data about humans was the so called Internet of Things. More and more devices carry sensors, small instruments that continuously measure all kinds of different values about people’s actions, their surroundings, and even their communication. Some of these devices are fixed, like thermostats or webcams, many are mobile, like the smartphones or wearable accessories.

Smartphones in general are by now the most common IoT gadgets. Their sensor measurements range from geo-location to delicate readings of the magnetic fields. However, the operation systems running on the phones hardly allow direct access to these sensors. Hence it remains basically a black box, how the data is generated. The information exists only mediated through Google’s or Apple’s interpretation of the data.

Understanding, how data works, how it is generated, collected, stored, processed, and finally analyzed and interpreted has become the basic skill in information technolgy. Data science is called the “hottest job” now. Without proper knowledge about the physical actuality behind the data, it stays just theorizing scholastics,

This is how the story of our BAYDUINO project went.

One year ago, I visited the beautiful city of Turin in Piedmont for a special occasion: The grand opening of Casa Jasmina at the Fab Lab there (see my report here). Next door to casa Jasmina sits the Officine Arduino. The Arduino (or Genuino respectively) has become the most common platform to prototype for the Internet of Things. It is open source and strongly tied to the maker culture.

I am not good in soldering. All educational hardware that I tried, ended in disappointment. In particular, most are way too complicated to just give to the kids; they would fail, too, and then come back to me, hoping I could help them. So I had a strong desire to come up with an easy path into sensor hardware. Also I was convinced that it should be possible to source such a projects locally in Munich, maybe with some help from other parts of Europe.

When back home, we discussed my experiences from Turin in our team and decided, that we would start developing. My friend Nils Hitze recommended us to Hans Franke, a hardware expert who turned out to be a total genious. After three month we had our design ready.

The BAYDUINO is an open source hardware board. It is compatible to the Arduino as well as the upcoming BBC Micro:Bit. All components come from Europe, most have traveled less than 150 km – with one exception: The CPU which is Chinese. Sadly we were not able to find a local one. The boards are also assembled locally.

Just two layers of circuitry, one on each side of the board. Every component would be labeled, so you could not only understand, how all the components are connected, but immediately see, what is what. The board carries various sensors like gyroscope, magnetic field instrument, or photo detectors, and five buttons as controls, has a small LED display and can easily be connected to other actors.

The BAYDUINO has an Open Roberta interface which is developed together with the Roberta team at Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Open Roberta is a language that lets children to do robotics with small building blocks of code that can be drag-and-dropped on a graphical user interface. This makes programming the BAYDUINO easy even for children who are not skilled in typing. We are also developing mobile apps for this task because many children have smartphones or tablets but no PC.

Rapid prototyping and accessible SMT placement shops, great support from the community, and of course the open source knowledge that is available on the net were indispensable help to getting the BAYDUINO accomplished.

With our first prototype we started a crowdfunding campaign. And in the next days the first boards will be send out.

The BAYDUINO is our idea of Slow Media translated to hardware and the IoT – Slow Technology.

Link to the Bayduino website:

The first prototype of the BAYDUINO
The first prototype of the BAYDUINO

The final BAYDUINO
The final BAYDUINO

Slow Startups

Remember that time is money.
Benjamin Franklin

If there are two concepts that seem exactly contrary, it’s “Slow” and “Startup”. On the one hand an emphasis on quality, good living, carefully crafted products and relaxation on the other hand a focus on growth, traction and speed. But as we will argue in this post, the two can go hand in hand. Our vision is something like a “craft startup” that can be meaningful and disruptive at the same time. But first, let’s step back into history for a while:

It was Karl Marx who unfolded Franklin’s laconic “Advice to a Young Tradesman” into a theory of money, “Das Kapital”. And not even Hayek was able to argue away the disastrous idea of money being frozen time, when he advocated that economics was much more about negotiating value, instead of trading labour. Two hundred years after Marx, we still accept that taking a rush would stand for efficiency. Of course, you can’t spend a minute of your life twice. Thus, wasted time is irreplaceable, as Arnold Bennett describes in his wonderful “How to Live on 24 Hours a Day”. It is however much more than just a philosophical question, what wasted indeed means.

The startup world is full of time-saving concepts. We have incubators to grow newly founded businesses like mushrooms, accelerators, to speed up everything, from building the product to getting financed, we make our products an MVP, a minimum viable product, not really good, just good enough to see how much traction the startup idea can generate. And we’re doing all this based on the time-saving-philosophies of “Getting Things Done” in a “Four Hour Work-Week” mimicking the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. By the way, the only really successful startup-related business in Germany is named Rocket, and true to their brand name, Rocket is proud to get a business up and running in less than 100 days.

On the other hand, the typical pitch decks presented by startups to potential investors tell a story of world domination by efficiency. Industries have to be disrupted. Nothing less than a revolution has to be delivered by your MVP; a revolution of just-good-enoughness. And one of the best points for convincing investors is that your startup enabling people to perform more tasks in less time or to not even need humans anymore.

”I think people in Europe are generally pessimistic about the future. They have low expectations, they’re not working hard to change things. When you’re a slacker with a pessimistic view of the future, you’re likely to meet those expectations.”

Peter Thiel is right. In Europe, we give our workers more than 25 days of paid vacations. All countries have paid maternity leaves, mandatory employer-funded health care, strict cancellation ruled for employment contracts, and reasonably powerful unions. This is hardly compatible with the glorious frontier, as which Silicon Valley celebrates itself.

But can we think of a startup culture reflecting our values of quality, social responsibility, and lifestyle? How could we slackerish Continentals sustain our businesses against the presumably overwhelming industriousness of founders, who are willing to totally exploit themselves and work 24/7?

“Work hard, play hard” is usually said about people who use drinking to attenuate the unbearable requirements of their work. If you found you own business, this is regarded as tough. The logic why it has to be seems to go like this: If it wouldn’t be incredibly hard, why would anybody still accept the boredom and humiliations of being an employee?

The idea of having to earn something instead of just being given it as a present is the core of the protestant religion. It is an ideology, a dogma, rather than a theory supported by empirical evidence. So maybe it is sufficient to just overcome this notion? Maybe we can just start to work self-determined, at our own speed, according to our own values instead?

This is where our Slow Media concept can translate into the idea of a Slow Startup:

1) Attachment instead of obsolescence

‘Getting things done’ is just the opposite of doing things. This is not just some shallow Zen truth. ‘Getting things done’ expresses explicit contempt for the process of making that leads to planned obsolescence. “If it works, it’s obsolete”, as McLuhan put it. Attachment is a feeling that is formed over time. To feel attached to your work and the products you make is in itself gratifying. Industrialization severed the workers from their product, disenfranchised them; Entfremdung, alienation, is Marx’ term for this. Maybe attachment is the first step to making your startup slower.

2) Craft instead of intellectual property

The value of a Prada bag does not originate in the fact that it is protected intellectual property. In fact, it is easier to buy a pirated copy of most luxury goods than the incommensurably more expensive originals, which are often only available in very few stores in the world. Of course it is necessary to defend your work against fraud and denigration, but this is certainly beyond the idea of guarding some obscure legal titles that draw their value rather from the ability of your lawyers (and the size of your legal’ budget), than from what you really created. Let’s sell our craft, let’s create goods, not commodities. Let’s create things that people would by because they are genuine, not because they fear prosecution.

3) Don’t lock-in your customers

The so called network effect is perhaps the most important reason for startups to do their business in such a rush. The network effect occurs when a company can set their solution as a standard, and then secure exclusive economic utilization. The curse of digital media is that they tend to support winner-takes-it-all games. When one service manages to gain enough advantage to its competition, the market tends to concentrate on this service. When everybody is on Facebook, costs of abstention are unbearably high, and spending your attention to a smaller competitor feels increasingly like a waste of time. If you choose Apple to run your things, there is hardly room for variety anymore. We don’t want to lock our customers in our products. We don’t want to force people to use a product we offer, just because they once decided to buy another product from us without realizing the consequences. We want to collaborate, to be part of an environment, not to pretend to be able to create the whole ecosystem on our own.

4) Be democratic, avoid brand fascism

We want to provide versatile tools, not totalitarian take-overs. We want to respect people’s privacy. We need to process data. We don’t want to take ownership of people’s lives by doing that. Our brand gives you trust that what you bought is worth its price.

5) Algorithm ethics

Be aware of value judgements. Just because you decide that a feature of your product seams logic they way you do it, doesn’t mean it is necessarily the only way it could work. Everything that is designed contains value judgments, arbitrary decisions made by the designer. Let’s make our decisions visible, let’s make our motives transparent. Let’s show the levers and set screws that govern the behavior of our product. Let’s invite people to hack our tools. Only what gets hacked eventually gets secure.

6) Accept no slavery

It is hard to imagine that any citizen of the 21st century would willingly accept others to be enslaved. Apparently, however, most gadgets are manufactured by sweatshops under unacceptable conditions. And lots of startups deeply depend on these global “bads”. Whole industries have offshored their manufacturing. Instead of valuing the production, the product itself gets commoditized. The manufacturer is just a random fab that was able to get the tender because it would undercut the competition. Let’s keep our product clean and bright, let’s not contaminate our work with the exhaust of those black satanic mills.

7) Be slow

“Those who live by disruption will die by disruption.” Our answer will be: “Go, disrupt yourself, while we are building something valuable.”

Memetic Turn

[Original German Blog Post]

“The Hanged” from the Tarot Deck of Charles VI., Paris, early 15th century.

The symbolism of Tarot – similar to that of alchemy – forms a pre-modern memetic system. Tightly knit into other more or less esoteric programs of meaning, like Qabbalah or astrology, its images are at first illustrative – they picture very well, what can be seen on it, at second they bear an arbitrarily assigned symbolic value. The particular with memes as well as with metaphors is there creating a common space of meaning between several human beings, by which these different beings identify with.

“Literacy, the visual technology, dissolved the tribal magic by means of its stress on fragmentation and specialisation and created the individual.”

“The tribalizing power of the new electronic media, the way in which the return us the the unified fields of the old oral cultures, to tribal cohesion and pre-individualist patterns of thought, is little understood. Tribalism is the sense of the deep bind of family, the closed society as the norm of community.”
Herbert Marshall McLuhan

“Everything is divisible, thus there cannot be an individual.”

“The meaning of such symbols [of letters] is largely independent from colour: a red or a black “A” mean the same sound. […] Thus the current explosion of colours points to the tending to loose importance of unidimensional codes like the Alphabet.”

“History begins with the invention of writing, not because text keeps the processes, but because it transforms scenes into processes: it creates the historic consciousness.”
Vilém Flusser

ממטית המהפך

Writing and Society are tied together in an immediate way. With text, particularly the newspaper which shall become the first real mass media in the 19th century, people are able to get informed homogeneously over large distances. However, it was of course not before the advent of the railroad and telegraph that this would have been of any importance. These are the fundamentals on which for the first time a truly supra regional economy – the national economy could develop. The local community, the village, at the same time decreases in its aspect of being the common destiny, like already been declared by Tönnies.

“Newspaper is the glue of society”, as exclaimed recently by Helmut Heinen, president of Germany’s Newspaper Publishers’ Association.

But some aspects seam to resonate no longer with this proposition, like Daniel Schulz had also replied to in Der Standard by responding to the newspaper man: “Not the paper, but the images of cats are the glue of society!”

Daniel was not correct, although – I am convinced about that – did mean the right thing. Images of cats are not the glue of society but of communities! Thus they are not only to the least extent the glue of society but even more, what I will explicate in the following, they will even corrode society.

These images of cats – in my own community’s case it is more images of fowl, especially of runner ducks – are very special signs, closely related to metaphors, allegories or emblems. Although not fully in the mind of its inventor, it is now common to call this kind of image-signs memes. The meaning of memes is often hermetic, not to be understood outside the community in which they are shared.

Within memes – which are usually hardly iconic but rarely abstract signs – is often concentrated a complete universe of meaning and relationships, by which the members of a community are connected to it. Memes are common spaces of projection of our unconsciousness: “In the darkness of an exteriority I may find, without recognising it as such, my own interiority or the mental.” (C.G. Jung on the allegories in Alchemy).

Memes thereby take the function that in the pre-modernism the metaphor and especially the allegory would have held:

With metaphors things can be made visible, that could not be told explicitly. “Metaphoric imagery broadens the horizon of the thinkable by shattering the boundaries of mental rationality and thus opens essential spaces of possible articulation for speculative thoughts.” writes Jörg Zimmer. By equalising non-identical terms, it makes manifest the connective attributes; metaphors generate identity between the otherwise differentiated. Metaphors, though, express at first those images in the mind of the speaker (“sender”); the receiver of the metaphor will initially not hold the identical image in his mind, but populate the metaphor with his own associations. In the same way, in which the meaning attributed to the metaphor by its sender becomes similar to the meaning, the receiver puts into it, the metaphor generates identity between different persons; metaphors generate communality.

Memes act contagious. You are infected, if you have once identified yourself with.

History of Turns

The Linguistic Turn, like described above, was the consequence of a population growing together and becoming increasingly well educated with high literacy and the technological infrastructure of mass transport and mass communication over large distances. With the Linguistic Turn of modernism the ancient communities get dissolved, societies – nations and states form and newspapers, resp. mass media are the glue of these societies. The metonymy removes the metaphor as leading trope in rhetoric: “Berlin declares war to Paris”.

With the illustrated magazine and in particular with television, the 20th century brings the Iconic Turn – images transmitted by mass media. Going with the merging of the once competing national societies to supranational blocks of NATO, Warsaw Pact or European Community, the visually powerful media deliver an internationally valid repository of images. These technologically mass distributed images are mostly non-metaphoric; they show mainly, what can be seen on it.

The News-at-Six become the nation’s camp fire and the utopia of solidarity between people far above the narrow space of a community seams to become reality.
For the coarse grid of the political and economical contexts of the second half of the 20th century, these mass media are able to supply an audience of millions daily with the little relevant intelligence, necessary for national cohabition: the wood-cut party policy in the parliaments, the interplay of ones owns nation with other states, the crude news of a constantly growing economy, always held in plain language, comprehensible also for “people with moderate education”. Irony is the figure of the Iconic Turn – often however in form of cynicism.

Since the 1980s there are visible signs of corruption on mass media, although at first concealed by the enormous success of private television resp. after the fall of the iron wall by the backlog demand of former Soviet sphere of influence.

At once it was no longer so important to read what would have happened on the international theatre on the previous day. The glue of society began to become brittle. And the Web just came handy for this development. No longer getting informed – but arranging yourself the things you take as necessary. Like the famous German social researcher Renate Köcher had realised in horror from the longitudinal surveys of her Institute for Demoscopy at Allensbach: people do not get informed differently now – strictly speaking they would not let themselves get informed at all! Mass media do not get substituted in their function, it is more that they vanish away. And not physically – people still watch television – but in their effect.

Our social graph, the network of our communal relationships supplies us with the things that we would want to know about. This is the filter that before was formed by the editorial teams of the media. We organise our relationships by the Net, like in former times we as the citizen of the state would get oriented by mass media. “The end of the Grand Narrative” by which post-modernism is often described, means history becoming a collection little stories. This is “Atemporality“, where “literature collapses before our eyes“. Mass media’s standard language gives way to the vernacular dialects of Net culture. “New media are new archetypes, at first disguised as degradations of older media.” (McLuhan)

The membership in these new memetic community is not to be compared with the “being born into a community” of pre-modernism. Those are relatively loose structures, partly only temporarily stable and we are rarely exclusively at home in just one of them. These communities are kept together symbolically by Memes.

This Memetic Turn marks the transition into the post-modern age. The dwindling influence of the national structures with at the same time dissolving international political structures leads to also to their medial tools becoming dull.

Thus it becomes clear how the revolutionary movement in Spain is related to the overthrow in Tunisia and Egypt. It is fascinating to see how the seemingly lacking of formulated common goals and any form of constituted organisation swamps the old media, still thinking in terms of society. It is the Hash-Tag that brings people together, the #spanishrevolution-meme as projective space, above which people synchronise on their longing for a different form of living together in a post-social communality, no longer controlled by ineffective party policy.

Further reading:

Modernism is our classical antiquity

The Illusion of the Free Internet

[Original German Blog Post]

Dec. 4 (Bloomberg) — PayPal Inc., the payment processor owned by EBay Inc., cut access today to the whistle-blowing website for violating its acceptable use policy.


Earlier this year, I wanted to order a book at an Indian publisher. When trying to pay via the PayPal-link on the publisher’s homepage, I was shown a message, that PayPal would no longer allow money transfers with India. Just that. Without stating any reason.

In the discussion about Google Streetview, one argument has especially stricken me: people, not wanting to contribute their homes to Google’s database, face the accusation, they would promote “censorship”, or would even be “against the freedom of the Internet” – and likewise harsh criticism.

The truth is: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Ebay are economic enterprises. The way, Amazon and Ebay deal with Wikileaks show, which kind of free these companies really represent: free as in free beer – and it has little in common with freedom, that many convenient services of these companies are apparently for free.

If the publications of Wikileaks should be protected or damned, is not the question, discussed here. Ethical or political arguments are not discussed by Amazon and Ebay at all. They solely refer to their terms and conditions, which Wikileaks might have broken objectively.

If we leave the Internet to the Googles, Facebooks, Amazons and Ebays, we degrade the Internet zu some machinery for manipulation and marketing. Every society – even every community – should take care to not completely economise their most important contents and interfaces. Regulations like the Fixed Book Price Agreement or the broadcasting legislation have originated from this idea – and they have been successful in the “old” media world over decades. Now it’s about bringing forward the freedom of the media politically and ethically and not merely driven by economy.

Boycotts may help to reach out to companies – and in our abstinence from beloved services, they show us how dependent we may have in fact become. But in the end, the only help is, getting alternatives ourself.

Read more:
Virtual Broadcasting
Without Google

My third day without Google.

[Original German Blog Post]

Leave aside the fact that Google was happy to censor results for China until its servers were hacked. The fact is, Google still censors search results in other countries at the request of their governments. […] Censoring results for years, shifting course for entirely unrelated reasons, and then vilifying competitors who don’t jump on the bandwagon. (Though, of course, completely Google’s prerogative.) But it’s particularly hypocritical when Google is still happily censoring its search and YouTube products for other countries.

Today’s post on my using the Net without search engines I wrote in Berlin. Accordingly it is burdened with
the pompous solemness of a federal capital.

The indifferent position of Google, Microsoft and other media conglomerates – up to being willingly supportive to regimes of injustice – should earn our harshest criticism. Reports like Google giving in with the French authorities leave also a feeling of helplessness. What happens if such a core part of our communication infrastructure can be bound by mere administrative acts?

Obviously something is missing: to respect online media as more and more relevant platforms of the formation of our political and social opinion; to grant online media the constitutional and administrative rank, that they should get for long by their relevance.

With censorship we usually associate violent suppression of critical opinions or positions that deviate from the mainstream. The expatriation of Ovid, the church’s index, the bourgeois-authoritarian censorship in Metternich’s Deutscher Bund – to the murderous systems of totalitarian censorship in the twentieth century: at first sight there are few reasons why it should be allowed to states to limit free speech and the access thereto.

However, taking a more subtle perspective there are very well some points why we do have the right to argue with Google. Defamation, breaking laws, hate speech, all this is banned from media with good reason. And with good cause there is the Press Council and the option to go to court. We should not let us getting persuaded, that our asking for keeping to democratic rights would be breaching the dyke (what a metaphor!) for censorship and would take us the legitimation to promote globally our understanding of freedom of opinion.

To regard the Internet as today’s broadcasting, as the Bavarian prime minister has demanded in his key note to this year’s Medientage München Conference, I consider completely justified. The Internet not just takes the role that broadcasting used to hold, it even today does much more in distributing opinion, information and entertainment than the publishers or broadcasters would ever have.

So it is even more important to take care for plurality, for a multitude of offerings amongst which also the publicly funded, cultural, and journalistic freedom should be found.

Although I am living my third day without search engines, I am not that naïve to believe my own Google-fasting to be more than a temporally limited abstinence: I do not want to abandon search engines permanently or totally. I wished that out Europe’s societies’ centre would form a liberal civil rights movement, articulating atractive alternatives of the kind of Wikipedia or OpenStreetmap in the Net.

The other posts of my experiment “Without Google”:

  • Everything is turned into a highway
  • Digital Litercy
  • Censorship
  • Orientation with Openstreetmap
  • Valuable recommandations

    and the beginning of the experiment:

  • Without Google
  • “So literature collapses before our eyes” –
    Non-Commodity Production

    private authorship, the competitive goal-oriented individual
    tribal elitism, charmed circle, cf. the “neck verse”


    With flip from manuscript into mass production via print comes the corporate reading public and the historical sense
    slang, dialects and group identity, separates composition and performance, divorces eye and ear

    McLuhan’s tetrad-model: four aspects of the effect of media on culture and society. This example Print and the second one Xerox are quoted from “The Global Village” by McLuhan and Powers, Oxford University Press 1989.

    The idea of copyright – the right to retain publication of one’s own words – is much younger than other forms of intellectual property laws. Patents to protect the economic exploitation of technological invention, for example, have been granted by the city’s sovereign since the times of ancient Greece. But not sooner than in the 18th century the perceived value added to a society and its economy by the written word would justify a legal concept to aliment writers. The first copyright law clearly formulates this goal in its title: “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned“, also called the Statue of Anne.

    Yesterday, Bruce Sterling cried out his concern about the future of literature in three Tweets:

    “*Economic calamity that hammered music hits literature. The “solution” for writers? There isn’t one.
    So literature collapses before our eyes, while the same fate awaits politics, law, medicine, manufacturing… finance and real estate…
    Diplomacy, the military… we’re not gonna die of this, but man, the deeper 21st century looks like nothing anyone ever imagined.” (1,2,3)

    The catch-all political party, trade unions, music industry, newspapers, advertising and even the production of art and literature – all are effected by this changing culture to the core. I think we can identify two main drivers for this change if we consider what the function of these mass-cultural phenomena had been in the past.

    speed of printing process
    oral tradition, the committee

    (could be “digital print as well”)
    everybody a publisher
    assemly-line book

    The first I would call retribalisation (following the term used by McLuhan).
    The concept of society was defined in opposite to community by Hermann Thönnies in his famous foundation of sociology “Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft” in 1887. A community is tied together by something held in common – normally the fate shared by living in the same village. People living in a community know each other in person and information is distributed mostly by word of mouth. Thus oral culture and a common set of allegories give the ground for communication. The mass-alphabetisation brought the mass-society. The man of the crowd was coined by Edgar Allen Poe in his famous short story of this title in 1840. The actor of this modern, industrialised society is no longer a person, it is the individual. The characteristics of an individual can thus be derived from objectives that can be observed from outside. In the modern society of the industrial age, nearly everything you had to know to measure someone would have been their job. The goods that people would exchange became commodities. Mass media – which I shall use as an umbrella for all these topics lined up above – homogenise a society by reaching out to everyone simultaneously. Since the 1950, this has changed dramatically. Social strata or milieu would no longer account for consumption habits. Two individuals of the same socio-demographic profile might have completely different styles of living, preferences in music or consumer brands. What brings people together is no longer social position but to have something in common – the return of the community, but no longer defined by common destiny but much weaker, by some common interest that is highly dependent to the momentary mood and situation in which people find themselves. The Web is the perfect means to organise, inform and entertain such loosely knit communities globally.

    The second was sketched by Bruce Sterling earlier: atemporality as he calls it; the end of the great narrative, end of progress, or even end of history. The consequences for creative artists that he sees are dire: the choice of re-arranging findings from the past, eclecticism or “the Gothic castle” as he calls this artistic approach, Punk, the bricolage. Or alternatively generative creation, aggregating small contributions of a large group of people; favela chic in Sterling’s words.

    Both developments had been foresighted by some thinkers right after WWII. Most prominent are Herbert Marshall McLuhan and independently from him Vilém Flusser. Both see the decline of written word in favour of the rise of a new oral culture, globally organised in tribe-like structures, tied together by a common set of allegories. The breakup of copyright is the direct consequence to this.

    The “solution” for writers? There isn’t one.‘ If we use the tetradic set of questions, shown above, on copyright we could get a glimpse on how copyright (and its projected fading away) may affect the publication process:

    1. What does the medium enhance?
    2. What does the medium make obsolete?
    3. What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
    4. What does the medium flip into when pushed to extremes?

    Copyright enhances private authorship and leads to a ‘bourgeois’ creative who is paid for his word. The dilettante, the aristocratic amateur enthusiast are rendered obsolete. The professional writer however shares some aspects with the scriptor, the cleric scholar who was funded by the monastery to perform his art. Regarding the forth tetradic questions: by the ecstasies of claiming ownership on intellectual property as seen in the plethora of cease-and-desists fired into the crowed by some corporations to claim their intellectual property rights against bloggers, or the “three-strikes-out”-initiative into which the European Commission was driven by the publishing industry’s lobbyists, the copyright, originally made to foster broad accessibility of knowledge, makes this knowledge less accessible again and creates elites, that still want (or are able) to afford to buy the publications. – Just to make it clear: I personally am opposed against the notion of regarding everything in the Net for free; but to see the consequences of this cultural development, we have to take a neutral angle. – I am convinced that the decay of the royalty-system for authors based on copyright is even accelerated by this effort to defend it.

    Some hope might be found in long-tail distribution-systems like iTunes or Amazon which cut out the publisher and in theory directly connect the producers with their clients. But I think, that we already see the margin left for authors as well as the number of possible sales are to be expected to stay rather small. And at the same time, there is so much that can be obtained completely for free in the Internet, that to buy something becomes even less attractive. “The dark side of the free and open” is the decline of the classic publication economy, as Geert Lovink remarks. This leads to the end of handling publications as a commodity. How to make a living from non-commodity-production, from giving your work away for free? On the other hand: how many authors, musicians, composers etc. have been able to make their living by their arts in the past!

    Nevertheless: walking down McLuhan’s tetrad, we can expect to get back into a culture of more or less sophisticated dilettantism as seen in most parts of the blogosphere. Small contributions, often highly specialised, often collaged and Punk-style, like Bruce Sterling describes in his post. But on the other hand, we see the return of the scriptorium. Corporate publishing, PR, corporate or brand storytelling; authors, writing to support their consultancy-work and other freelance businesses I would also take into this category. Both live-forms of the future-author, the dilettante and the scribe do no longer support the individual “artist-creator” who can be attributed as the sole author of his work and thus gets paid by royalties.

    We will see publications and creations of art, perfectly adopted to the preferences and needs of very small communities; new publications emerging fast, drawn to existence by monitoring, google alerts and inspiration to write something through tweets, just noted by chance.

    A possible form of organising these micro-publications is a content network, doing for content, what an ad network does for ads. Bringing all together, corporate publishing, advertising and the user’s still existing desire to get entertained and inspired, might even lead to some monetary compensation for the participating authors.

    A second path could lead into creating a new area of public space in the Internet, funded by tax-like fees as to be seen in Europe’s public broadcasting landscape. This public space should be curated in a way, ensuring to maintain cultural productions of high class.

    All told, I truly acclaim to Bruce Sterlings speculation: “we’re not gonna die of this, but man, the deeper 21st century looks like nothing anyone ever imagined.”

    Further reading:
    Memetic Turn
    Modernism is our Classical Antiquity
    The End of History – for Creative Professionals
    Virtual Broadcasting

    Paper and Sustainability

    [Original German Blog-Post]

    Traunsteiner Salzmeierzyklus “Sustainability” says the man in the video on the screen, “means to do the same things all day. The opposite of flexible”
    – For me this marks one of the most impressive moments of the Mediamundo Congress for sustainable media production that took place in Berlin these days.

    For some this term is already degraded to marketing buzzword, whilst most people just misunderstand it. Good start to become an empty shell, a dead word.

    The concept of sustainability roots in forestry.It has been clear to lumber men for century, that one can only fell as much as can grow again. Since in this industry often two or more generations pass between seeding and harvesting, it is no wonder that latest with the rise of wood intensive products at the end of the middle ages, like the growing fleets sailing ships becoming bigger and bigger or the salines with their increasing need of fuel to evaporate the brine, sustainability entered the economy explicitly. At the age of steal and black coal and later petrol the concept of sustainability apparently at first became obsolete.

    Of the 390 million tons of paper that is produced annually, Europe and the US consume just under the half. Germany with a per capita consumption of 256 kg (in 1950 it used to be just 40 kg) is just a bit short behind the US and far above the European average. Just the portion of 7.4 million tons of paper that is produced from freshly cut trees and not from recycling used paper are more then what whole Africa consumes. At first it is the huge area of forests – 20 % of global wood harvest goes for producing paper; more than 50 million cubic metres just for Germany. Apart from that a major factor is the water that is consumed in paper production. 7 litres go for one kilogramme of paper, the larger part of that remains as toxic waste.

    It seems to be a long way until print will become sustainable. Although newspapers are nowadays produced from recycled paper completely, for other printed matters the portion of used paper has been declining for years. Thus it is to aim at these three goals:

    1) Avoid
    Particularly with advertising matters it is unintelligible how even valuable brands send spam mailings unabashed to distribution lists hardly filtered. Also catalogue retailers hardly ever manage to adopt to their customer’s needs, who are tired from waste paper to jam letterbox or paper basket. Junk mailings and free standing inserts that get tossed out of the newspaper by most of the readers (“de-bonning” – it has even a name!). Then the printing out Emails and other office stuff. And finally also an appeal to printer manufacturers: as long as it is even hard for technically skilled personnel to get two-sided documents printed straightaway, the back sides remain unused.

    2) Recycle
    Recycling paper has to become standard again. The German administrations often refer to EU law and would see a distortion of competition in restricting on certain paper qualities. Also by bid invitations no recycling ration would be provided. That this is just pretext is proofed by the Netherlands with their negotiated agreement to commit ecological paper in administration. However it is again the hardware manufacturers that are in charge here: as long as it is unclear, in how far recycling paper leads to higher abrasion and more frequent maintenance for the devices, at least some uncertainty remains for the use of recycled paper.

    3) Certification
    Even a strictly ecologically oriented printing shop has to use fresh fibre paper. Trees as commodity cannot be replaced. But it is exactly here where another strength of paper lies, compared say with electronic media: it is renewable resource, to some extend CO2 is even bound permanently. It is time to return to forestry of the times prior to the industrial revolution – to let regrow the wood that is cut.

    International transparent attestations like the certificate of the Forrest Stewardship Council provide the paper processing companies the security, that they would in fact buy commodity that is produced sustainably – and not just do greenwashing. It is gratifying as it is already accepted and deployed in wide parts of the business. The demand on clean wood is however so strong, that it is hardly possible to cover the needs with FSC certificated forests. To not become just utopia, a certificate has to compromise, which is not without problems. “While for some we already ring hollow, our criteria are still unaffordable for many others.”, describes Uwe Sayer of FSC Germany the predicament between credibility and practice.

    Paper is a wonderful medium – under reasonable good conditions, it keeps its content readable for centuries. No playing devices are necessary, no power supply. Under this aspect paper has been sustainable as such ever since.
    All the more important is to take the step to give also paper manufacturing a long term perspective for the future!

    “Well, now, this is a surprise; a glorious surprise too,” said the paper. “I am now finer than ever, and I shall be written upon, and who can tell what fine things I may have written upon me. This is wonderful luck!” And sure enough the most beautiful stories and poetry were written upon it, and only once was there a blot, which was very fortunate. Then people heard the stories and poetry read, and it made them wiser and better; for all that was written had a good and sensible meaning, and a great blessing was contained in the words on this paper.”Hans-Christian Andersen, The Flax

    The Brand Eins

    [See german post and comments]

    „To me“, that is what my friend Anna said, „to me slow media is brand eins.“ Everytime she is at home at her friend Peter’s house – who subscribes to the magazine brand eins for years – and everytime she has time and quiet to do so, she reads a brand eins. And everytime she likes it, she says. “No matter whether it’s the current issue or from the last year. Even if I do not agree to every article, brand eins is always well done and worth reading.” This describes exactly what I want to call media sustainability. The articles published in brand eins are longlasting and stay fresh over months and years. Their effect does not stop with actuality, nor does it stop at one single reader. A brand eins is enough for several readers.

    Behind Slow Media are real people, that is what we say, and you can feel that. And that is how you feel behind brand eins the people who make it, people who always believed in this magazine. Even after the failure of Econy, the forerunner of brand eins, they believed in bringing close economy and ethics. And in including high-end Editorial Design (still cared of by Mike Meiré). Of course the chief editor Gabriele Fischer and her team do not write all the articles themselves. But their way to look at the world, the values they share and their attitude towards their readers speak to us throught their magazine.

    This is not just showing-off, something they only say or pretend to be. You find these values – without getting too much into details – also in the contracts with their authors. Of course authors also give away their rights of use, just as in other magazines. But – and that is a big difference – they are spoken to as respected partners who add value to a valueable content. Trainees are told to write articles that are worth reading even after an year. So what my friend Anna told me was no coincidence. This after-effect is a declared aim. This luxury of quality is not only focussed on hit and run selling but on longterm effect. The ambition is being read and inspiring people, not just selling. It’s about bonding with the readers. And that creates loyality.

    This attitude allows courageous decisions. For example the Special Edition April 2000 (sustainability until now: over 10 years). The first 30 pages are dedicated to the Cluetrain Manifesto and its 95 theses concerning the change of the markets driven by the internet. The Cluetrain Manifesto is now known to have been visionary. It has still unbroken, even increasing actuality (itself a perfect example for slowness). At that time is was unknown and strange. Everyone else was happy with the dotcom-boom. It was not evident to talk of markets being conversations and of the end of fast profits. But the manifesto touched the brand eins team and they decided to follow their inspiration with a special edition. This was exactly while the boom peaked in mid march 2000. “Didn’t we – despite all enthusiasm for the founding boom – expect more from the New Economy than just more and still more millionaires?”, asked Gabriele Fischer in the preface of that special edition. Managers and politicians didn’t want to answer, their press officers where told to say they didn’t have time to answer that sort of questions. Well, but the brand eins wanted to look for answers.

    When did they finalize the april issue? Before the crash? At the peak? After the crash? Anyway. An opposite position like that was courageous and risky. You don’t do this when you just want to sell your edition.

    So here is good news for those who think “slow” might be just romantic and far from reality: Users feel the mindset behind media. They notice the ambition behind it – like my friend Anna – and they are ready to pay for it. Slow Media can be well done and profitable.

    You might say that Anna herself did not pay for the magazine – so inspiration does not necessarily create profit. Here is my answer: Her friend Peter does not have time enough to read the brand eins, but he still subscribes it. He would never cancel his subsription of brand eins just because he does not have time to read it. He stands by his magazine, he told me, no matter how short time is. That is loyality between readers and their magazine.

    Additional note:

    Gabriele Fischer just answered the question “When did they finalize the april issue?”: The april issue was already produced when the dotcom-boom was still blowing up. The Cluetrain-Special-Edition of the brand eins was in the printing process when the dotcom-boom turned into a bursting bubble on March, 13th.


    Other articles on magazines on the english Slow Media Blog:

    Wired Magazine

    Scientific American