You need to see Internet tech and society as a married couple to make change happen

“LOOK, don’t you think this is craaaaaazy dangerous to our social security system?”, my best friend Luis screams. I can barely hear him. We’re riding our bikes against 1000 km/h of wind. I’m touched by his caring words, though. I, too, think it’s dangerous as fuck riding a bike under these weather conditions. Then, I realise that Luis actually didn’t mean me. Adamantly, he points at a Foodora bike messenger on the road, who just returns from his task of meal delivery for one of the creative agencies located here, on Amsterdam’s famously lit Haarlemmer Straat.

Amsterdam’s Haarlemmer Straat: epicenter of hipness and home to questions of social justice?

Luis only explains himself after we’ve stopped at a decorous Bruine Café for beer and Bitterballen, the dutch afternoon calorie combo. What gets Luis so upset: “For me it’s all the same: AirBnB, Uber, Foodora. They cut out intermediaries, which is great– for our wallets. They help private people earn some side money, awesome. But these web platforms are entirely unregulated, and they move way too fast for our societal system to take care of it. If you are a Foodora delivery guy or an Uber driver, you’re just a commoditized robot controlled by a tech giant, which makes millions without giving a fuck about you or your health care plan. At AirBnB, it’s even worse. I see how flat owners suddenly rent out already scarce apartments commercially to tourists. Instead of giving them to local residents. Amsterdam is expensive to live, and these people just capitalise on it.”

YEAAAAHHH, I know. He’s talking black and white (actually, just black). There’s another side. A side advocating the law of supply and demand, the freedom of choice and the benefits of mobile access to ANY service at your fingertips. But, I understand Luis’ point. It’s very Western European to think that way– We pay a lot of taxes to benefit from awesome things like free education and great healthcare. The internet annuls these functions and it’s difficult to blame anyone (the market? the companies? the consumer?). In the wake of UBER’s increasingly bad reputation as a zero-humane company*, Luis’s well-placed in worrying about social security, price dumping, and the damn greediness that comes with hyper-liberalism.

What’s a life worth living under the influence of tech?

The discussion is worth more than Bitterballen-flavoured bar talk in Holland (surprise!). It sets the stage for the #1 opportunity of our times: We have the chance to leverage technology in order to become more humane. What does this mean? Tech has a vast impact on our patterns of interaction, productivity, consumption, work, social positioning – Profound areas of our life. That’s why we need to assess how technology influences the dimensions of a life worth living. I’m making assumptions here but for me, I feel most free when I’m…

1. free to make personal decisions (sex, religion, gender, work…)
2. financially carefree
3. able to contribute to meaningful social interaction
4. embedded in a community of loving & caring individuals
5. powerful enough to help others succeed
6. socially recognized.

Technology requires us to think & act like a mini political government for ourselves because it determines to what extent we can live up to this (very high-level) charta above. This, in turn, means we have to actively discuss tech in the context of human rights, policy making & democracy. The question we need to work for is:

Instead of passively staying at the mercy of large (digital) corporations, how can we actively harness digital technology to grow as a peaceful, humane society?

I’ve asked myself this question from a lot of different angles. To begin with, here are my…

Top 5 observations about how technology helps us to build lives worth living in 2017 👩‍💻

  1. End-to-end platforms. It shows: we are d o n e with paying a price premium to intermediaries for products we purchase. Amazon Marketplace. Uber. Etsy. People know how to get services more directly, cheaper & faster. They aren’t only consumers but become suppliers, next to commercial players on the same platform (e.g. private flat owners & holiday rental companies on AirBnB). They share their belongings when they don’t need them without having more hustle. Artificial Intelligence does the rest: the new industry sector arising with these platforms is called “Conversational Commerce”, aka. my friend Luis’ inhumane nightmare. Instead of talking to humans, you just text chatbots called Magic, Operator, or Poncho to order just about anything you can imagine (Flowers, Food, Weather Forecasts). Key tags: #platform #chatbot #conversationalcommerce
  2. Curated Information & Aggregators. We live in times of fake news and the strongest confirmation bias mankind ever surrendered to. Who wonders? It’s just too much information! A million offers for the same observation, product or service. We’re lazy but also, we’re intelligent. Which is why the internet supplies us with services that filter, curate & aggregate information of the same type. That’s the reason for the success of Flipboard for reading news, Netflix for watching videos, Idealo for comparing product prices at online shops, and Capterra / Slant / ProductHunt for finding the right software. Before, technology helped us putting information out there. Then, tech helped us filter & simplify information according to our personal needs. Now, with the help of AI, tech does that job all on its own! Think for example of the job finding platform Truffls, which learns more about your job preferences with every Tinder-style swipe you do. Key tags: #curation #aggregation #alternativeto #fakenews
  3. Software as a Service: more time to focus on creating with your strengths. 2017 is the time of doing your thang, of bootstrapping your life. “Freelancers” become fully fledged entrepreneurs. 2017 is the time in which you easily specialise in what the market demands [Data Visualization? Coding? Requirements Engineering?] and what you feel destined to do (maybe a philantropist / politician / film maker / professional athlete?). Specialisation for one thing makes it hard to be good at another (you only have this amount of time). Luckily, we can now use Software as a Service outsource just about any function we need to run a business. I’m a Marketing professional. Clearly, I can’t focus on the rest of tedious business-making. So, why don’t I let Amy.xi schedule my meetings, use Hubspot for Sales automation, AdEspresso to split-test Facebook Ads, Asana to collaborate & manage projects, Quickbooks for my accountant needs, and Bizplan to crunch numbers for my business projections? Key tags: #productivity #Automation, #SaaS, #AI. Again.
  4. StartUps are dead. Long-live the Flash Team! Well. Booting a StartUp is one thing. You have an idea, find team mates, register the biz, and at best receive some funding. Fair enough. Sure, the process of starting a new company has incredibly accelerated in comparison to the past. Plus European countries do their best to set up legislative frameworks allowing for the speed at which people come up with new ideas. But, what if I told you “StartUps” are SO 2012? Starting a business follows a antiquated pattern that’s getting overrun by the ease of setting up an online business. The new thing are what Stanford brain wizards coined Flash Teams, GitHub just recently adopted the concept and calls it AdHoc Teams: bundles of specialists teaming up for a limited amount of time to deliver top-notch specialised work. Digital networks now enable us to crowdsource, connect and collaborate with people of any industry and role. We don’t have to worry about project management because we self-organize with the help of tech. You have an idea? How about taking to Gondolaa, Nomadprojects or Collabfinder to connect with the people you need to lift your idea off the ground? Again: software takes over the much-hated admin work (Ever heard of TARA, the project management AI?), lets us collaborate with our truest skill set AND crushes inter-organisational knowledge silos. Key tags: #flashteams #adhocteams #collaboration #crowdsourcing #cocreation
  5. “Digital Nomadism” becomes real & communal (aka. less virtual). My Instagram feed is full it. I’m literally that close to shut Insta down because of all the inspirational posts about location independence. But it’s true: We can work from anywhere, any time. The beauty of this vision lies in the ultimate freedom of decision making, in finding the tribe you connect to, and in making the most of your human life– This goes very much in line with the outlined “liveworthyness” of a life I described above. However, up until now, there has been a structural problem: The only people who could seriously pull off working location-independently were Software Engineers, Customer Service Agents, and Online Marketers. Kind of very isolated, this. Through the craze for #allthingsdigital you might have forgotten about it but there are many, many more professionals with less-digital, more collaborative work roles (teachers? consultants? agency creatives?). Why shouldn’t all of these people participate on location independent lifestyles? As I showed above, concepts like Flash Teams (short-term collaborative groups of specialists), show that organisations now formally think about the infrastructure needed to enable a more “humane” way of working. This happens on a theoretical but much more on a practical level. Today, more and more businesses understand they need to invest in infrastructure to make the vision of Digital Nomadism happen– After all, you need a critical mass of workforce to create a new Industry, not just a tiny fraction of adventurous digital enthusiasts. That’s why retreats like Nomadhouse and SurfOffice, Co-Living offers like Roam or The Collective in London, Co-Working spaces like the Impacthub, Wifitribe, or Hubud and work & travel services like GigRove or B-Digital help you to feel less included, productive, connected, explorative and amazing. There’s one downturn: this whole emerging industry generates its own iteration of the Hipster stereotype: the “Digital Nomad”– In the greater scheme of things, however, we’ll certainly down to bear with this one, too. Key tags: #digitalnomad #community #impact #roamtheplanet #coliving #coworking

Now, I’ve showed you what I think are key developments of tech enabling us to live more awesome lives– If everything goes well, it’ll help us become freer in decision-making, more communal, and more productive. That means: we’ll have more time doing things we love (Humans, Sports, Thinking, Writing, Creating, Impacting)! But, we live in a time where many things aren’t right. There are still wars, there is famine, we deplete our planet’s resources and we don’t treat humans equally. For this reason, we need fresh ethical ideas how to use tech to tackle these issues before it’s too late. Here are my…

Fresh ideas how to use the beauty of tech for a better society (at work and in private) 💚

  1. Regulate emerging platforms on just about any level. Think: higher taxation for large-volume commercial suppliers, social security for private service suppliers, privacy concerns [don’t fucking sell my data!], ratio between commercial vs. private suppliers on the same platform. If we don’t regulate them, it’s not us humans who really benefit from food home delivery and cheap taxi fares.
  2. Focus on offline community building. Technology is meant for us to live better, meaningful lives. Right now, it pins our attention. Digital products are still built in order to keep us right in front of the screen. Think of the continuos redesign of apps we use daily, just to make us use them more. Tinder has an algorithm to incentivise us staying longer on the app, and Instagram’s “stories” keep us more connected at the cost of spending more time online. This doesn’t make sense. We need to reverse-engineer technology to really free time for better lives. This is especially important for organisations: as productivity increases, knowledge workers should get more time off. No E-Mails / texting / chatting after office work finished.
  3. More time for face-to-face communication. Meet face-to-face instead writing e-mails. This is especially true in professional contexts: How often have you skipped real communication for “texting”? We need to relearn & enforce techniques of moderating conversations, bringing points across, and decrease conflict potential through transparency.
  4. Value the creators behind the digital. Inspirational stories about humans and their live-worthy lives have long been told directionally. Many times, the researchers & makers of these stories have never been shown. We need this transparency for equal opportunity of, yes, “fame”– Social recognition that helps us develop into the people we want to be. This changes slowly– On Youtube, for example, you can now learn about the makers’ thinking behind amazing photography in Creators; about Rap-Geniuses’ rise in Magnum Opus and about the research behind the famous “100 years of beauty-series” in WatchCut.
  5. Leverage tech for socially and environmentally sustainable impact. I won’t ever get tired of saying this but it should be the #1 thing to guide tech makers’ & users’ decisions: can I help others? How do they benefit? How do I use the fewest resources for maximum impact? How can my technology help? Not everything we do is “green”, and it’s utopian to think everyone will live with zero emissions, zero waste, zero hurting people. But, it’s about the mindset. If you think altruistically, your actions will follow.

My ideas all go into the same direction: we need to actively position ourselves towards technology in order to take the good things out of it. What do you think? How much can tech help us become better versions of ourselves?

✌ ️Peace and happy women’s day 👩

Resources that informed my writing (not MECE, not complete, I don’t care)

*See The Hustle’s compilation on UBER’s bad behaviour track record here.