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Insights | June 2019
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Mankind in the permanent beta stage.

There’s always something new. Here’s a new app, there’s a new gadget, and someone’s always posting something. New opportunities or possibilities are lurking everywhere. That’s just the way it is in the digital information age. We are always online for fear of missing out on something. We often have the feeling that somehow, we always need to keep up, to adapt, to optimise our profiles, or to react to the latest products and news. Our minds are never at rest. Everything is in a state of flux and mankind has entered a permanent beta stage. Thanks for all the stress, Cyberspace! Really?

At the 9th rheingold salon in February of this year, market researchers investigated the extent to which algorithms will determine our lives in the future. What becomes of humanity when we »live in a beta stage« (S, in which there is always still something to improve, modify or optimise and we are never able to complete anything at all? Where and how do we position ourselves when our key orientation systems – work, family and society – no longer offer any binding orientation? When, as propounded by Richard David Precht, the boys and girls in Silicon Valley from corporations like Google and Amazon are secretly manipulating our humanistic view of mankind by subjecting everyone and everything to cybernetic problem-solving logic in order to »work us out« and thus turn us into controllable reactors?

Will a cybernetic perspective soon replace our humanistic image of mankind?

»Silicon Valley pursues a cybernetic view of humanity. It sees mankind as a learning organism that functions as a reactive mechanism, just like a rat in a laboratory. And that’s exactly how the people work who program the algorithms for Facebook. If I know what you’re interested in, I can always recommend things that you like. With this approach, I can not only fulfil your wishes; I can control them. The central insight of cybernetics is that every object or being that can be predicted can also be controlled – and this is exactly what can be found in the mechanisms created by Silicon Valley.«

How should one orientate oneself when every direction is right?

The plain truth is that we will increasingly have to rely on ourselves. Keyword/megatrend: Individualisation. Traditionally, society more or less completely defined peoples’ lives through the church, the state and family values, so that they followed more or less foreseeable paths; but today, it is entirely up to us to decide who we want to be and how we want to live – each one of us individually. Norms and conventions now provide very little assistance, which definitely plays into the hands of social networks. We willingly use their feedback platforms to promote ourselves, to try things out, to effortlessly reinvent ourselves, and to check and preferably improve our »market value«. Welcome to the beta stage!

On the other hand, did this phenomenon really only appear in the digital age? Have we ever had the feeling that our development was complete and we could sit back and relax? Or if we did rest our hands on our laps, was it perhaps due to pragmatic resignation to our fate, in the face of unbreakable structures? After all, our open society is not that old. Short pause for thought…

Is The Man Without Qualities a man of our times?

This becomes an interesting topic when one considers a reference figure from the 20th century, a man living on the precipice of a change in the times. Ulrich, the »Man without Qualities« in Robert Musil’s eponymous era and society-spanning novel, is, as it were, an archetypical example of a man living in the beta stage. He is someone who cannot find his place because the familiar world is drifting out of kilter and everything is falling apart around him. It is thus that Ulrich, on the eve of the First World War, reflecting on the collapse of the existing world order, refuses to pledge allegiance or make any commitments, in order to keep his options open for any new possibilities and constellations that may occur in the future.

When nothing is safe or reliable any more, the »sense of possibility« is the only meaningful alternative method of getting a hold on reality and positioning oneself: »Those who possess this sense do not say, for example: This or that has happened, will happen or must happen; they invent: This could, should or must happen; and when someone one tells them that something is the way it is, they think: Well, it could probably be different. The sense of possibility can thus be defined as the ability to think of everything that might be equally good, and not to consider that which is to be more important than that which is not«How can one position oneself in a context full of unknown variables? It isn’t so far removed from the constructions of self and reality in today’s comprehensively digitalised world, is it?

What drives us in the beta stage?

Digitisation, globalisation, individualisation, algorithmisation: everything is networked with everything else. Yes, we are amidst a massive epochal and global change. Moreover, with a nod to Walter Giller and the 20th century: It’s not going to get any easier. But cheer up. If you observe the regularity with which »In the past everything was worse« statistics appear in Der Spiegel (which is not exactly a medium for exuberant optimism), you will notice that things often develop surprisingly positively.

In the meantime, it is advisable to develop a certain resistance towards the ubiquitous trends and optimisation offers. Self-confidence and common sense are helpful in this regard (also when choosing a profession, by the way), and we should not let the Zuckerbergs and Bezos of this world take these away from us. And: From time to time, simply switch off, turn off your mobile phone, go up into the mountains, read a book or practise thinking about possibilities. Your tasks in the digital world can be confidently passed on to the suchdialog professionals.

About Alexandra Dankert, by Alexandra Dankert

Ms Dankert. In a former life, she studied Hegelian philosophy up to proseminar level and gained master’s degrees in German Philology, Psychoanalysis and Scandinavian Studies. She concluded her studies with a paper on Thomas Bernhard, which may possibly have resulted in a recognisable tendency to exaggerate. Then, following several stints in the theatre and gaining a grudging insight into the necessity of making a decent living, she launched herself into the world of advertising agencies. Today, of course, she works as the world’s best freelance copywriter, conceptual designer and author for various agencies in Hamburg and Rhine-Main-Neckar. Ms Dankert is amazed by suchdialog’s courage in presenting off-beat perspectives, critical words and contrary insights into the digital world. Chapeau!

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