Week 154

Dog on a roomba! Also: a few additional thoughts on the NSA leaks and why we discuss it here.

In case you’re wondering why we’re continuously using our company’s blog to voice our concerns about the NSA revelations and government overreach, you have to understand how we ended up doing the job that we are doing and being company owners in the first place.

The web had a large influence on my overall socialization and on my understanding of the world as it works and of how I wish it would work. I was too young to participate actively in what happened during the New Economy, but when the first ripples of the Web 2.0 came to be, I was – mostly out of pure luck and genuine curiosity – at the right place at the right time. I met the right people and had the fortune of being taken into various communities that supported exploration and tinkering early on.

With the help of a community on IRC, I stopped using Windows about ten years ago and switched fully to Linux. By learning how to use this powerful technology, I acquired an understanding of the technologies that power the internet. One doesn’t need to be a developer to have the ability to understand how a system works (although it certainly makes it easier).

Later on, I started blogging around 2004 without knowing about the fuzz that was being made about it at first. For me, publishing on the internet wasn’t really new. Back than I didn’t make a distinction between having hourl-long discussions about the things that make the world work on various IRC chats and publishing with the help of a CMS. It was all “the web” for me.

Obviously, things have changed. We all developed a stronger awareness of what was happening and what we all have been accomplishing. I started to be more interested in the technology’s influence on human behavior than in the technology itself.

We all were of the web, not only on it.

The disillusionment with how the web is evolving started long before the Snowden leaks, but those are the most substantial ones. Yesterday, at JSConf, Alex summarized it quite adequately:

We’ve turned mankind’s greatest technical achievement into a lifestyle magazine that spies on you.

Dang. That is exactly how many people, those who are of the web, feel these days. Somebody came along and pulled the rug from under our feet. Things that where taken for granted are not so anymore.

It is time to take back what is ours.

Whatever political or economical consequences might arise from those leaks, the real implications are still hard to grasp. Many people in the technology community are ready to do whatever it takes and attack the struggle for power head on and however this will materialize itself, it will shape the work of this company too, because it will shape us as people.

But beware, this is a story without a clear ending. While Silicon Valley will still try to determine for a long time how new technologies come into the world, it shouldn’t be regarded as an archetype anymore. Technology as industry has been corrupted by the same things that it wanted to disrupt in the first place. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at how those tech giants have responded so far to those leaks. Or take a look at how those big shot technology investors are talking on the record about what should be done.

With all that being said, I don’t want to end this week note with those dark scenarios. So I will finish with a Vine of a dog riding on a Roomba instead.

Have a nice week, everybody. Oh, and if you are interested in learning how to make your Mac a bit more secure, come by our office at Rosenthaler Str. 34/35 on Thursday at around 5pm. We will show you how to encrypt your emails, how to use Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and the TOR browser bundle and other little tweaks that won’t stop the NSA completely, but will make their dragnet surveillance a little harder.

Week 142 – Working in Times of Strangeness

It’s an essential part of building a business for the 21st century to deal with the “strangeness” of our times.

We featured this quote in some of our presentations:

You can’t help but realize, that the next 10-to-40 years are going to be really strange. Totally strange. And… that rate of strangeness seems is going to get exponentially more strange. And the problem we have right now is the people that are in charge of this stuff don’t understand a) how strange it’s going to be, or b) the form of the strangeness itself.

Ben Hammersley

And then we have days like yesterday that are best summed up this way:

Twitter today reads like a @GreatDismal novel in realtime, and reality unfolds like a Jason Bourne plot in realspace #EdwardSnowden

– Juha van ‘t Zelfde (@juhavantzelfde) June 23, 2013

I find myself going back and forth between different layers in my everyday life these days. As we mentioned in previous weeks, work is plenty. Currently, our greatest challenge is how to get all those projects done. Then I open my Twitter app and a completely different world opens up in which our worst apprehensions are coming true. The US and UK governments have found ways to track and collect our complete digital communications and are chasing the guy who told us around the world.

So there are tons of work and tons of things to think about and I’m asking myself how to behave in a situation like this. Do I just close all input channels, put on some music and drown myself in work to wait and see what will come of it all? Do I immerse myself in every little news item that emerges, join and start endless conversation about what this means and where it will take us? Should I move all our company data away from any of those US platforms that are involved in PRISM or would that make our work impossible? What role should privacy and data security play in my consulting work? This is but a fraction of the questions lingering at the fringes of our minds at the moment.

There are no easy answers these days and we embrace that. It’s an essential part of building a business for the 21st century to deal with the “strangeness” of our times. To immerse and retract, to drown and zoom out, to adapt and resist. We move back and forth to keep the balance and to avoid the two extremes we fear the most: lethargy and panic. Practically, this means that we prepare a workshop or develop a strategy deck in the morning and write an essay on the problem of the commercialization of technology in the afternoon.

What we’re finding right now to be most important for us is to organize ourselves even more then before. With so much work, input and conversations going on, we need fixed points to regroup and re-plan. Inspired by the agile development system, we’ve started doing quick stand-up meetings in the morning and the afternoon to quickly discuss what each one of us is working on in the next hours. This also helps our minds to keep on track and to feel more accountable for how we spend our days. It’s just one very practical tool to keep organized.

I don’t know exactly why this is like that, but somehow all the “strangeness” happening around us is invigorating. Everything is uncertain, nothing is determined. I feel extremely privileged to be in a position where this is a blessing, not a curse. How dare I not make a move.

So, how do you adapt your work in times of strangeness?