You can reinvent yourself physically and socially

How we reinvent the meaning of our world

  1. prolog
  2. Disruption
  3. Discover and invent
  4. On a unicorn hunt
  5. Liquify facts
  6. Creation of meaning
  7. integration
  8. epilogue

1st prologue

Hannes looks at me with big, questioning eyes. He taps his favorite film "Frozen" with his finger - but nothing happens. My son is three years old now and knows that great things happen when you touch the colorful pixels on a smartphone or tablet. The encounter with a piece of "old technology" - a television that does not interact with it - is a mystery to him.

Digitization allows us to network everything with everything. We use our smartphones to turn on the lights, open garage doors or transfer money. The universal language of ones and zeros lets us translate everything into everything. So my touch of the touch screen is translated into a command for the servomotor of my garage door. Even more: the software tools with which we create these new functions are becoming more and more powerful. Today almost anyone who wants to - even without a degree in engineering - can program a home control system or invent their own currency (via block chain).

This new code and the tools allow our world to be more creative than ever. Networking and (re) combination open up spaces of possibility that allow things - such as money - to be given a new meaning. This also raises the question what meaning we want to give things.

2. Disruption

There is hardly an aspect of digitization that commentators like to emphasize - and at the same time so often misunderstand - as its discreet character. The aforementioned misunderstanding about digitization is twofold: Will first Assuming that disruptive technologies would determine a certain development by natural law, it seems to many Secondly as dystopian destruction that, like an uncontrollable natural disaster, sweeps away everything that is dear to us. We should be careful not to fall into technology-hostile alarmism. It is not the technology itself, but only the human being who sets ends and determines the necessary means.

It is true that digital technologies also have a destructive potential: Modern communication and information technology is nowadays massively spreading from ideological to conspiracy theory Fake news abused and often used to undermine decisional and informational self-determination. But neither the internet nor smartphones nor wearables sell our personal data or manipulate our behavior. It is primarily human greed, human obsession with power, and human ease that have put us in this position. In other words: Our real problem is not technical solutions, but the wrong value orientation - even if the technology first creates specific possibilities for implementation.

There is no question that the digital revolution is about to fundamentally change our living conditions. We are in the midst of a period of profound upheaval. However, it would be a serious misunderstanding to assume that today's multipolar developments are completely beyond our control. I do not mean to claim that we are already in a position to classify our situation clearly, nor to deny its intrinsic complexity. But we already have a wide range of them Maps of digital change, which help us to better understand the disruptive change processes. [1] Such an understanding is an important prerequisite in order not to be overwhelmed by the technical developments of the time, but to take the future into your own hands. Through our actions, we can intervene in the course of things and thus actively influence the way in which digital change takes place and what we use it for.

Disruption is a process that liquefies previously fixed practices and supposedly irrefutable certainties. The extensive digitization and networking of the world is challenging the existing symbolic order and questioning its social rules. As a result, a lot loses its justification and trust-building power. This can lead to disorientation and fear. On the other hand, it allows the traditional conditions to be shaped. Disruptions therefore do not necessarily have to be destructive. On the contrary: conversely, they can help to redefine the contours and content of our coexistence. What once happened in the ancient agora or in the coffeehouses of the Enlightenment can now be done by the virtual forums, platforms and marketplaces of the internet world: a strengthening of democratic values ​​and an improvement of individual freedom. A progressive disruption of the existing order could revolutionize almost all areas of society so radically that it would come close to the birth of a new world.

3. Discover and invent

Digital technologies offer innovative solutions for the challenges of tomorrow's world. They are a key to freeing people from dependence on overpowering institutions and market-dominating monopolists. Digitization offers great potential for sustainably renewing the political, economic and social foundations of our social coexistence. If we make the right use of this potential, digital change can usher in a new phase of enlightenment and social emancipation. But in order to do this, we must first determine the direction in the form of a realistic utopia. If we manage to develop robust ideas of where we are going, we can reasonably master the challenges of the time. Which path digitization takes is in our hands.

“If we manage to develop robust ideas of where we want to go, we can reasonably master the challenges of the time. Which way digitization takes is in our hands. "

Our civilizational progress is essentially based on the ability to appropriately reduce the complexity of the world through the formation of structures. The reality in which we live and what we make of it depends in principle entirely on our wishes and interests. Of course, we have to stay within our means. We cannot ignore the laws of nature any more than we can ignore basic human needs and living conditions. For most problems, however, there is more than just one approach, i.e. various functionally equivalent solutions. In this early phase of digitization at the beginning of the 21st century, however, there is currently no reliable one compass. In order to determine the goal and direction, we have to ask ourselves where we can start given the complexity of our situation. We have to develop strategies in order to unravel the confused amount of technical and social developments and their mutual interdependence and to understand them. The aim is to build on existing developments in a target-oriented manner and to further develop them in our interests.

To be successful, we have to know and control the two dominant driving forces that trigger disruptions and create new meaning - discoveries and inventions. The two cannot always be clearly separated from one another. In order to emphasize their respective peculiarities, the following distinction can be made to simplify matters: discovery is theoretical; Inventing a practical human achievement. If our sense of discovery is directed towards recognizing the world, for the inventor everything revolves around changing it. In doing so, inventions are usually based in a creative way on the knowledge of earlier discoveries. If we understand by “nature” in the broadest sense the sphere that exists independently of the purposeful influence of the human being and delimit “culture” as the area from it which the human being produces and receives through his specific achievement, then the former would be the object of discovery and the latter medium and result of invention.

Since the beginning of the earliest cultures, humans have been systematically researching the mechanisms of inanimate nature and how they work, as well as the peculiarities of life and its species-specific forms of organization. And since then he has already discovered a whole series of mathematical and logical truths as well as numerous psychological, biological, chemical and physical facts and causal relationships. The world knowledge gained in this way was condensed into cultural worldviews and thus forms the core of our present-day relationship to ourselves and the world. In contrast, with his inventions, humans create a cultural environment by developing symbolic and tangible artefacts with special assignments of values ​​and functions. This characterization is of course only very rough, but individual aspects will be discussed in more detail in a moment, since in the case of digital disruption considered here, discoveries and inventions interact in a special way.

3.1 Knowledge revolutions

What we know about the world and our human nature largely determines how we see things and deal with them. This relationship to the world and the self, as the philosophers call it, is the product of numerous discoveries, the examination of which has been subjected to increasingly sophisticated methodological procedures in the course of history. The historical progress of scientific discoveries led to some serious revisions both externally with a view to our worldview and internally with a view to our self-image. The technology philosopher Luciano Floridi puts the digital revolution of the present in a row with three serious revolutions of our knowledge - the three great insults of humanity, as Sigmund Freud once called them. [2]

The first scientific revolution - Freud calls them that cosmological hurt - Dated to the year 1543. This year Nicolaus Copernicus published his seminal treatise on the movement of planets around the sun. Until then, it had been assumed that the earth was God's will to be the center of the universe, but the heliocentric cosmology of Copernicus made it clear that things are in reality very different. The heliocentric view of the world displaced the idea of ​​the human race as the center of the world. The so-called Copernican turn has since become a symbol for all scientifically founded upheavals in traditional worldviews.

The second scientific revolution - according to Freud the so-called biological hurt - was initiated by Charles Darwin in 1859. With his theory of evolution, Darwin established a new view of the position of man in nature. While Copernicus had exposed the belief in human supremacy in the universe as mere superstition, Darwin's discoveries about the biological development of animals and plants cast doubt on his “creative” special role in relation to other living beings. The great resistance that this realization still arouses today, especially among devout Christians in the USA, gives an idea of ​​how revolutionary Darwin's discovery was during his lifetime.

The third scientific revolution from 1917 - Freud speaks of the psychological hurt he did not look at himself immodestly as the originator of this - clears up the erroneous belief that man is a being that is completely transparent to himself. The psychoanalytical knowledge of the unconscious, which is beyond the control of the human will, disavowed the classic ideas of the autonomy and self-determination of humans and changed our image of human consciousness - a knowledge that has now also been confirmed by modern neurosciences.

Today, according to Floridi, we are witnessing a development that will change our relationship to the world and ourselves as radically as the previous three scientific revolutions. If discoveries went back to Copernicus, Darwin and Freud, which cost people a certain supremacy - in the cosmos, in nature and in their own spirit - Floridi sees in Alan Turing the author of another offense of humanity. Turing's discoveries prove that humans cannot claim such a prominent position for themselves in another domain as long assumed: Computers have the potential to surpass human performance in many areas in terms of intelligent behavior, logical thinking and information processing. People in the digital world no longer take the undisputed role of experts and specialists as a matter of course. In contrast, his knowledge and skills are based more and more on the performance of data processing algorithms.

3.2 Technological revolutions

The computer as a symbol of the fourth scientific revolution makes it clear that discoveries and inventions cannot always be clearly separated from one another. Based on logical and mathematical knowledge, Turing created the theoretical basis for the invention of the computer, in which he was also heavily involved. But even in the earlier technological revolutions, the context of discovery and invention was closely interwoven.

The first industrial revolution is dated to the end of the 18th century (from around 1750 in England; in continental Europe from 1800). Accompanied by the introduction of mechanical production systems that work with the help of water and steam power, such as the industrial spinning machine or the mechanical loom, there was a comprehensive structural change in the feudal estates, which has already been witnessed by some contemporary witnesses (including Adam Smith and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel) Its scope was recognized and critically reflected: phenomena such as urbanization, division of labor, specialization, pauperism, devaluation of the craft, emergence of the bourgeoisie (property, education, politics) and dependent work (wage labor), rationalization of corporate management and the control of production, distribution and consumption through (free) markets are the hallmarks of this new era, which has since been called “modernity”.

The second industrial revolution At the beginning of the 20th century, on the other hand, was characterized by the introduction of mass production based on the division of labor (Fordism / Taylorism), which was made possible by the use of electrical energy. The engineer Frederick W. Taylor provided the theoretical blueprint for this new form of industrial work organization, which wanted to control and control the work process centrally, separate planning and execution, and eliminate any expression of individuality. The Cinnatti slaughterhouses are considered to be the forerunners of this new production model, which was perfected on the assembly line by Henry Ford's car production.

The third industrial revolution took place in the 1970s with the first use of robotics and modern information and communication technologies, with which production could be further automated. The spread of the PC also changed the working world and organization considerably during this time. With the economic crises of the early 1980s and the end of full employment, not only the school of thought of economic liberalism experienced a renaissance. The Fordist production model that had prevailed to date was also replaced by so-called post-Fordism / Taylorism, which, with increased subjectification and flexibility in the world of work, dissolved the boundary between the previously clearly separated areas of (gainful) work and (private) life.

The latest development of the present is commonly called fourth industrial revolution viewed. It is characterized by the use of cyber-physical systems that are networked globally. More than 200 years ago, when the modern world emerged in Europe, it was essentially a fundamental technological upheaval - the first industrial revolution - that revolutionized the social world of people, the way they live and work. Today - two industrial revolutions later - we are once again on the threshold of an epoch of world historical importance.

Find out more about the future of work.

Although the coming human-machine age has only just begun, general trends are already becoming apparent: We are currently experiencing 1) a new phase of automation, i.e. the extensive assumption of work tasks by artificial intelligence and robotics; 2) an increased use of human-machine interaction, i.e. the division of labor between human and machine, for example through assistance systems Augmented realityElements; 3) an expansion of the platform-based service sector, i.e. virtual marketplaces on which services and access to goods are coordinated and conveyed by algorithms, as is the case today with Uber, Airbnb, Amazon. The changes described will in all likelihood also make it necessary to reposition people in professional and social life.

4. On the unicorn hunt

We are currently experiencing how rapid technological innovations are permanently changing our world. From the workplace to the public space to the living room - digital technology is finding its way into all areas of life. Networked end devices record what concerns us, what we spend our money on and what we spend our time with. Smart environments now know our lifestyle better than we do and structure our everyday life. And the smartphone is becoming a kind of universal remote control for spontaneous ideas and individualized plans in the Real life. In short: We are on the historic threshold of the digital age - a new era of digitality, in the course of which our familiar living conditions are radically changing.

Let's look at the disruptive potential of this development using a few striking examples: When was the last time you folded up a road map or were you desperate about it? When did you record your favorite music from the radio or a film from the television? When was the last time you brought a transfer form to a bank branch? When is a phone booth used? When did you leaf through an encyclopedia (I don't mean browsed, but actually leafed through it)? To put it bluntly, digital disruption means that future generations will not only answer these questions with “never” as a matter of course, but that they cannot even imagine what is actually being asked here.

For Tim O'Reilly, this kind of progressive disruption can be compared to a unicorn hunt. [3] Disruptive innovations leave us, as unicorns do, in complete astonishment when we first encounter them. But after a short period of upheaval, they will be so ubiquitous that we take them for granted, almost as if there had never been anything else. Accordingly, disruptive innovations are characterized by three central features:

  1. At first they are deeply unimaginable.
  2. They are changing the way the world works.
  3. They create a new network of new types of services, jobs, business models and industries.

According to O'Reilly, the people who are noticeably changing the world are people who chase after this type of unicorn. It is true that he unnecessarily restricts his perspective to purely economic contexts. But if we continue to develop the basic idea behind it politically, culturally and socially, new meaningfulness according to this model actually appears to be sustainable. It would certainly be naive to assume that something like a simple blueprint for change processes per se could be developed on this basis. There is no single reliable strategy for hunting unicorns. But if we better understand the nature of the changeable elements and understand which forces can bring about change, much will be gained.

“There is no single reliable strategy for hunting unicorns. But if we better understand the nature of the changeable elements and understand the forces that can bring about change, much will be gained. "

5. Liquify facts

Our world is extremely complex. In order to find our way around it, we have to reduce this complexity appropriately. Because without a meaningful reduction in complexity, the world would literally be uninhabitable for us. Human civilization and social progress only become conceivable at all when we generate a certain meaningful reality from the totality of an overly complex world. Anyone who moves in a reality that is culturally unambiguous in this way enables him to deal more or less confidently with the universe of facts contained therein.

The cultural environment provides us with familiar and trustworthy background knowledge, which we can refer to together with others who live in the same reality, in order to orientate ourselves successfully in new situations and to adjust to new problems together. Although a shared lifeworld presents itself to the individual as something that cannot be evaded, in reality it is essentially made by us and can therefore always be designed and redesigned within certain limits. Despite their relatively high stability (positively formulated) or their strong inertia (negatively formulated), we live in a fluid reality, the existence of which has to be negotiated over and over again.

"Although a shared life world presents itself to the individual as something that cannot be evaded, in reality it is essentially made by us and can therefore always be designed and redesigned within certain limits."

However, on a fundamental level, we need to carefully distinguish between those properties of the world that exist independently of us and those that depend entirely on us for occurrence. [4] The fact that an object has a certain mass and chemical composition are objectively ascertainable facts that exist without any human achievement. Of course it takes people to recognize these facts and give them a name, but their existence does not depend on our attitude towards them. I have referred to things of this kind above as nature and characterized as the object of human discovery. The philosopher John Searle calls these things, whose existence and properties are independent of humans, "inherent to nature". Examples of further facts inherent in nature are that H2O boils at 100 degrees Celsius or that the distance from the earth to the moon is 384,400 km. Even if there had never been a knowing being like humans on earth, this would still be true. For our context it is remarkable that nature is robust in a certain sense, namely as its immanent facts cannot be liquefied in the sought-after way and brought into a new form.

Those facts of the world that only exist in relation to how we feel about them as inventors, designers, observers and users belong in the realm of the cultural. They are actually the radically changeable elements on which we have to concentrate. A first step in the field of the cultural is taken as soon as we begin to manipulate the naturally found things of the world in an expedient manner and to use them in a goal-oriented manner. A stone can be used as a doorstop or paperweight, a tree trunk can be used as a chair, and so on. In these cases we use things to pursue a chosen goal or achieve a desired purpose with their help. Searle calls these operations "usage functions" because we use the natural properties of things to carry out functions that we have imposed upon us, such as sitting in a chair or weighing down stationery. By developing specialist skills in the sense of systematic and purposeful action, expedient procedures and objective artefacts with tool character, we begin to use instruments to transform the external world in order to successfully solve self-imposed tasks.

The more complex the world is culturally reshaped, the more conflicts can arise between assigned functions. You shouldn't just be able to sit on a chair, you should be as comfortable as possible. And at the same time, the chair should meet aesthetic standards, but it also has to be affordable and so on. Of course, it is by no means guaranteed that functions will actually be fulfilled as intended by the things that we provide for them. If a chair is uncomfortable, ugly, or unaffordable, it means that it doesn't work or works poorly against our standards. Say: It does not fulfill its purpose. So we see: in order to change the way the world works, we have to change the system of our purposes, goals and values ​​in such a way that things are given a new meaning.

"To change the way the world works, we need to change the system of our purposes, goals and values ​​so that things are given a new meaning."

6. Creation of meaning

Dimensions of human creation of meaning are not limited to the narrow circle of those functions that can only be performed by virtue of their physical or chemical properties. The fact that we can use a tree trunk as a chair and a stone as a paperweight is a first dimension in which the general mechanics of the creation of new meaning can be seen. In a really radical sense, however, the giving of meaning only becomes creative in dimensions in which the assigned meaning is no longer tied to the natural properties of things. The fact that a certain piece of paper can be used as a means of payment, a certain verbal utterance as a marriage and a certain act as the conclusion of a contract is only possible on the basis of interpersonal cooperation, namely in the specific forms of collective agreement, things, expressions and activities assigns a mutually recognized symbolic status.

Not only things and events, but also people can be ascribed a new status by assigning them specific roles in a system of purposes, goals and values. Teachers, police officers and bankers each fulfill different functions in the various practices of a society. A social role bundles normative expectations of behavior that result from the status of rights, duties, authorizations and so on, as well as general expectations with regard to certain attitudes and goals that can typically be ascribed to the role owners. The characteristic double character of generalized behavioral expectations should be emphasized: On the one hand, these allow those involved to make predictive conclusions about the expected behavior of the others (even if these expectations are disappointed in individual cases). On the other hand, they are associated with a normative pressure of expectation that results directly from the reciprocally assigned role obligations. The normative role expectations can be regarded as socially generalized to the extent that there is sufficient agreement between the members of a practical context about the respective role models.

Every practice is about a systematic connection of standardized patterns of action that establish relatively stable expectation structures between the actors by means of social roles in order to create a certain certainty of expectations with regard to dealing with the relevant facts. Whether a certain behavior counts as the execution of a special role does not depend solely on the successful performance of certain activities, but on their intersubjective validity in the context of a corresponding community.

"Whether a certain behavior counts as the execution of a special role does not depend solely on the successful performance of certain activities, but on their intersubjective validity in the context of a corresponding community."

That means: Practices represent super-individual conditions of successful interaction, the factual existing structures of which suggest certain patterns of action or even make them possible in the first place. Any actor in a practice will largely act in the same way as everyone else in his or her place. The same pattern of action could in principle be carried out by every participant in the same position. The structures characteristic of the performance of a particular practice are thus typically preserved even after the change in the actors involved in them.

Interpersonal practices are normatively structured internally via a specific system of rules. This system of rules gives the corresponding activity its characteristic shape. In the practice of soccer, for example, it is determined which courses of action are deemed to be "fouls", which are "scoring a goal" and so on. This addresses the enabling character that practices have. Social norms not only regulate activities that already exist independently of us. Sometimes they also constitute completely new (social) facts that would not exist without them. In such cases, the rules have "logically priority" over the individual components of a given fact. This means that these facts cannot be understood and explained at all without reference to the corresponding rules.

Through the collective recognition of these rules, social facts are created which simply would not exist without their regular observance, and what is more: which derive their full practical effectiveness from the continued collective acceptance of these rules. Speaking to Searle: One This is precisely why X is considered a Y in a context Kbecause a critical number of those affected accept this and act together on this basis.

As we have seen, the meaningful Y status can be assigned to a whole range of different phenomena that interact with one another in systematic relationships in a social practice. So we give things a (new) meaning with the help of constitutive rules: with people e.g. as teachers, police officers or bankers; for objects e.g. as bank notes, entrance tickets or certificates; and at events e.g. as exams, weddings or transfers. To participate in a practice and to correctly treat the facts involved as definite means to follow its constitutive rules.

It is obvious that the interpretations of the situation by various actors have to overlap sufficiently in order to enable these forms of practical interaction. In order for the expected patterns of action to stabilize over the long term, all those involved must understand the situations and their options for action in a sufficiently similar manner, because otherwise intersubjective behavioral norms would not be able to coordinate interactions that are coordinated with one another over longer periods of time. Let us take three different contexts in which one finds oneself in an audience situation: a football game, a church prayer and a music concert. In order to know whether to cheer, listen in solemn silence or applaud enthusiastically, you have to know which of these three contexts you are currently in. You have to have a sufficiently clear interpretation of the situation, which in turn corresponds sufficiently with that of the other participants.

Social interaction systems are based on and (re-) produce symbolic structures of shared knowledge between their members. They create and feed themselves from symbolically meaningful structures of a mutually shared culture. This represents both the medium and the object of the discussion about the correct interpretation of symbolic situations. In the discussion about the correct conception, divided horizons of meaning and interpretation schemes stabilize, which can be appropriated or changed in learning processes. The social world is thus not only constituted normatively, but also meaningful built up. Their meaning is based on meaningful symbol and classification systems that become the subject of interpersonal conflicts and negotiation processes and can thus change in the course of their existence.

“The social world is thus not only normatively structured, it is also structured in a meaningful way. Their meaning is based on meaningful symbol and classification systems that become the subject of interpersonal conflicts and negotiation processes and can thus change in the course of their existence. "

7. Integration