Edge 71 July 10, 2000
THE THIRD CULTURE
Call for Europe Tech
The European intelligentsia is entering the 21st century in silence, stubbornly or clumsily avoiding the issue. It is easy to imagine one of these intellectuals, fumbling over a new word-processing package: the infuriation at this "not coping", the alleged lack of "technical know-how," the antipathy (often justified) which sets in at the slightest whiff of leads and sockets. All this also characterizes prevailing attitudes to the revolutionary paradigm shift itself. The new age didn't come to us Europeans in a flash of inspiration, it came as a "retraining program": from typewriter to computer, from computer to Internet.
THE REALITY CLUB
THE THIRD CULTURE
Inroduction by John Brockman
On May 23rd, the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published Frank Schirrmacher's manifesto "Wake-Up Call for Europe Tech", in which he calls for Europe to adopt the ideas of the third culture. "Europe," he writes, "should be more than just a source for the software of ego crisis, loss of identity, despair, and Western melancholy. We should be helping write the code for tomorrow."
Schirrmacher is a publisher of the newspaper, and his manifesto, a call to arms, is the beginning of a effort by FAZ to publish articles by and about third culture thinkers and their work. His goal: to change the culture of the newspaper and to begin a process of change in Germany and Europe.
Schirrmacher's program, a departure for FAZ, has been covered in the German press and has caused a stir in German intellectual circles. FAZ has played an important role in shaping German culture, and that has meant, until now, culture with a capital "C".
In a few short weeks since publication of his manifesto, Schirrmacher has brought the ideas of Bill Joy, Ray Kurzweil, V.S. Ramachandran, Patrick Bateson, James Watson, Craig Venter, among other notable thinkers to the forefront of public discussion in Germany, while also initiating a collaboration between FAZ and Edge, the first product of which was the recent simultaneous publication in English and German of David Gelernter's manifesto, "The Second Coming."
In 1989 he became head of the arts and science department of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of the most influential German newspapers. He has been one of the publishers of FAZ since 1994.
others: Member of the Goethe-Instituts, member of the cultural advisory
board of the Expo 2000 and of the Herbert Quandt-Stiftung, Bad Homburg.
Newsweek has named him one of the leading Germans in the 21st Century
Wake-Up Call for Europe Tech
By Frank Schirrmacher
YORK. Blink and you will miss something. More so than any previous generation,
we are taken by surprise virtually every week by technological and scientific
innovations, and Europe has nothing to say about it. J. Craig Venter
decodes the human genome and the public treats it as nothing more than
a case for the Patent Office. Our growing dependence on data networks
is only discussed when systems are brought to a standstill for a day
by the love bug.
THE REALITY CLUB
George Dyson, Stewart Brand, Sebastian Schnitzenbaumer, Dave Myers, Clifford Pickover, Kai Krause, Jason McCabe Calacanis respond to "Wake-Up Call for Europe Tech" by Frank Schirrmacher.
Don't forget that we upstart Americans owe this whole digital business to G. W. Leibniz, hardware and software alike. In 1679, while exploring the powers of binary arithmetic, he imagined a digital computer in which binary numbers were represented by spherical pellets, governed by a rudimentary form of punched card control. "This [binary] calculus could be implemented by a machine (without wheels)," he wrote, "in the following manner, easily to be sure and without effort. A container shall be provided with holes in such a way that they can be opened and closed. They are to be open at those places that correspond to a 1 and remain closed at those that correspond to a 0. Through the opened gates small cubes or marbles are to fall into tracks, through the others nothing. It [the gate array] is to be shifted from column to column as required." In the shift registers at the heart of all electronic computers, from mainframes to microprocessors, voltage gradients and pulses of electrons have taken the place of gravity and marbles, but otherwise things are still running exactly as Leibniz envisioned (in Germany) in 1679.
What better way to place ourselves between the digital past and future than to build a working model 321 years later of Leibniz's machine, on tennis-ball scale? It would take millions of tennis balls, and hours to perform the simplest of calculations, but a few miles of clear plastic shift registers, accumulators, and some gravity-fed input-output would make visible the invisible workings that govern so much of our existence today.
[Leibniz, De Progressione Dyadica, Pars I, (MS, 15 March 1679), published in facsimile (with German translation) in Erich Hochstetter and Hermann-Josef Greve, eds., Herrn von Leibniz Rechnung mit Null und Einz (Berlin: Siemens Aktiengesellschaft, 1966), pp. 46-47. English translation by Verena Huber-Dyson, 1995.]
B. DYSON is a leading authority in the field of Russian Aleut kayaks
ěthe subject of his book Baidarka, numerous articles, and a segment
of the PBS television show Scientific American Frontiers. His early
life and work was portrayed in 1978 by Kenneth Brower in his classic
dual biography, The Starship And The Canoe. Now ranging more
widely as a historian of technology, Dyson's most recent book is
Darwin Among The Machines.
From: Stewart Brand
Date: July 6, 2000
That's an endearingly almost random sample of ideas and thinkers. As good a way to dive in as any.
Germany does seem more alert than most to some of these questions. They've translated my Clock of the Long Now, and two German video teams are filming the development of Danny Hillis's Clock and the ideas around it.
BRAND is founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, cofounder of The Well,
cofounder of Global Business Network, cofounder and president of The
Long Now Foundation. He is the original editor of The Whole Earth
Catalog, Author Of The Media Lab: Inventing The Future At Mit, How Buildings
Learn, and The Clock Of The Long Now: Time And Responsibility
Schirrmacher's article is interesting, although a bit biased, since it fails to include the new economic spirit in Germany and the people who are driving it. As you know, the 1968 Generation is currently the biggest problem. As youngsters these people were in revolt against the post-Nazi regime in Germany, and they definitely did a great job of moving us away from the past. Today these people are in power, but because they were always against power, they make the worst CEOs, managers, etc.
These people are against the concept of optimism for the future and believe that any form of pride, patriotism or team spirit is a manifestation of the devil himself. Today they're a royal pain the ass: inflexible, negative, blind.
A very good example is the bureaucracy in Germany. Considering themselves
to be the "last line of defense" against the Nazi Regime in the 50s,
60s and early 70s, the 1968 Generation felt that they had no alternative
but to fight the old order. A lot of them became bureaucrats
The reality is, though, that after securing power by making the long and tiresome walk through the institutions, the 1968 Generation really didn't change things a lot, except in making things even less efficient because of their lack of management talent. And since it took them so long to get there, they're all really "burned-out" and frustrated.
Members of the 1968 Generation are blind because they fail to see what's really going on with the younger European generation, which is very different. Today's younger generation combines the best of both worlds: the idea that not every technological innovation is necessarily for the best, as well as the ability to become movers and shakers, to become entrepreneurs, to make things happen together.
The next generation, which I represent, is solving the same problem that the 1968 Generation faced from a very different angle. My company, Mozquito Technologies, has just signed a deal with the Bavarian government to put all government forms online. And all I did was found a company with friends, raise money, and develop a technology together in a team. This whole process took us just two years.
This technology will now make it possible to interact with the Bavarian bureaucracy without physically having to go to a government office, wait for hours in ugly rooms, fill out silly forms by hand, talk to those frustrated 1968 Generation guys. We're not making them obsolete, but at least we're providing an alternative path. These government officials will soon find themselves to be in competition with online forms, their digital counterpart. They're losing their status of being omnipotent and irreplaceable.
In order to achieve this, did we have to fight? No. Did we have to throw away our lives and infiltrate the system from the inside? No. We've prevailed with a smile, silently, without much talking. And we had a great time doing it.
SCHNITZENBAUMER is CEO of the Munich-based Stack
Overflow AG which specializes in innovative client-server solutions
for the Web. Their flagship product the
Mozquito Factory is the world's first XML-based XHTML authoring
tool, enabling developers to use tomorrow's Web technologies today.
From: Dave Myers
Date: July 6, 2000
One aspect of the technological revolution that Americans are now researching and debating ‹ and that Frank Schirrmacher and FAZ may wish to engage as well ‹ is its social consequences. For example, does the Internet, while connecting people with kindred interests, also facilitate social isolation and risk of depression?
Robert Putnam engages this issue in his new Bowling Alone , and I track various social trends during the technological age in my own The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty.
DAVID G. MYERS is the John Dirk Werkman Professor of Psychology at Hope College and author of The Pusuit of Happiness, and most recently. The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty.
From: Clifford Pickover
Date: July 6, 2000
The Frank Schirrmacher article "Wake-up Call for Europe Tech" is an interesting one. I believe he is suggesting that European technologists are not pursing the fractal edge of the known and unknown as much as American technologists are. In short, he appears to suggest that European technologists are less creative than their American counterparts and are not speculating as much about the philosophical implications of future technology. If this is Schirrmacher's point, and if this is true, it would be fascinating to determine various correlations between such technological creativity (TC) and other societal factors. Aside from more obvious economic and political indicators, are there other correlators of TC? For example, does the percentage of science-fiction books sold in a country correlate with TC? Does the number of people who bought Frank Tipler's The Physics of Immortality correlate with TC? (I mention this book in particular because I heard it sold quite well in Germany.)
Can we directly infer TC by counting the percentages of "Edge.org" readers in each country? I hope to track country of origin for readers of the "Pickover Report" at www.pickover.com to infer TC.
Here's a question to ask of the Edge readers: "What are viable correlators of technological creativity in a society?" Who knows maybe we will find a direct correlation of TC with readership of mind-numbing SF authors such as Greg Egan, Robert Sawyer, Neal Stephenson, or Stephen Baxter? Or maybe there is a correlation with the religious makeup or age demographics of a country, or the percentage of people speaking English, or some other odd factor.
When I asked colleagues why Europe might have less TC than America, they made three controversial points:
1) "Europeans deliberately poke around the edges of current technology because they lack the lash of being eaten alive (laid off) if some other company beats the company they work for."
2 "The measure of success in America is the height of the pile of dollars accumulated. This is less true for Europeans."
3. "The European response to American innovation is frequently an attempt to apply brakes: 'No gene-engineered frankenfoods.' 'No information unless you pass oppressive privacy rules.' 'The Internet is an American imperialist plot to infect all countries with the English language.' 'Let's only send snail mail instead of e-mail, which gives a competitive advantage to American companies.' Perhaps Americans are more willing to beg, borrow, or steal ideas that work than Europeans are."
I don't know I agree with all of these points, or if they are relevant, but they seem to be on peoples' minds.
is a research staff member at IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center, in
Yorktown Heights, New York. He is the holder of more than a dozen patents
dealing with computer interfaces, and he has written some twenty books
on a broad range of topics, including Time : A Traveler's Guide,
Surfing Through Hyperspace : Understanding Higher Universes in Six Easy
Lessons, Black Holes : A Traveler's Guide, Future Health : Computers
and Medicine in the 21st Century, Keys to Infinity, and The Science
Euro Muse and Ponder
What Schirrmacher is describing is important and timely. I have lived between the continents somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic for 25 years. Born and raised in Germany I left at age 19 and have been intertwined with computers and Silicon valley since the inception of personal computers. When in Europe, I found myself on stages and TV shows wildly gesturing to the audiences about the coming revolutions, the PC, and later the Web. The West- East lag time in the 80s would easily be measured in years, even as late as the mid 90s hardware and software prices would typicallys be tripled by the time they reached end users. Now in "the Zeroes" the visible delays have been minimized. Sure, it always will take a couple extra months before The Matrix hits DVD in German, but no more so than it takes half a year for the Playstation II to migrate from Japan to the US. That doesn´t seem to ruffle the feathers of the American consciousness or make them feel inadequate. A stroll down Akihabara will teach any American that there are such quirky last vestiges of cultural imperialism expressing itself in a communal smirk.
And while I completely agree with Schirrmacher´s general poke at old encrusted layers, I can´t quite subscribe to the notion that the American version is all that its cracked up to be. There is a huge gap between the cutting edge digerati and the common man. Cutting from Danny Hillis to Billy Bob Hillbilly can bring you to the edge of insanity. A cross country trip and a random stop at any random gas station in anytown can easily let you lose all faith in mankind.
There have been plenty of times where I was certain it´s time to reboot this planet and hope for Earth 2.0 to be better. It has never been this great and it has never been this bad.... The landscapes are cut up beyond all repair, kind of a molecular entropy getting more chaotic by the week. The frequencies are globbed with more and more and more of nothing. This is not the space to whine about the ever obvious dot coma we are in and anyway you are the choir and beyond being preached to.
The point in question was that Europe with all its encrustedness has also endless amounts of beautiful crust on its bread, for starters. As a bicontinental drifter and now living in a space that is in parts 1000 years old I do have many thoughts on the question.
Surely there is kind of a Germanic-depression lingering. The school I went to was older than the entire US. The generation of the teachers had gone through one or several wars. Everyone´s parents and uncles were still talking about the post-war time of extreme restrictions. America has never even had a war invade on its soil. Or rebuild all of Chicago after it was bombed out entirely. The first generation of Germans that is no longer completely pummeled by the communal guilt and depression of that era is just now emerging.
The weather isn´t as everblue, there is a 24bit high resolution gray that sets in. But suddenly now I find it kind of soothing. Its light out until a quarter to 11pm. I muse and ponder...
There has always been a focus on completeness, depth and details which I am very glad to have inherited and refer to as my "Mercedes Benz genes". What may be described in a superficial manner as an Urge for Cleanliness is to me just an expression to get things right and follow through to final details. This may have its side effects but is in principle a very laudable trait. Much that I see in Germany is an absolutely beautiful attention to the small minor aspects.
The building I am in high above the Rhein river has hundreds of such details that would make modern architects shrivel up...that could not possibly be done in this age. Free hanging staircases out of bevelled wood, stone steps leaving a central free column for a bellrope, a chapel built underneath a meeting room and over an archway...and all that as Beethoven was turning deaf, Chopin wrote some piano concertos and Brahms was busy not being born yet. In California, sneezing the wrong way will dent the neighbors sliding glass doors from Sears.
The waiter at the local restaurant has learned "waitering" in a three year apprenticeship, waiting to become a Meister at his craft. In L.A. I have yet to meet a waiter that wasn't more focused on a script than the fishfork, or one that could even identify one.
And such are the intellectuals on the scene here. They are not as loud and colorful. There aren´t as many billionaires to buy Leonardos. But they do go to the local "Kneipe" which is not the same as a "pub" since they don't just drink beer, real beer at that by the way, but they discuss and debate and argue and engage. The local village here by the Rhein river has barely a couple thousand souls and yet there are places that serve food after midnight and dancing till 5 am, when just in time the local bakeries open for breakfast. Did I mention the bread?
The Cultural Scene in a town like Cologne easily matches anything in the US anywhere. There are more museums, interactive art shows, theaters, plays, children and senior citizen events, classical concerts, ballet and multimedia events than you are likely to find in a city 15 times its size like LA. Aside from that, going to a midnight Vernissage in LA would let you take your life into your hands...I brought a dozen US designers and programmers with me and it was amazing to see their reactions and wonder. As I used to say it in various debates and keynotes in the US: "in this damn puritan fake society you can´t even show a nipple, unless someone is cutting it off with a razor blade at the time, then it´s ok..." And that was before I saw a wrestling event.
This place here has had 16:9 widescreens for a decade. Driving an S-class at 270 km/h on the Autobahn will make 55 mph on the way to Vegas feel like a very sad joke. I have had navigators in every rental Beamer and Merc since 98. My cellphone was half the size of the model "back home". I take a train, it comes every 12 minutes and it is on time. The fast ones go 220 km/h. I took my kids on an Amtrak to up the coast. LA-SB is 4 hours, three times the time by car.
Germany has comics that are ever bit as wild and witty as a Robin Williams, if not more so. There is machine gun speed and wit like "Otto" but also deep political satire like "Hüsch" and hundreds of shades between. Never heard of them...? Well its no wonder. The reason is simple: this stuff simply doesn't translate. Its like watching a Woody Allen movie in Irian Yaya or east Shanghai: without the voice and the New York context, it just loses everything. There are plenty of people that are, seriously, "World Famous" in Germany. Every bit as entrenched in the local culture alas, they cannot be exported. What strikes me as sad though is that this simple insight itself is not exported and the lack of English speaking German Standup Comics leads to this implied notion that the entire population is somehow stern and tough and worse yet "humorless". This is, to use a technical sociopsychpathological term, complete bullshit!
The point of non translation, both in language and therefore in awareness, is made with the implied statement that there are plenty of extremely creative people here, amazing artists, literate thinkers and innovative spirit at every level and in every shade of meaning. Its just that you may have never heard of them and maybe in some cases never will.
Its not all roses of course. IPO fever has hit the Neue Markt and there are now plenty of rambling etailers with b2b speeches about sticky eyeball solutions. The American LHF disease ("low hanging fruit") has rampaged through the ranks.
The "Old Money" also has "Old Knowledge". They are endangered species. Count von Suchandsuch can´t count on anyone to drag him onto the web. The schools are in dire need of new generations of teachers with new methods, tools and guidelines
The creative young spirits don't have the structures that built Silicon Valley.... in Silicologne Valley they are only beginning to talk about Angel investors and penny options for all early team members. Starting a corporation will set you back 50,000 Euro immediately: three students in Prague and 2 professors in Tyrolia may already fumble. But as I sit with the Chancellor discussing these stumbling blocks I sense that they are keenly aware that everything is about to change. They WANT to embrace that change. They KNOW that they don't know...
As I arrive here, in love with the notion of an ancient castle with monstrous walls and inside all plasma screens, digital monks meandering about, I cannot help but feel more at home than I do in my actual home of Santa Barbara.
There is something in the air, I used to explain to the Germans about California, and I didn't mean the smog. It is that "anything is possible", that you are reduced to the essence of what you bring to the party and if its good, you will succeed.
That as the American Dream appealed to me in my twenties. The twists of that and the shades of the American Nightmare appall me in my Forties. Still I am an Optimist, but I am lost between these worlds. I don't feel either German or American. Albert spent a considerable amount of time in the end thinking about a world government. Having felt a Citizen of the World all my life, I believe that the future incarnations of the Ultroid Web will get us there faster than any political structural changes. I do see a chance for a completely new kind of "digital democracy" so to speak, where all the ants in the ant hill suddenly have direct access to every aspect of their culture as well as each other.
The differences should not be between the US and Europe. They are between individuals that want to bring about change for the better and the ones that don't, both here and there. We have more in common than in difference.
Don´t label several hundred million people with that much history in their jeans as "they stopped thinking". Maybe they should start talking a bit more about the fact that they are thinking. I´ll mention it to them.
Schirrmacher did too, and I am grateful for it.
KAI KRAUSE, born 1957 in Germany, has a doctorate in philosophy, a masters in image processing, a patent for interface concepts, a Clio for the first StarTrek movie and a Davis Medal by the Royal British Photographical Society. Time magazine selected him as one of the 50 most influential thinkers of the next decade. His software was used for the Oscars and the Mars Mission, Issey Myake clothing and Playboy logos, an Absolut Kai ad and a few others. He wrote some filters for Photoshop, stuff for kids and programs to play with landscapes and human figures and then took the whole thing to Nasdaq in 95 for a few hundred million.
He is currently building a research lab in a castle on the Rhein river dubbed the Byteburg for applied innovation in all fields, as well as an Incubator for startups with the German government in a second castle near Cologne. He loves "Go and Gödel, Bach and Billiards, Escher and eclectic food. Tea and Tivo, new gadgets and old books, museums and symphonies"
United States, Legos, and Innovation
As for my personal focus (the Internet), I get the sense that Germany, along with all of Europe, is suffering from a general mental block, or perhaps sympathy pains, with regard to Internet development. When I speak with Internet entrepreneurs outside of the United States, the distinct feeling I'm struck with is that they believe that what has happened in the last five years in the United States is the gospel in regard to the dot-com world. As such, the prevailing thinking is to build knock offs of businesses that have worked in the United States Internet market (think: EBAY for Germany, EBAY for Spain, etc.), as well as financial models (i.e. angel investors, incubators, stock market roll-ups, etc.).
What non-U.S. markets have to realize is that the U.S. dot-com market is like some warped house of mirrors inhabited by a freak show. Figuring out why theglobe.com was worth billions and is now worth $50 million, or why the market rewards B2C one day and B2B the next, is like trying to figure out who's who when you've stumbled into the house of mirrors and you're looking at the reflections of the bearded lady and the world's smallest man after drinking three martinis.
Boo.com, Europe's biggest and shortest-lived dot-com play to date, is a result of buzz-word copycat thinkers mirroring the worst of U.S. dot-com models: raise lots of money, spend tons of it on advertising, and sell products at a loss in hopes of making it back in volume.
Sure Europeans need to study the United States market, but most importantly, they need to look at the core values of the Internet and evaluate them for themselves in relation to their market and culture. Every child in the United States plays with Legos at some point in their childhood. They are one of the longest and best-selling toys ever, and hail from a tiny, yet innovative country (Denmark), with a population that is a fraction of the size of the United States. That is how European dot commers need to think Ian Clarke's advances with Freenet could be the first example.
JASON MCCABE CALACANIS
and Publisher of Silicon Alley Daily; The Digital Coast Weekly, Silicon
Alley Reporter and Chairman CEO, Rising Tide Studios.