Future Angst In One Image

A few days ago, a friend posted one of these photos that I too am in the habit of taking: from a book table in a bookstore with her own freshly published non-fiction book between a series of other non-fiction books on the subject. Michaela Ernst used the picture to show between which other titles her absolutely recommendable book (in German) Error 404: How to keep your nerves in the digital jungle is united on the table.

(C) Michaela Ernst

But what caught my eye immediately was the tenor of the book titles on digital technologies and systems. For those who can’t tell from the picture, here are all the titles in one list (with the exception of Michaela’s book):

  • The Great Destruction: What the digital break does to our lives
  • The price of profit: we must save capitalism from itself
  • Revolt: The worldwide uprising against globalization
  • Everything could be different: A social utopia for free people
  • facebook: World power at the abyss
  • Life according to Google: The crash of Big Data and the rise of the Blockchain
  • The spy in my pocket: What the mobile phone does to us and how we can use it anyway
  • Mindf*ck: How democracy is undermined by social media
  • World system crash: crises, unrest and the birth of a new world order
  • The biggest crash ever
  • After the collapse: The seven secrets of wealth preservation in the coming chaos
  • The age of surveillance capitalism
  • Who protects the world from the corporations? The secret rulers and their assistants…

Recognized? Which of the books speaks of hopeful future scenarios and describes the present as positive? If your answer is “None!”, then you have understood what I am getting at. The premise of each book title illustrated is that we are either already living in a digital dystopia, or are about to do so because the existing system will collapse. No single title deals with the view of how digital systems have improved our lives.

Note that each of the authors uses exactly the same technologies to write, research, promote and lecture on such a book.

It is already clear to me that this one book table in a Viennese bookstore is not representative of all bookstores in the German-speaking world and that the selection comes from the bookseller himself. But such a selection does not come by chance. First of all, the publishers themselves have to select such books for publication. If the bookseller had the choice to publish non-fiction books with the chances of these topics, he would probably have done so. And then publishes and issues books that are also increasingly bought. And there it is like in times “Only bad news is good news!”

The more lurid the title, the more dystopian the scenario, the more evil the villains, the more colorful it is pictured that we are living in the biggest catastrophe in human history, the better for the sales figures.

And that is exactly the problem with us. Although Silicon Valley, where I’ve lived for almost two decades, has book titles of this kind, a third to half of the non-fiction books deal with the positive side and the opportunities of these topics. This negativity in the German-speaking world – and, if I may say so, also in France – is a mental obstacle for us to seize opportunities and achieve great things.

It is clear that good and bad can be done with any technology and any system. But it is the human being, not the technology itself, that is to blame. And yet these technologies and systems benefit us more than they harm us. And the solutions to the problems created are usually other technologies and systems. However, that does not seem to be the tenor here. The tenor is to get away from it or to expect something completely utopian: namely that people suddenly all become good and have the best for everyone else in mind.

There are no more role models, there is no alternative view of the future than this negative, dystopian one. And exactly this one picture shows our fear of the future. The future is a threat. We see digital and other technologies above all as something that threatens our life and our lifestyle. Almost all of this technology comes from other countries and was not created by us at home. And maybe that is the real reason for our fear of the future: we don’t help shape it, we are overwhelmed by it, we have the feeling of not having control over it, and we are perhaps a little envious of those who create it. The only way out that the majority of us seem to see is to speak ill of these technologies and systems.

You don’t agree with me? Then tell me a non-fiction book on digital topics that you have seen or read on a book table lately. How easy is it for you to give me one?

Anyway, I recommend two books with positive spin on these topics without these authors seeing the problems as negligible. One is Michaela’s book Error 404: How to keep your nerves in the digital jungle and the second is my own: When Monkeys Learn from Monkeys.

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