What bad things have disappeared thanks to smartphones

"The new bio is analogous," says André Wilkens - and wants us to put our smartphones away

Smartphones away, talk to people, play a board game again: that's what digital fan André Wilkens would like from all of us. In his much-discussed book "Analog ist das neue Bio", Wilkens describes the risks and side effects of our life, which is permanently connected thanks to smartphones, and advocates offline awareness.

How organic was your breakfast this morning, Mr Wilkens, and how similar is your media consumption?

I ate a delicious bread from a southern German bakery here in Mitte and read the newspaper, completely lied to it. And I've heard the radio too.

What is digital and what is analog for you?

For me, the main question is whether something is digitally networked. Although a DVD is a digital medium, it is essentially an analog thing because it is not connected to the Internet. You can watch them without downloading anything or revealing any data about yourself.

Basically, I am not a digital enemy; this morning my iPad was next to my newspaper on the breakfast table and I think Facebook is a great news portal, for example. I am concerned with the question of the risks and side effects of this great digital stuff.

This is precisely why you wrote a kind of package insert for digital life in your book.

Exactly. Digital life is a bit like medication or legal drugs. Instructions are needed: what am I taking this for? In what dose do I do this? Is this suitable for children? What will happen to me then, what do I have to pay attention to?

People have to become aware that all of this is not free and that you have to worry about it - if you do that and come to the conclusion that all of this is okay, what is it like that something happens to your own data you can't overlook, that's good too. One must not skip this point of awareness.

They list a range of risks and side effects - from the risks of big data, total surveillance by the NSA, to screen addiction, to the changes that the internet and smartphones are causing in our social coexistence. What is most important to you there?

You have to look at all of these things in context. I firmly believe that digital can make the world a better place - but it hasn't happened yet. And with some things, the side effects are worse than the positive effects they should actually have. It may be like a drug that helps relieve headaches, then you get really bad stomach cramps or even die.

In the package insert I deliberately did not give any weighting. Personally, however, I am puzzled by the question of how much of my own decision-making power I still have. How independent am I in the data economy if Amazon sends me books before I have ordered them because they know that I will order them? I think that's terrible.

I don't want to be steered by others and pushed back and forth by algorithms. I also find it funny and sad at the same time when you see people walking through the streets or sitting in public transport - and everyone just looks spellbound at a little black thing.

Twenty, fifty, or a hundred years ago everyone looked at newspapers in these situations.

That may have been the case. In my experience, it's still easier to get into conversation with a newspaper than with something like that in front of your nose. That signals: I don't want to talk.

But you also communicate with the thing.

That's true, but with the supposed whole world, not with the people in the immediate vicinity, with those who are physically there. There you have situations in the restaurant in the pub or even at home in the living room, where everyone is separately communicative.

At a recent event I met a young woman who described exactly that as “totally great” and also much “cleaner” - finally no longer having to talk to people, but only through the smartphone. If someone makes this decision for themselves, it may be pleasant for the individual, but for us as a society it is a disaster.

Users find shopping suggestions on Amazon or the auto-complete function on Google practical - not problematic. Why is that?

People like to be comfortable, even if they are aware of the side effects or long-term effects of this convenience. We all still drive cars, although climate change is a reality.

Your book ends with an alphabet of offline instead of online activity. Do you all practice them yourself?

The list is very personal. I want to make it clear with her that it is worth thinking instead of googling. We immediately look for the answer online to all questions, instead of thinking for at least ten seconds ourselves. In addition, digital life is sometimes sold to us as having no alternative.

But when there are no more alternatives, you live in a totalitarian society. There are many things that can still be done analog. It is not difficult and not hard to do without the digital. A board game instead of the computer game is also fun.


The 52-year-old André Wilkens studied political science and lived in Brussels, London, Turin and Geneva, where he worked for the EU, several foundations and the UN. Today he lives with his German-English family in Berlin. He supports the “The good digital life” initiative.


André Wilkens: The new organic is analogous. Non-fiction. Metrolit Verlag, Berlin 2015, 220 pages, 18 euros, 13.99 euros (e-book) [Photo: Syda Productions / Fotolia.de]

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Published under: Digitalien

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