Roland Dürre
Wednesday September 18th, 2019

The Smart Mask of Digital Capitalism.


In the mountains of the Peloponnesus, on the way to Vatyna.

Earlier this week, I returned from three weeks in Italy and Greek. Two of those weeks were spent camping on the Peloponnesus. I had had many plans.

The first sector in my list of good intentions was that I wanted to swim, ride my bike or hike every day and enjoy life. In this, I succeeded as seldom before.

The second sector of my list was about writing a few articles. In particular, I wanted to write a recension about a book by Timo Daum, that is to be published on October, 7th, 2019 by the Oekom-Verlag.

Unfortunately, this did not happen. I was caught up in a comfortable lethargy. But at least, I read about two thirds of the book. I also collected material and am now very optimistic about finishing the recension before the book is on the market.

The book by Timo Daum is titled  »The Car in the Era of Digital Capitalism. How Algorithms and Data Control Traffic « . It inspired me towards many new ideas. But I will write more about this in my recension.

When I found out that the same author had also written a »Criticism of the Digital Economy«  (which I have not yet read), it dawned on me that there is a new digital capitalism. To me, it seems to be even more powerful and brutal than the one we know so well from the last century.

Among other things, the digital capitalism is such a success because it has replaced the “humane face“ with a »smart mask « , behind which it hides in an absolutely ingenious way.

The smart mask is supposed to make us believe that digitalization improves the world. It gives the mega predatory capitalism a humane face and promises us that we get a clean electronic world, a common-good economy, a shared economy, shared knowledge, a great design, products that are friendly towards people and the environment, and many more nice things. In other words, you get a smart life in a smart world and society. Smart life in a smart city.

Smart, smart, smart!!! In reality, however, it is more than ever all about money. This is true both for our old Europe and the new China.

I am reluctant about using a new term like smart. Consequently, I will first and foremost ask:

What exactly is the meaning of “smart”?
I heard a nice definition by a co-founder of NextHamburg. He said that smart solutions work towards a social goal with digitalization. The formula is:

Social + Digital = Smart !!!

That sounds nice, but it is a lie. My Chinese friends are much more pragmatic. In their view, every product that is linked with WLAN and has internet access is a smart product. It does not matter if it is a saucepan or a set of scales.

The probably most powerful and greedy concern of new economy gave itself the motto:
“Don’t be evil!”
We really liked that, didn’t we?

Then they gamified  their products and turned the offices into fun parks where you have a world of fun, but where the people actually worked harder than ever. The mask is glamorous.

Microsoft, too, has nice toys. Very early on, they collected brownie points with wysiwyg and, above all, with solitaire. And they asked us:
Where do you want to go today?

And then Apple came and turned the cult into a religion.

We fell for it. As programmers, we really enjoyed what we did and were quite surprised when we saw how much we earned by doing it. Our hourly rates were considerably higher than those of the engineers. At least, they, too, enjoyed it.

We were intoxicated by Open Source and Agility. The Law of Moor (Mooresche Gesetz) looked like it was no longer following the laws of nature. Topics such as blockchain and AI generated hopes for the future that will not survive closer scrutiny.

After the drinking binge, you will always get the next morning. Even more potential will necessitate even more infra structure, more energy and raw materials, more (electric) cars, a world of more consumption and culture. It is easy to hide total digitalization behind the smart mask as part of the total technologic supremacy of our world.

And today, we learn that, even more than ever, the goal is the generation of cash. And that the promise of the new digital world that they will save the planet, is also an empty promise. And in the new smart madhouse, everything is about growth and the funny stuff.

Consequently, my definition of smart is that it is a strategy that earns you a lot of money in little time. It is a term that has absolutely nothing to do with sustainability.

RMD
(Translated by EG)