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“Time Out” for reflection on our digital lives

“Time Out” for reflection on our digital lives

With its new series "Time Out" the Vodafone Institute creates a forum for philosophical and political discussion in an ever-accelerating world of innovation.

The speed of digital innovations that impact every aspect of daily life is challenging our sense of judgment and orientation. The digital transformation of the world we live in seems to be moving forward with a dynamic of its own, and our conscious reflections on its development can barely keep up.

The “Time Out” series is an attempt to slow things down a little, an analogue space for reflection, where we can step back and take a critical look at the societal, social, psychological and cultural consequences of the digital transformation processes.

Consciously turning our backs on the blind pursuit of innovation, we look at the question: how can we manage and structure the digitalisation of aspects of our daily life and the rapid surges of innovation to make our lives not more stressful, but more successful?

We are not only talking about changes to our individual worlds of experience, but also about digital disruptions in politics, art, culture, business and science. How are conventional images of society, value systems and forms of interaction changing?

Vodafone Institut

Digital acceleration – and shrinking room for analogue thoughts? (Photo: Vodafone Institute)

Issues for “Time Out” include:

How are new technologies changing the power relationship between the state and private companies?

The speed of digital development is putting a question mark over the primacy of politics. Law-makers are faced with special challenges arising from the normative power of the new technologies, such as the wealth of data and the associated power of individual companies. What does it mean if digital companies know more about citizens’ everyday lives than any (state) research institute?

How should the political sphere react if disruptive business models undermine classic forms of taxation or employee protection, but at the same time generate new forms of working and selling that many people welcome? If innovations can spread before we can decide whether they should be permitted or forbidden, existing values start to crumble. How can we make sure that political discourse can keep pace with the rate of technological change?

Do we need a new analogue culture?

The digital age is inspiring new cultural methods, and in that respect is comparable with the invention of the printing press. Digital technologies have a democratising effect: they create access to once unaffordable educational and cultural assets and are revolutionising the global exchange of information and knowledge.

At the same time many people are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with logic of acceleration that is built into the structure of modern societies, where digitalisation has the potential to intensify inherent stress – with psychopathological consequences in some cases.

How can it be that digitalisation steals our time despite promising us time savings? How should we be dealing with the paradoxical phenomenon that time resources are constantly being consumed faster than they are produced, that the “increase in the quantity of activity exceeds the increase in speed of completion”, as the sociologist Hartmut Rosa puts it?

Or, more specifically: how can we learn to handle the new media such that we can use their capabilities to our advantage and to enhance our well-being without feeling overburdened by an excess of communication opportunities? What is the correct ratio of analogue and digital? In future, what will be the value of print, of experiences and of the tangible world? How much digital is too much digital?

What is the relationship between the individual and the community?

In an age where everything, or at least much, is shareable, visible and public, forms of social interaction and the relationship of “me” to “the others” is changing. Many people, especially young people, measure their status and their acknowledgement through “likes”, “fans” and “followers”. Our behaviour, our thoughts, our professional competence and personal inclinations are evaluated and commented on.

Permanent presence in the public digital space has long been socially acceptable. Whilst this fills many older observers with unease, the distinction between the digital and analogue identity is obsolete for “digital natives”. How is this new identity, which is both always analogue yet also digital, changing the relationship between the individual and the group? And will the digitalised “I” ultimately be a more empathic or more egocentric entity?

The speakers

Internationally renowned speakers from the worlds of science, business, politics and culture will speak in an analogue context at “Time Out” about their thoughts on the digital transformation. We are looking for thinkers and doers who are willing to put their head above the “digital parapet”, intellectuals who are influencing the discourse on the long-term changes in our society, our democracy, on how we live together, how we think, act and feel.

People invited to speak at the series of events include Peter Bieri, Dave Eggers, Stephen Fry, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and Martha Nussbaum.

The guests

The guests at the event are decision-makers from the fields of science, culture and politics who engage with the digitalisation of society, such as members of the German parliament and employees of the political parties, civil servants and employees of German federal ministries as well as representatives of companies, academic and cultural institutions.

The individual events of the series will tackle different focal areas.

The group of participants will be limited to around 50 people to ensure a lively discussion. In line with the analogue character of “Time Out” we will go without smartphones, twitter walls or live streams. The Chatham House rule applies. The series will start in autumn 2015.