Newsletter #1: Reclaiming the public sphere!
– Alexander Sängerlaub
The radical transformation of our public sphere has presented us with a flood of challenges. Time to tackle them. The think & do tank futur eins introduces itself in its first newsletter and reports on the first three months since its founding.
We need to talk
Have you ever experienced this? You're at a Zoom conference, maybe even as a panel guest, but when the event is over, the organizer hits "end meeting for everyone" so quickly that there's no wrap-up: No "Thanks for the talk," no afterglow, no queries, no exchanges, no follow-up, no "Nice to meet you here!" You're sitting alone again in your hallway, your kitchen, your living room, your office, or wherever your laptop is, back in the sometimes oppressive loneliness of the pandemic. So how do you still get into conversation these days? Especially if you want to dare and introduce something new? Nevertheless, I was in conversation with futur eins - as far as one can still be in these pandemic times.
Spoke at Space for Ideas 1014 in New York and about the impact of Trump, the Capitol storming and whether it was right to block the U.S. president on Twitter shortly before he left office. Talked to the Tagesspiegel about both what dangers disinformation poses for the next federal election and the lack of media education in the country. At #D21talks, I discussed the challenges of digital structural change in the public sphere and whether fact-checking is making a difference. Among other things, I spoke with digital expert Ann Cathrin Riedel about freedom of expression and regulation, with the media authorities (Medienanstalten) about the changing media use of Generation Z, with piqd about what ails digital journalism, and with Hamburg's cultural senator about the uncertain future of local journalism.
Ideally, people who speak also listen. And so, among all the many clever thoughts of my interlocutors, one sentence in particular stuck with me, from sociologist Armin Nassehi, who recently discussed the digital structural change of the public sphere at the Office of the Federal President: Nassehi said that digitization has probably triggered the most disruptive change for our public sphere since the letterpress 500 years ago.
This radical change, this technological disruption of our democratic communication spaces triggered by digitalization, is the reason why we created this organization. Because so many things are dissolving and changing in parallel that it is almost impossible to counteract them socially, politically or technologically. Gigantic, algorithmically working, data-crazed platforms that hold the monopoly of our digital communication, the disintegrating of journalism without functioning business models for the digital, the overstrained society that is not yet news literate, et cetera et cetera. We have a massive need to talk about our public sphere on all perspectives.
Frederik Fischer, Christina Dinar, Leonard Novy and I have been observing these signs of dissolution of our public spheres, which digital structural change has been causing for decades now, from our various perspectives with displeasure for years. It's not a problem of knowledge, but rather one of implementation. There is a need for discussion, but also for massive action. We have to try more, try out new approaches. That's why futur eins is a think & do tank.
Now we're getting started! Our quivers are packed with expertise and ideas, methods and new questions about how to improve our public sphere. That's the core of this nonprofit organization. In the quiver are model projects, constructive pinpricks, ideas for new questions, and constant trial and experimentation that is also allowed to fail. Because things are burning on all fronts at the same time and we want - with you - to take action. We need: more news literacy, more solution-oriented journalism, more digital knowledge architectures, more common good orientation, more innovative business models, proven means against disinformation as well as the demonetization of hate and a cold withdrawal from the attention economy, and we also have to keep an eye on the countries that are not lucky enough to enjoy as much freedom of the press and freedom of expression as we (still) do. Fact-checks us gladly, but as far as we know, we are the first organization in Germany so far that is totally dedicated to the holistic improvement of our public sphere.
But the beginning, which is supposedly inherent in the magic, is faced with the Corona pandemic. Since January 2021, we have officially taken up the work, on a voluntary basis and still without the hoped-for start-up funding. The pandemic makes everything snail-slow, processes stretch, when does the day-care center open again? Why is the Federal Ministry of Education and Research postponing the announcement of who will receive project funds for the sixth time? I want to be radically honest with you here: Fundraising in times of a pandemic is like a Homeric Odyssey. Getting into the conversation these days between pandemic exasperation and digitality is backbreaking work - and everything that goes with it. Fundraising is something that requires a space that can be occupied; where the feeling arises that people are working together on something, a handshake, commitment instead of pixelation, all that is missing.
Yet there is so much we need to talk about: About the extinguished innovative power of an industry that has been consumed by digital structural change like no other. About the €220 million Corona aid that now seems like millions thrown into the abyss. We need to talk about the fact that the daily battle for daily attention has become a daily battle for survival for many editorial departments, producing loud yapping instead of constructive journalism. Isn't the attention economy of the tabloids the same as that of the hated Facebook algorithms? Are we solving the challenges of our society when content is supposed to be primarily "snackable" and "clickable," a good story has to be told, and the audience can't and doesn't like anything more? Doesn't journalism in the digital world have to be much more than uploaded TV reports and uploaded print articles?
At futur eins, we set out to ask unpleasant questions, to which there are sometimes only unpleasant answers. But "the state of a democracy is measured by the heartbeat of its political public," as our friend Jürgen Habermas once said. Do we still feel it, the heartbeat, or are we already news-weary?
Let's talk, think and take action about this together soon!
Our journey begins here. Our mission: Reclaiming the public sphere!