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Berlin's Relationship to the Internet: A Model For the Rest of Us?

Why Berlin's relationship with the Internet could be looked at as a model for the rest of us.

Given the current obsession with sharing and over-sharing personal information on the Internet, perhaps we can learn from the “Berlin model” of how we relate to new technology as a sign of the future.


In 2005, then-Mayor of Berlin Klaus Wowereit announced a 10-year plan to rejuvenate the city. The feel-good factor of 1989—when the wall came down—was long gone, as was the grimy rockstar glamor of when Iggy Pop and David Bowie inhabited the city in the 1970s. But it was this sort of image that Wowereit embraced. Berlin was “poor but sexy,” he was famously quoted as saying. Almost 10 years later, this plan for regrowth has seen considerable success and Berlin is now considered the creative capital of Europe, with its Silicon Allee making it one of the most exciting technology hubs in Europe.

A unifying element in this rebirth has been the power of the Internet to break down old barriers—from publishing, to advertising, to sharing. It is easier now than ever for people to both create and consume content. However, while the technology-led creative explosion in the USA over this same time-period led to Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and many other social sites, the focus in Berlin has been different. In Germany in general, the issue of privacy is a powerful driver of society.

Historically, of course, privacy has been routinely intruded on and abused by various governments in the region. In Berlin in particular, the shadow of such regimes is long and deep, with first the Stasi and then the KGB having spent decades controlling the population through a combination of intimidation and brutal repression. As such, the right to privacy is a central part of modern German society—as seen with the difficulty of making purchases online, the minimalist nature of most websites (just try to find a restaurant menu online!), and the relatively slow uptake of newer online trends like social media or smartphones (although this is beginning to change). Open Wifi is scarce, partly due to the high number of fines for illegal downloads. You'll even notice it on Facebook; American or British friends have hundreds of photos of themselves whereas Germans tend to be more restrained, perhaps with good reason.

The issue of privacy and how it intersects with the modern Internet is a topic that has had a huge amount of attention this year, especially following the Edward Snowden revelations. There has been a lot of talk of how this is the beginning of the end for the Internet as we know it—and how the pressures of the open vs. closed debate will eventually lead to a fragmentation of the online environment. There have long been warning signs of the dangers of oversharing by everyday users. A good example is the consistent warnings that potential employers will scrutinize our private lives if we aren't careful (make sure you are in control of your so-called online brand!). The massive scale of access that large companies and, now, governments have to our personal data is an alarming new development. Naturally, people are likely to be more wary of the many doubtless benefits that modern technology brings them.

This is why Berlin is such an interesting case study. Creativity in the technology sector can be fostered without encouraging the complete buy-in of customers handing over lots of personal data (despite the number of sites asking you to give them access to your Facebook or Twitter accounts to comment/pay/share). Start stripping back on the personal, stop signposting individuals, and put the content first—the likes of Reddit, Snapchat, and Whisper indicate that communities focused on content, not personality, are the next wave of social web players. There is another way.

Berlin is not without its problems when it comes to the Internet (just ask the Pirate Party, a protest opposition party dedicated to advancing the digital rights of citizens), and most residents will complain about relatively low connectivity speeds given half a chance. While these speeds are a bit aggravating, they pale in comparison to the concerns of countries without such a focused defense of privacy rights. These may not be perfect in Germany, but it seems safe to say they're significantly more robust than in the USA or the UK.

The future of the Internet does not have to be about the trade-offs between a highly creative, successful technology sector and governments seeking to exploit the data that sector generates. The real choice will come from the crowds, the vast majority of people who use the Internet to chat and share. Everyday users don't have to simply accept invasions of privacy—they can choose to value their right to privacy more highly. Like The Pirate Party or the Occupy movements, this can be achieved politically, using traditional interactions like protest, voting, and campaigns. Or you could embrace the new, anonymised vision of the web (stop posting selfies and start creating new things!). There are numerous apps and websites getting attention based on ideas like this, but there’s definitely room for more (so get coding!).

This debate, and others like it, are likely to be the defining issues of the next ten years, especially for the kind of young people Berlin and other cities are trying to attract. Sitting in Berlin, it is nice to see an alternative.

Articles

This article was produced in partnership with the United Nations to launch the biggest-ever global conversation on the role of cooperation in building the future we want.

When half of the world's population doesn't share the same opportunity or rights as the other half, the whole world suffers. Like a bird whose wings require equal strength to fly, humanity will never soar to its full potential until we achieve gender equality.

That's why the United Nations made one of its Sustainable Development Goals to "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls." That goal includes providing women and girls equal access to education and health care, as well as addressing gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.

While there is still much work to be done, history shows us that we are capable of making big leaps forward on this issue. Check out some of the milestones humanity has already reached on the path to true equality.

Historic Leaps Toward Gender Equality

1848 The Seneca Falls Convention in New York, organized by Elizabeth Lady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, is the first U.S. women's convention to discuss the oppression of women in sociopolitical, economic, and religious life.

1893 New Zealand becomes the first self-governing nation to grant national voting rights to women.

1903 Marie Curie becomes the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She is also the only woman to win multiple Nobel Prizes, for Physics in 1903 and Chemistry in 1911.

1920 The 19th Amendment is passed in the U.S. giving women the right to vote in all 50 U.S. states.

1973 The U.S. Open becomes the first major sports tournament of its kind to offer equal pay to women, after tennis star Billie Jean King threatened to boycott.

1975 The first World Conference on Women is held in Mexico, where a 10-year World Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women is formed. The first International Women's Day is commemorated by the UN in the same year.

1979 The UN General Assembly adopts the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), also known as the "Women's Bill of Rights." It is the most comprehensive international document protecting the rights of women, and the second most ratified UN human rights treaty after the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

1980 Vigdis Finnbogadottir of Iceland becomes the first woman to be elected head of state in a national election.

1993 The UN General Assembly adopts the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the first international instrument to explicitly define forms of violence against women and lay out a framework for global action.

2010 The UN General Assembly creates the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) to speed progress on meeting the needs of women and girls around the world.

2018 The UN and European Union join forces on the Spotlight Initiative, a global, multi-year initiative focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.

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As the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is redoubling its commitment to reach all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality. But it will take action and effort from everyone to ensure that women and girls are free from discrimination and violence. Learn more about what is being done to address gender equality and see how you can get involved here.

And join the global conversation about the role of international cooperation in building the future by taking the UN75 survey here.

Let's make sure we all have a say in the future we want to see.

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via WFMZ / YouTube

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Perez claims he was responding to insults hurled at him by the officers. The police say that Perez was picking a fight. The altercation left Perez with a broken nose, scrapes, swelling, and bruises from his hips to his shoulder.

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