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Systems and cultures under scrutiny at Next Conference 2017

Rapid digitization breaks and reshapes structures in both economy and society, triggering widespread change and disruptions. Looking at, and summing up, the repercussions begs the question if we are really moving in the right direction. Do we seriously want to put up with market-dictating players, unpredictable safety risks and a generation of distracted children who develop stress symptoms at smartphone withdrawal? „Digital sucks“ was the title Next chose for this year´s conference, challenging our deep, and maybe too uncritical, affection for all things digital.

Bruce Sterling (Photo: Next Conference / Frank Erpinar)

Few are as pessimistic about the next ten years as science fiction writer Bruce Sterling. He opened day two of the Next Conference by predicting no less than the certain demise of Western civilization. Still, the majority of the speakers at Hamburg´s digital conference has turned away from the Silicon Valley players with their unreflected “make or break” optimism to focus on the realities of everyday life instead. While Asia seems to own the fast lane, American and European societies are desperately wrestling with effects of the digital revolution, with „fake news“ and Donald Trump´s presidency counting as glaring examples.

This invites scrutiny of both innovation cultures and the frameworks for technological development. Will we need even more competition – or maybe less? What about transparency? Responsibility? Sustainability? Advanced design?

„Ask big questions“ was the fourth and last bottom line in the introductory keynote ( „We need to talk about optimism“ by David Mattins. – It set the perfect tune for the following two days of bashing - and worshipping - digital.

Conference highlights were delivered by Tricia Wang of Constellate Data with „Dept of the unknown: Why corporate ‘innovation’ doesn’t work, and how to fix it“, Oxfort University´s James Williams with „Distraction by design: Why the attention economy is in a moral crisis“, and Museum of Failure´s Samuel West with „Learning from innovation failure“.

The Next Conference 2017 took place on September 21st and 22nd as part of Hamburg´s Reeperbahn Festival. Find more reports, photos and videos under

Article: Ernst Demmel / 26.09.2017




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