The treadmill: a simple exercise machine?
The author of the following blog post, Chris Pyak, uses the treadmill as a metaphor to describe how the world is running while governments are walking and discussing how crucial technology and connections are to daily life, and daily politics.
I run 6km on the treadmill whenever I can’t find an excuse. I’m doing fine walking when the speed is set to “slow“ and I’m doing fine running when the speed is set to “fast“. But what never works is when I try to walk slowly when the speed is set to “fast “. I would inevitably stumble, desperately grab onto something and smash to the ground. It doesn’t look graceful.
My wife Evgenia would stick her head through the door: “Everything alright?“ I would swear and blame the …treadmill. But of course, it’s not the treadmill. It’s the fact that I stuck to my old behaviour instead of adjusting to the new situation. That reminds me a lot about how we organise our public affairs. Our national governments try to take their countries for a calm stroll when the world is already running.
The internet shattered the foundation of… everything. Knowledge is power – and a privilege of a small elite. That was a safe assumption for most of my childhood.
Now you can take a course at Harvard university. Online and for free. How many gifted young people are taking these lessons right now, looking at the bright screens of their mobile phones, taking notes in their scrapbooks – while sitting on the floor of a hut in Africa or a shack in South America? How long will it take before they create their first startup, offering smarter services that would fit you like a glove? Soon we will see the first African Facebook, the first Indian Google.
I lived in Estonia for five years. After Estonia became independent, the Finnish government offered their neighbours their old telephone system from the ’70s. Free of charge. The Estonians politely declined. Instead, they jumped directly to the newest technology. Twenty years have passed and Estonia is leading the world in e-government and innovations in the public service. You can fill in your tax declaration in three minutes. In my home country Germany, you can print out the forms from the internet.
The same happens all over the world. The former “third world countries“ have no legacy to defend. They embrace the newest technologies. And life quality for their citizens increases at a breathtaking speed. India will become the 5th biggest economy in the world in a year or two. (With the help of Brexit, it might get there even faster.)
They might be poorer than us for the moment, but talk to the people in these countries and you find hope. They are full of optimism and energy because their lives are getting better every year. That’s the spirit that I also experienced in Estonia.
What is new in the internet age: Their hope is empowered by abilities or “action resources“ as Christian Welzel calls them in ‘Freedom rising’.
Find clients from all over the world? Use Google Adwords or sell your product on Amazon. Produce your product at lowest cost? Order it from a Chinese company over the internet. Deliver it to customers around the globe? Use UPS. Charge your customers? Paypal is available in the most remote corners of our planet.
Hope plus knowledge plus abilities creates a much better future for people around the world.
And in Europe? We see self-doubt, fear and anger. We see older workers who fear to become obsolete. We see millions of young people with excellent education who find no way into our labour market. A growing number of citizens see the wonders that the digital age provides and feel excluded.
Our job as ALDE Party Individual Members is to provide abilities for Europe’s citizens so that they can convert their skills into a better life.
The way we achieve this goal is simple: We need to adjust our treadmill – the European Union – to the digital age. This means one thing – remove artificial obstacles to the connections. Because it is networks that make a better life possible.
What use is a self-driving car if it stops at the border of Luxembourg because there is no European regulation on how to drive in other member countries? How can we have millions of young professionals without a job in Southern Europe and a massive labour shortage in Germany at the same time and not be outraged that labour mobility in the EU is only 1/10 of the US level? How can we have 28 national armies with 28 ministers of defence – but still not be able to defend our interests without American help?
The internet itself is a network of millions of computers. It provides literally all the knowledge of the world, and gives instant access to it at no cost at all. How can this not be better than a standalone computer with a small hard drive? In the digital age, value is created by connections. We need our public affairs to be changed in a way that reflect this simple truth.
However, our national heads of states insist to “walk“ while the treadmill is set on “run“. And that’s why we don’t solve any of our problems. The banking crisis, Euro crisis, Putin’s war against Georgia and Ukraine, the refugee crisis, the civil war in Syria and now Putin’s “active measures“ campaign against western democracies.
They all fester, none of them have been solved.
Why? Because national heads of state put short-sighted egoism over the common interest of all Europeans. Imagine we solve our problems together. Imagine we propose, discuss and decide laws that affect all of us in the European Parliament. Imagine a European Prime Minister implementing these laws.
That would be the European Republic of the Internet age. Not a European Union of Windows 95. I think that’s worth fighting for.
Chris Pyak, Member of the ALDE Party Individual members Steering Committee