Problems that keep me up at night

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I know it’s been a little quiet around here recently. But although I have been slacking a bit with my usual book reviews, I feel like I’m finally starting to think the way I need to to start my own business. Rather than thinking too hard about what I’d like to do as a job, I’m beginning to think in terms of problems that bother me in my daily life. I’d like to share some of these problems in this post.

Maybe I’m gradually getting better in this kind of thinking. Maybe I’m just obsessing about these topics because of the books and articles I read. In any case, I often find it hard to fall asleep recently, because I’m trying to come up with at least partly solutions. But I guess that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This quote from a TED talk I watched several years ago stuck with me all this time:

“If you come across a problem that grabs you, let it keep you up at night.”

Nikolai Begg in his TED talk “A tool to fix one of the most dangerous moments in surgery”

Open Source, Decentralized Communication

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Recently, I started to look for alternatives to the usual “big company” products (Google, Apple, Twitter, Facebook), that are decentralized and take data protection seriously. Switching from Chrome to Brave was easy. Using Qwant instead of Google search took some getting used to, but works well, too. HERE WeGo is a useful alternative to Google Maps. Moving from Gmail to mailbox.org is a work in progress, but it was a great decision: They even provide cloud services and an Open Office clone.

As for social media, I found that leaving Facebook was surprisingly easy. I also looked into Mastodon as an alternative to Twitter but found it extremely difficult to identify accounts worth following. Maybe there isn’t enough content available yet for the topics I’m interested in – or I haven’t found the right way to find it. I still use WhatsApp to some extent, but I’m gradually shifting communication to other channels.

Making this shift with operating systems is often a little more challenging. Although we have Linux running on one of our three computers at home, I still stick to Mac on my own laptop. I love Affinity for working on photos. Unfortunately, the program is not available for Linux, and I’m not happy with the alternatives that are. Finding an alternative operating system for your phone is an entirely different story, which I will cover in the following section.

Phones for Long-Term Use & Open Source Smartphone Operating System

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An issue I have been struggling with ever since I bought my first smartphone is durability. After several years, smartphones tend to inevitably “self-destroy”: The hardware may have no problems at all (excluding maybe the battery, which can easily be exchanged in older models). However, the software (operating system and apps) take up more and more storage space, turning the phone obsolete simply because internal storage space or RAM is not sufficient anymore.

Several projects and companies have addressed the hardware issue in the past (e. g. Phonebloks, Project Ara, Puzzle Phone). However, it has gotten awfully quiet in this area in recent years. The Fairphone still operates on these premises today. But similarly to the issue described above, software seems to be a significant problem for them.

What I believe is needed here is an alternative operating system, that allows users access to basic smartphone functions regardless of how old the phone is. Functionalities like calling people, writing messages, email, internet browsing, and navigation should be possible even if a phone model is ten years old. I know there are some systems out there already (/e/, postmarketOS), but unfortunately, progress seems to be quite slow.

Waste Reduction & Circular Economy

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Linking to the issue of long-term use of technological devices described above, I firmly believe that waste in general needs to be massively reduced. For groceries, I’ve started to shop at packaging-free stores a while ago and generally try to live a life oriented towards zero waste. Many of the issues can be solved by changing individual shopping habits: buying less in general, going shopping more often but only when we actually need something, fixing and re-using things instead of throwing them away.

But additionally, I believe we also need more producers fostering a genuinely circular economy. The target is for resources not to go to waste, but to be brought back into production again and again. I’ve read about Rapanui, a clothing brand from the UK, in another blog post. If you purchase clothing in their shop, they will take it back once it’s worn out and make sure the fabric is used again for the production of new clothes.

These ideas are urgently needed, and I would like to actively contribute to the concept myself by founding my own business in the area. But here, too, I feel like both consumers and producers need to engage more for this movement to gain a little more momentum.

Share Economy & Connecting Communities

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The last area I have been putting a lot of thought into recently is the ubiquitous share economy. But rather than only focusing on shared cars and bikes, which can be rented in virtually every larger city in Germany today, I believe this concept needs to be extended to additional areas.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to set up communities – especially in defined areas like apartment blocks or neighborhoods – to support such a share economy. If I only use my power tools and screwdrivers once or twice a year, aren’t one or two per community sufficient as long as everybody can access them freely? What about books, games, and musical instruments? What would a system look like that allows everybody access but inhibits vandalism?

Additionally, I could imagine a similar system for services like child care, grocery shopping, teaching various skills, and so on. But for these cases, trust is even more critical than for sharing tangible objects. How can trust be built here? How can the problem of free-riders, who gain a lot but contribute little, be eliminated?

These are some of the problems I’ve been thinking about recently. I realize they are issues on a global scale. But in any case, I would feel great if I could contribute at least in some small way to solving them locally here in my neighborhood.

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