Taking back control

The individualization shift of the last decades was caused by three major developments. The first is the increase of wealth by which nearly all demographic groups elevated to a higher living standard. Secondly, shortening working hours brought more spare time in which citizens could pursue their interests, hobbies, political engagement, or further education. Eventually, an educational achievement brought social climbing and cognitive competencies that encouraged us to think about ourselves and our lives more profoundly.

Nowadays everybody has to answer their questions in life on their own instead of just following the path of their milieu like it was in former days. Life, death, identity, gender, physicality, religion, marriage, parenthood, social binding – everything is decided in detail by our selves, which can be overwhelming. Since we do not identify with a set of traditions anymore, everything could’ve been arranged differently, everything is questionable, there is always an alternative. We lost the cultural binding that led our way through the jungle of options.

Now, how can design make a difference here? Well, what if there is something that could help us guide the way through all those options? Help either to see the effects of a decision beforehand or simply help feeling comfortable with already made decisions.

One of the beautiful things about machine learning is that massively large data sets can be processed. And instead of using online profiling data for marketing intentions, it could be used to empower the very person whose profile it is. By creating online profile transparency and offering insight through an interface one would be able to understand themself, to make better decisions, and to understand their effects. Like laying out branches of actions that converge to a butterfly effect.

The butterfly effect basically describes how a small event can have a huge impact later on. Using an interface that computes your personal life could either predict the future or will let you understand your past. I personally find that idea fascinating even though it’s unclear how well machine learning and AI can execute it at this stage. I do not propose a destiny forecast but rather a tool to understand themself and to gain an overview of personal behaviors instead of offering it to companies that then forecast your consuming future for you.


Ralf Dahrendorf: Der moderne soziale Konflikt. Essay zur Politik der Freiheit, Stuttgart 1994