Four people on a bench before a sign saying "never offline." Three of them have their phones in hand.

B3nerkenswert June 2023

Welcome to the first issue of B3nerkenswert! This issue complements the more “worldly” issue at the beginning of the month. (I wrote about this plan last time.) It’s fully dedicated to everything digital and online. I hope you enjoy this new format, feedback is as always welcome!
The June issue:

  • “Never offline”: A series of photos and brief reflections that looks at our digital life in a nonjudgmental way
  • Links! So many links.


Not-judging the internet

I started to publish a photo per day with a few sentences of reflection recently. It’s a simple creative frame that’s fun and has enough space to grow into interesting directions.

The way the format works best for me is to pick the photos each weekend and use some online service that publishes them each day. (I use Buffer for my photo Instagram. For the series overview on my website, WordPress can do it naturally.) As I thus chose the images all at the same time, there is often a specific theme that materializes for the week.

This week is about online life/social media/smartphone use. The topic is a good start for the complementary “cyber” theme I’m aiming for with this monthly B3nerkenswert issue. If you’ve followed them already, just skip down to the links – or enjoy the sneak peak on the Saturday and Sunday images!

Never offline

Four people on a bench before a sign saying "never offline." Three of them have their phones in hand.

When I sat down to start picking images for this week, I quickly became frustrated. What’s the point? Who cares? Does the world need the 2,812,441,282nd street photo? Why spend parts of my weekend for it. (Sure, I committed to it and can be stubborn, but that isn’t necessary a good motivation…)

Then I remembered this image and… it kind of grounded me again? So that’s why this week focused on its claim, “Never offline.”

I like the image. At first it invites the usual critique. “Kids these days…” “No-one is talking to each other any more.” Stuff like that. But the image tells a different story. Three people do have their phones in their hands, but only one is absorbed in it, an he seems honestly and actively engaged. The couple on the left is close, tender. He has certainly not forgotten her. And even the lady on the right looks out, distracted not by her phone but from using it. The image is belying the trivial impulse to pile on technology, phones, social media. So let’s dive a bit deeper!

Too Online?

For many, being online is a big part of our life. The average person is spending hours on social media each day, even more actively online, even more staring at screens.

While there are all kinds of smart think-pieces, essays, and books about the societal consequences of this, I think that when it comes to our own life, art is the more powerful way to engage with these issues. Like this installation at Pier 2 in Kaohsiung (高雄市) – a wonderful area to stroll around!

It’s a nice piece to remind us of our smartphone use (as if that was necessary!), but its strength lies in allowing us to address it ironically, in a fun way, “performative” if you want. There is a clear invitation to sit down next to the lady on the left, to interact with her (and be it by ignoring her), to take a picture of doing that. And thus, on another level, the art piece about using smartphones creates a reason to stop using them, to think while using them (of course to use them to capture all that!), and again to talk about it.

What fun!

Coming Home

People often seem distant when they sit there with their phones, disconnected, maybe even ignorant.

What we usually don’t see is what they are looking at. It’s easy to forget that who seems to be under the spell of their glowing screen is sometimes just connecting to someone else, sending a short wish, showing someone they care – maybe even to make sure that they have their peace of mind to be fully there for us after they put it down again.

(The man in this picture is an old Taiwanese gentleman who now works as a driver and guide to show visitors the beauty of the island. In the moment I took the picture, he texted his wife that he’ll be home soon – before sharing more stories from his life with us.)

Virtual Bubble

Being online in public is now commonplace, and yet, using smartphones is a weirdly personal thing. Disregarding the glimpse onto someone else’s screen in a crowded tram or tube, we often have no idea how other people are using their phones.

This also means that we carry a portal to our very personal bubble with us that we can summon by the click of a button or a swipe over glass. It’s a place to calm down, to recharge, to maybe overcome our irritation, anger, or anxiety – be it by sharing our feelings with someone we love, finding a joke that amuses us, or just by distracting us from our train of thought. We often blame “addiction” for our smartphone use, but when we are honest, we often know fairly well what kind of app, platform, or behavior will help us in a given moment. (And also when we should better stop scrolling and check in with reality again.) What is more, our smartphones often really help us regulate our emotions, even when ads and outrage make this less effective than it could be in a perfect world.

Being together

Seeing the internet as a space to go to means to think that people who are online around us have left completely for some place else. If that’s the case it is indeed rude to hide in the virtual bubble from one moment to the next. But it’s not necessarily true. We can be online together, not only be taking a photo of each other, but by laughing, reading something out loud, sharing stuff back and forth – or just by lying on the same couch and playing with each others feet while scrolling and swiping around.

Is is the same as having a conversation? Of course not! But is it so much different from reading a book next to each other? (…a rhetorical question…) Maybe the most important part is to see the act of taking out a smartphone not as independent of a social situation, but it as part of it – with all the responsibility that entails.


“Have the monks stopped meditating? They all seem to be tweeting.” These words echo at the end of the trailer of Werner Herzog’s documentary “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World.” (An overall rather mediocre work.)

Indeed, nothing seems farther away from a mindful life than to mindlessly bend over a glowing screen while almost walking into a street lamp. Images of smartphone-using monks thus have something ironic about it. But why? Monks too have family and friends and have to connect some way. There is no principal difference between being absorbed in a screen instead of a holy scripture or a prayer. After all it might be the Bible you are reading. So if we can be attentive around religious rituals, shouldn’t there also be a way to use the internet mindfully?

Maybe the idea that a mindful life and internet use are complete opposites comes less from actual Buddhist monks and more from Western mindfulness coaches and yoga teachers. To me, selling a digital detox workshop on social media seems equally ironic as a tweeting monk – and equally fine.

All these are dilemmas we have to live with these days, and maybe getting lost in vague generalities instead of living life and these questions from one moment to the next is the biggest obstacle to mindfulness and inner peace.

Offline Together

This week was dedicated to a gentle look at those habits we (and I!) are often very self-critical about.

I’ve gotten tired of moralizing the use of technology, and I feel moralizing is often a distraction. Social media, smartphones, the internet, all that – in the end it’s not as important as we make it, and of course it’s neither bad nor good. Like with everything else, we have to take responsibility for our actions and only then can we change them. In the end, this is liberating.

Once we look clear-eyed beyond moral assumptions and what our technological marvels gift us (immense power, but also: ads and propaganda), we can also see what they cannot give us. At last and always, it’s emptiness they cannot provide – and this will get more true with every new feature. Being empty of the opinions of others, the itch to read, watch, listen, consume ever more. Being empty of our selves.

In the end, the internet is always more in our heads than hands. So let’s leave our phones at home and grab our loved ones, our camera, or a bottle of water and head out! Into the only place that can be smelled and touched, that feels like more than glass.


Oh dear, you can tell that I didn’t share this list for a few months. Just get lost whatever way you like 🙂

Taiwan & Greater China

  • Dan Wang’s letter is once more a great insight into life in China.
  • Illustrated analysis by Nikkei on Taiwan’s semiconductor industry and its importance in the global supply chain.
  • Yang Bing-yi (楊秉彝), the founder of Taiwan’s famous restaurant chain Din Tai Fung died several weeks ago at 96. (Focus Taiwan, Din Tai Fung is one of the few chains with a Michelin star – and much loved by every visitor we had so far! Supposedly, Yang once said he won’t open a chain in Berlin as “people there wouldn’t queue for my food.” Indeed, waiting times are back to over two hours now after Covid.)
  • I talked here earlier about pizza in Taiwan. This year, Pizza Hut tried to make it right with its “Zero Harm Pizza.” (Next Apple)
  • Democracy is over in Hong Kong, also youth unemployment is rising in China, throwing students into desperation (The Guardian).
  • This Taiwanese hour motel is not only for sleeping…


  • Great interactive data map of current electricity usage and flows. And another great map showing air quality.
  • Fish might sing and Dolphins are rapist, necrophiliac assholes (🇩🇪)
  • The fascinating story of how London wanted to build another Eiffel Tower. (Public Domain Review, cool website, by the way!)
  • Wasps die inside figs, but not the ones you eat. (Britannica)
  • Tender and poetic review of Benedict Anderson’s work (London Review of Books; I just finished Anderson’s main book and highly enjoyed it. He frames nationalism as the idea of being part of an “imagined community,” mostly built through shared languages, secular “pilgrimages” to centers of power – think Paris and London, and a shared daily ritual of reading the newspaper. I wonder how this age is shaped by their respective developments: English as a shared language only spoken by parts of the society; global “pilgrimages” to places such as Berlin on a national and Silicon Valley or Shanghai on an international level; the daily ritual of reading a certain feed and the imagined community of ones “tribe” as created by the algorithms.)
  • How color names developed in different cultures (YouTube)


  • If only all LLM-generated web-advertising was like this (The Verge article), rather than whatever dystopia this is. (YouTube video)
  • ChatGPT used to hallucinate software package names that don’t exist. Hacker than built those packages to ship ransomware. (Vulcan article?)
  • Captchas used to be about training AI, now they are about… training us? (Vice article)
  • An interesting application of current AI tools is to slightly change actors’ lips movement to make synchronization less irritating. Example? Ice Ice Matrix video
  • Balanced Thread with some ideas how to use LLMs in research (Twitter 🫣) and more examples how people are using AI tools. (Twitter; I think “LLMs are like smart, hard working graduate student assistants that might have gotten drunk instead of doing their work last night, so better tell them exactly what you need and make sure it’s right” is a good heuristic to start with when applying them.)
  • How AI is killing AI research. (Reddit; also a good example why it is important to step beyond generic terms; on another level I sometimes asked myself what would have happened if I had gotten into AI research after studying math… well, this is probably the surface answer to that question.)
  • How AI is killing the joy in creative jobs. (Reddit; seems like it didn’t end as bad as feared by the Onion)
  • Good interview with Simon Willison on how AI makes programmers more efficient. (Flux) Similar line of argument how AI might create more, not less demand for programmers (SK Ventures; I am currently spending a lot of time refreshing and broadening my programming and statistics skills. As expected, ChatGPT is a great sparring partner to learn it quickly for much-used language and almost useless for languages with little usage. Unfortunately, other knowledge areas are much more fuzzy and build more on tacit knowledge, which makes it harder to use LLM chatbots the same way. Thinking how AI can be used in one’s profession is certainly an important question when strategizing about your career. Paradoxically, I can think of arguments for both choosing AI-enhanced and AI-independent jobs…)


  • The jet-set life meets OpenData in the age of climate change. (I think open data is underrated as a political tool, but it needs good data journalism.)
  • Munich prefers to fight not climate change but climate change activists. (SZ, 🇩🇪; ’68 for me but not for thee?)
  • Don’t worry, all those people don’t want to come to Germany, anyway. (SZ, 🇩🇪)
  • Also: E-fuel might be political make-belief-bs that even the industry doesn’t believe in.
  • Horrendous data on German men, 33% report to be ok when their “hand slips” in a fight with their girlfriend. (ZDF article, 🇩🇪)
  • Sam Freedman on staff shortages for public sector jobs in the UK. (Germany too had already problems to find teachers, nurses, and government staff. The issue that many of these jobs got worse by not allowing for remote work is a great point by SF. Germany too would probably be able to find more people by paying them more.)
  • Fascinating “behind the screens” look into the advertising market. (The Markup; I guess advertising is the bread and butter of most psychologists these days, with A/B tests as the mostly theory-free, pragmatic application of behaviorist approaches on the micro end of the spectrum and this kind of audience analysis on the macro end. It’s interesting how little actual “psychology” goes into all this, it’s mainly demographics like age, sex, nationality, etc., earlier behavior like buying a certain brand etc., vague milieu-related groups like whatever “Birkenstocks and Beemers” refers. I’m happy-ish that actual psychological profiles use either clinical categories like ADHD etc., or super basic personality questionnaires like the Big Five – openness, extroversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. Shows also how little the “progress” of the field in the last decades was worth…)

Beauty & Fun

  • A beautifully illustrated essay on rescue teams after the February earthquakes in Turkey. (Reuters, good to see Reuters still invests in this kind of illustration quality!)
  • New world record in speed-cubing. (3.13s! Via The Guardian)
  • If you need a LEGO project to keep your child busy, maybe this one-billion-year clock is for you? (YouTube)
  • Powerful profile of 81-year old ultra-marathon runner Dag Aabye.
  • Accidental Guerrilla Marketing meets Tolkien, all it took for the book to become a bestseller was to find a fan who goes under the online handle of “bigolas dickolas wolfwood”…
  • Itsy-Bitsy-Spider meets Hamilton The Musical (TikTok, I don’t use TikTok and am often surprised by the production quality for some of the seconds-to-minutes-long videos.)
  • When you are overqualified for the job (YouTube), this boy knows perfectly well how to avoid being overqualified for his job (YouTube, 🇩🇪, very much worth the 90 seconds!)
  • Pressure Washer Techno 🤘🏻 (Also great: Washing Machine Techno, Rubber Duck Techno, and Vacuum Cleaner Techno)
  • Hilarious easter egg on Google’s website. Click on the Katamari-ball-thing in the upper right and use your arrow keys to play with it. In other news, the EU Commission finally addresses Google’s infrastructure monopoly in the online advertising “market”!
  • Interesting video essay on modern and meta-modern movies and storytelling. (YouTube, 30 minutes)

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