Steffi Czerny: "When it comes to innovation, Munich for me is one of the greatest cities in the world"
Since 2005, the Digital Life Design Conference (DLD) has been attracting creative minds and pioneers from all over the world to Munich to discuss the big issues of our future. In the following interview, the founder of the Innovation Conference, Steffi Czerny, reveals which topics concern her the most at the moment, why optimism is important right now, and why the word "Neulust" (desire for the new) should be included in German vocabulary.
The DLD has existed for 15 years. A lot has changed since the initial launch of the conference. What do you make of these developments?
Steffi Czerny: From the very beginning, the DLD has primarily addressed the topic of how digitization is changing our society and our world. At the first conference in 2005, we barely knew what WIFI was. And all of a sudden, the WIFI at the Nymphenburg Palace didn't work (laughs). Marc Samwer (editor's note - the founder of Rocket Internet, Jamba! GmbH and others) was still talking about ringtones back then. For us at that time, it was unimaginable how fast digitization would progress. Nevertheless, you could already sense that something was coming and that it would fundamentally change our world.
DLD also means art. You sometimes invite artists whose work is not always easy to understand.
Czerny: The DLD has never been purely a technology conference. We see ourselves as an interdisciplinary event in which art is an important component. Throughout European history, it has become clear that artists are seismographs of social change. Leonardo da Vinci was not only a painter, he also studied science, anatomy, and bridge construction. These people also exist today. I invite such artists in order to learn more about their changing perspectives and their way of thinking.
This often shows the direction in which society will develop. For example, we have invited Tomas Saraceno a few times. He has just completed the Aerocene project together with the city of Munich. Aerocene are the wind currents in the air. Saraceno says that sooner or later it will be possible to use them for emission-free mobility. These cross-industry connections and effects fascinate me.
„I like discovering new things and questioning old ones. Getting to know people who make a difference. I enjoy connecting these people.“
What did Hubert Burda say to you to convince you to work for him?
Czerny: Hubert Burda is not only a publisher, but also an art historian. He is very interested in the connection between poetry and business. The humanist spirit that becomes more evident in conversation with him has inspired me a lot. This combination of interests also led him to ask me whether I had ever heard of online media. At that time, I was not yet very familiar with all that; "Internet(t)" meant for me "be nice (German: nett) to each other" (laughs). But his curiosity impressed me so much and I said yes when he asked if I wanted to work for him.
You talk about curiosity. How have you managed to stay curious all these years?
Czerny: It’s too bad there's no such word as "Neulust" (desire for the new). I'd like to call it that. Greed is a rather negative thing. I like discovering new things and questioning old ones. Getting to know people who make a difference. I enjoy connecting these people.
There is a saying I like: "In the long run, the future is decided by optimists." I think I am profoundly optimistic. I get inspired and motivated by the idea of making things the best they can be and by meeting people that are optimistic as well.
Can we be optimistic when we look at the year 2020 and all the current developments?
Czerny: Of course! I am convinced that we can learn from the things that are happening right now and create something better – not only when it comes to our health care system, but also in terms of our society and Europe. We have to be more active and engaged! There have been many incentives in the last few months. I firmly believe in the saying "the bad comes with the good".
„I am a conference organizer now, but I see this as a medium. It doesn't matter whether you use paper, screen, podcast, or a conference room for your topics.“
Where do you find your own inspiration at the moment? Usually you travel a lot and get to know people.
Czerny: I read a lot of regional and international daily newspapers and I take notes when journalists write about topics and people that I am interested in. Then, I start doing research and delve deeper into the topic. Which questions are important and what other topics can be connected? Especially now, when traveling is difficult, I recommend that everyone read a lot and learn more about things he or she is not familiar with.
How much journalism is left in you?
Czerny: I would say a lot. I still find journalism exciting and I still consider myself a journalist. I am a conference organizer now, but I see this as a medium. It doesn't matter whether you use paper, screen, podcast, or a conference room for your topics.
Which topics are currently important for you?
Czerny: Digital sovereignty in Europe - this is an incredibly important topic which I will deal with extensively in the near future. We must oppose the dominance of the big American players such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. And we need to ask ourselves where Europe stands when the US and China control everything? What about our identity and our sovereignty?
It is not about killing these platforms. We just want people to be aware of the fact that their services are not free of charge. For every click, we pay with our private data.
That is why we need education on data sovereignty in Europe. For many people this is far too abstract. But it is a challenge that we live with and that we must face up to.
„In terms of innovation, Munich is one of the best cities in the world for me. But it is also a very expensive place to live. To attract talent and creative people, housing needs to be more affordable.“
The DLD conference takes place in many cities around the world but it was born in Munich. What is Bavaria's potential for innovation?
Czerny: Bavaria is a great location and I am always amazed at how little people know about the things that are happening in their hometown. I can only recommend – before you go to Silicon Valley, you should see what's going on here. Munich is a great location to integrate business, science, and art. This is only the case in very few major cities around the world.
In terms of innovation, Munich is one of the best cities in the world for me. But it is also a very expensive place to live. To attract talent and creative people, housing needs to be more affordable. The high costs of living and working spaces shouldn’t be a reason for startups to fail.
What has been the most surprising discovery you have made there recently?
Czerny: I recently went to the Benedictine abbey of Weltenburg and visited the wonderful church of St. George by the Asam brothers. When it comes to the topic of media reference, we can say that these churches are media themselves. In the 18th century, people didn’t have a lot of media channels. I am fascinated by the kind of buildings that were created at the time in order to transport information and topics and to create a common consciousness.
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