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Hauke Behrendt

How we reinvent the meaning of our world

In this article Hauke Behrendt outlines how we, as a society, construct meanings and thus create a new sense of purpose. The text offers a historical stock-taking on the topic of digitization as well as a guide for action and decision-making for all those who work on new concepts for the future. It will take around 20 to 25 minutes to read this article.
  1. Prologue
  2. Disruption
  3. Discovery and invention
  4. Chasing unicorns
  5. Fluid facts
  6. New meaning
  7. Integration
  8. Epilogue

1. Prologue

Hannes looks at me with big, questioning eyes. He taps his finger on his favourite film "Frozen" but nothing happens. My son is three years old now and he knows that remarkable things happen when you touch the colourful pixels of a smartphone or tablet. Encountering a piece of "old technology" – a television set that doesn't interact with him – is a mystery to him.

Digitalization allows us to connect everything with everything else. With the smartphone we switch on the light, open garage doors, or transfer money. The universal language of ones and zeros allows us to translate everything into everything. So my tap on the touch screen is translated into a command for the motor of my garage door. What's more, the software tools we use to create these new functions are becoming more and more powerful. Today, almost anyone who wants to – even without a degree in engineering – can program a home control system or (via block chain) invent their own currency.

This new code and these tools turn our world into a space full of design opportunities. Through networking and (re)combination, spaces of possibility are being opened up that allow things – such as money – to be given a new meaning. This also raises the question of what kind of meaning we want to give these things.

2. Disruption

It’s hard to find any other aspect of digitisation that is so readily highlighted by commentators – and at the same time so often misunderstood – as its disruptive character. The aforementioned misunderstanding of digitisation is twofold: firstly, there is the assumption that disruptive technologies – by the law of nature – determine a certain development; secondly, it appears to many people as dystopian destruction, which, like an uncontrollable natural disaster, takes everything we hold dear. At the same time, we should beware of technology-hostile alarmism. It is not the technology itself, but only man who defines its purposes and chooses the necessary means to achieve them.

Technology is often misinterpreted and metaphorically represented as a destructive force of nature.

Digital technologies indeed have an inherent destructive potential: today, modern communication and information technology are misused on a massive scale to disseminate ideological or conspiracy-theoretical fake news. It is often used to infiltrate both decisional and informational self-determination. But neither the Internet nor smartphones or wearables sell our personal data and manipulate our behaviour. It is primarily human greed, human obsession with power and human convenience that have put us in this position. In other words, it is not technical solutions that are our real problem, but the wrong value orientation – even if it is technology that creates specific possibilities for implementation.

There is no question that the Digital Revolution is about to change the way we live fundamentally. We are in the middle of a phase of profound upheaval. However, it would be a serious misunderstanding to assume that the multipolar developments of the present are completely beyond our influence. This is not to suggest that we are already in a position to clearly define our situation, nor to deny its great intrinsic complexity. Yet we already have a variety of roadmaps of digital transformation that help us to better understand the disruptive processes of change.[1] Such an understanding is an important prerequisite for not being overwhelmed by the technical developments of the time, but for taking the future into our own hands. Through our actions we can intervene in the course of events and thus actively influence how digital change takes place and what we use it for.

Disruption is a process that blurs formerly fixed practices and supposedly irrefutable certainties. The comprehensive digitalization and interconnecting of the world challenge the existing symbolic order and call its social rules into question. As a result, many things lose their justification and confidence-building power. This can lead to disorientation and fear. On the other hand, what is seen as traditional given becomes malleable. Disruptions therefore do not necessarily have to be destructive. On the contrary, they can help to redefine the contours and content of our lives. What once took place in the ancient agora or in the coffee houses of the Enlightenment, could henceforth be achieved by the virtual forums, platforms and marketplaces of the network world: a strengthening of democratic values and an improvement in individual freedom. Progressive disruption of the existing order could revolutionise almost all areas of society so radically that it would herald the beginning of a new world.

3. Discovery and invention

Digital technologies offer innovative solutions for the challenges of tomorrow's world. They are key to freeing people from dependence on overpowering institutions and market-dominating monopolists. Digitalization offers great potential for renewing the political, economic and social foundations of our social existence in the long term. Digital change can herald a new phase of Enlightenment and social emancipation if we use this potential properly. But to do this, we must first determine the direction in the shape of a realistic utopia. If we succeed in developing resilient ideas about where we want to go, we can sensibly master the challenges of the times. Which path digitization will take, is up to us.

We can only herald a new phase of Enlightenment and social emancipation if we recalibrate our value compass and divert from the familiar paths.
„If we succeed in developing resilient ideas about where we want to go, we can sensibly master the challenges of the times. Which path digitization will take, is up to us.”

Our progress in civilisation is essentially based on the ability to reduce the world's complexity in a pertinent way by creating structures. The reality in which we live and what we make of it depends in principle entirely on our desires and interests. Of course, we must remain within the bounds of our possibilities. We can no longer ignore nature's laws than we can ignore basic human needs and living conditions. For most problems, however, there is more than one approach, i.e. different functionally equivalent solutions. In this early phase of digitisation at the beginning of the 21st century, however, a reliable compass is still missing. To determine the goal and direction, we must ask ourselves where we can start, given the complexity of our situation. We must develop strategies to unravel and understand the confusing mass of technical and social developments and their interdependencies. This involves taking up existing developments in a targeted manner and spinning them further in our interests.

To be successful, we need to know and master the two dominant driving forces that can cause disruption and create new meaning – discoveries and inventions. The two cannot always be clearly separated. To highlight their respective characteristics; however, the following distinction can be used to simplify matters: Discovery is a theoretical achievement; invention is a practical one. If our sense of discovery is focused on recognizing the world, for the inventor everything revolves around changing it. Inventions are usually based in a creative way on the findings of earlier discoveries. If we understand ‘nature’ in the broadest sense as that sphere which exists independently of the purposeful influence of man and delimit ‘culture’ as the area from it which man produces and receives through his specific performance, then the former would be the object of discovery and the latter the medium and result of invention.

Thus, since the beginnings of the earliest cultures, man has systematically investigated the mechanisms of inanimate nature and its functioning as well as the peculiarities of life and its species-specific forms of organisation. And since then he has discovered a whole range of mathematical and logical truths as well as numerous psychological, biological, chemical and physical facts and causal relationships. The world knowledge gained in this way has been condensed into cultural world views and thus forms the core of our present self- and world-relations. With his inventions, man, on the other hand, creates a cultural lifeworld by developing symbolic as well as thing-like artefacts with special value and function attributions. This characterization is, of course, only very rough, but individual aspects will be deepened further in a moment, because in the case of digital disruption considered here, discoveries and inventions interact in a special way.

3.1 Revolutions of knowledge

What we know about the world and our human nature decisively determines how we see things and deal with them. This self- and world-relation, as philosophers call it, is the product of numerous insights whose examination has been subjected to increasingly sophisticated methodological procedures throughout history. The historical progress of scientific discoveries has led to sometimes serious revisions both externally with regard to our world view and internally with regard to our self-image. The philosopher of technology Luciano Floridi places the digital revolution of the present directly in a line with three serious revolutions of our knowledge – the three great offenses of mankind, as Sigmund Freud once called them.[2]

The first scientific revolution – Freud calls it the cosmological insult – dates back to 1543, the year Nicolaus Copernicus published his ground-breaking treatise on the motion of the planets around the sun. Until then, it had been assumed that the earth was the centre of the universe, but Copernicus' heliocentric cosmology made it clear that things were quite different. The heliocentric world view thus displaced the idea of the human race as the centre of the world. Since then, the so-called Copernican turn has been a symbol for all scientifically founded upheavals of traditional world views.

The second scientific revolution – after Freud the so-called biological insult – was initiated by Charles Darwin in 1859. With his theory of evolution, Darwin established a new view of man's position in nature. While Copernicus had exposed the belief in human supremacy in the universe as mere superstition, Darwin's discoveries about the biological evolutionary history of animals and plants cast doubt on his ‘creative’ special role in relation to other living beings. The great resistance this discovery still causes today, especially among strictly believing Christians in the USA, gives an idea of how revolutionary Darwin's discovery was during his lifetime.

The third scientific revolution of 1917 – Freud speaks here of the psychological insult, the originator of which he not entirely immodestly considered himself – puts an end to the mistaken belief that man is a being completely transparent to himself. The psychoanalytical recognition of the unconscious, which eludes the control of the human will, disavowed the classical ideas of human autonomy and self-determination and changed our image of human consciousness – a recognition that has since been confirmed by modern neuroscience.

Today, according to Floridi, we are witnessing a development that will radically change our world and self-relationship as radically as the previous three scientific revolutions. While Copernicus, Darwin and Freud were the originators of discoveries that cost mankind a certain supremacy – in the cosmos, in nature and in his own mind – Floridi sees in Alan Turing the originator of a further insult to humanity. Turing's discoveries prove that even in a further domain, man cannot claim such an elevated position for himself as long assumed: Computers have the potential to surpass human performance in many areas of intelligent behaviour, logical thinking and information processing. The human being of the digital world thus no longer takes the undisputed role of expert and specialist as a matter of course. Their knowledge and skills, on the other hand, are increasingly based on the performance of data processing algorithms.

3.2 Technological revolutions

The computer, as a symbol of the fourth scientific revolution, makes it clear that discoveries and inventions cannot always be neatly separated. Based on logical and mathematical findings, Turing created the theoretical foundations for the invention of the computer, in which he also played a major role. However, even in the earlier technological revolutions, the connections between discoveries and inventions are closely interwoven.

The first industrial revolution is dated to the late 18th century (from about 1750 in England; in continental Europe from 1800). Accompanied by the introduction of mechanical production plants that operate with the aid of water and steam power, such as the industrial spinning machine or the mechanical loom, there was a comprehensive structural change in the feudal systems, the scope of which had already been recognised and critically reflected upon by some contemporary witnesses (including Adam Smith and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel): Phenomena such as urbanisation, division of labour, specialisation, pauperism, devaluation of the crafts, the emergence of the bourgeoisie (ownership, education, politics) and dependent labour (wage labour), rationalisation of business management and the control of production, distribution and consumption by (free) markets are regarded as the hallmarks of this new epoch, which has since been called "modernity".

In contrast, the second industrial revolution at the beginning of the 20th century was characterized by the introduction of mass production based on the division of labour (Fordism/Taylorism), which was made possible by the use of electrical energy. The engineer Frederick W. Taylor provided the theoretical blueprint for this new form of industrial work organisation, which aimed to centrally monitor and control the work process, separate planning and execution, and eliminate any expression of individuality. Cinnatti's slaughterhouses are regarded as the forerunners of this new production model, which was perfected by Henry Ford's car production on the assembly line.

The third industrial revolution took place in the 1970s with the first use of robotics and modern information and communication technologies, which enabled further automation of production. The spread of the PC also changed the world of work and its organisation considerably during this period. With the economic crises of the early 1980s and the end of full employment, not only the school of thought of economic liberalism experienced a renaissance. The Fordist model of production that had dominated until then was also replaced by so-called post-Fordism/-Taylorism, which, with an increased subjectivisation and flexibilisation of the world of work, dissolved the boundary between the previously clearly separate areas of (working) work and (private) life.

The most recent development of the present is generally regarded as the fourth industrial revolution. It is characterised by the use of cyber-physical systems that are connected globally. More than 200 years ago, when the modern world evolved in Europe, it was essentially a fundamental technological upheaval – the first industrial revolution – which revolutionised the social world of man, his way of living and working. Today – two industrial revolutions later – we are once again at an epochal threshold of world-historical significance.

Find out more about the future of work

Although the coming man-machine age has only just begun, general trends are already apparent: We are currently experiencing 1) a new phase of automation, i.e. the extensive assumption of work tasks by artificial intelligence and robotics; 2) an increased use of human-machine interaction, i.e. the division of labour between man and machine, e.g. through assistance systems with augmented reality elements; 3) an expansion of the platform-based service sector, i.e. virtual marketplaces in which services and access to goods are coordinated and mediated by algorithms, as is the case today with Uber, Airbnb, Amazon. The changes described above will, in all probability, also require a repositioning of the human being in professional and social life.

4. Chasing unicorns

We are currently experiencing how rapid technological innovations are changing our world forever. From the workplace to the public space to the living room – digital technology is entering all areas of life. Connected devices record what we do, what we spend our money on and what we spend our time on. Smart environments now know our lifestyles better than we do and structure our everyday life. And the smartphone is becoming a kind of universal remote control for spontaneous ideas and individualised plans in real life. In short, we are on the historical threshold of the digital age – a new era of digitality, in the course of which our familiar living conditions are radically changing.

Let us consider the disruptive potential of this development by means of some striking examples: When did you last fold a road map or gave up in frustration? When did you record your favourite music from the radio or a film from television? When was the last time you brought a remittance slip to a bank branch? When did you use a telephone box? When did you leaf through an encyclopaedia (I don't mean browsed, but actually leafed through it)? To put it bluntly, digital disruption means that future generations will not only answer these questions with "never" as a matter of course, but that they will not even be able to imagine what is actually being asked here.

For Tim O'Reilly, this kind of progressive disruption can be compared to a unicorn hunt.[3] Disruptive innovations, like unicorns would do, leave us in complete astonishment when we encounter them for the first time. But even after a short period of upheaval, they become so ubiquitous that we take them for granted, almost as if nothing else had ever existed. Accordingly, disruptive innovations are characterised by three central features:

  1. They are, at first, deeply unimaginable.
  2. They change the way the world works.
  3. They create a new web of novel services, jobs, business models and industries.

According to O'Reilly, those who are noticeably changing the world are people who are chasing this kind of unicorn. He unnecessarily narrows his view to purely economic contexts. However, if we take the basic idea behind it and develop it further in political, cultural and social terms, it would appear that this model can indeed be used to create new meaning in a sustainable way. It would certainly be naive to assume that something like a simple blueprint for processes of transformation per se could be developed on this basis. There is no single reliable strategy for the hunt for unicorns. But if we better understand the nature of the changeable elements and what forces can bring about change, much will be gained.

The often purely economic considerations must be expanded politically, culturally and socially – otherwise we run the risk of chasing the wrong goals.
„There is no single reliable strategy for the hunt for unicorns. But if we better understand the nature of the changeable elements and what forces can bring about change, much will be gained.”

5. Fluid facts

Our world is characterised by extreme complexity. To find our way in it, we must reduce this complexity appropriately. For without meaningful complexity reduction, the world would literally be uninhabitable for us. Only when we create a certain meaningfully composed reality for ourselves from the total of an overly complex world do human civilisation and social progress become conceivable at all. Those who move in a culturally unified reality in this way are able to deal more or less sovereignly with the universe of facts contained in it.

The cultural world provides us with familiar and trustworthy background knowledge that we can draw on together with others who inhabit the same reality, so that we can successfully orientate ourselves in new situations and adjust together to new problems. Although a shared world is something that is given to the individual as something that cannot be ignored, in reality it is essentially made by us and can therefore, within certain limits, always be shaped and changed. Despite its relatively great stability (positively formulated), or rather its strong persistence (negatively formulated), we live in a fluid reality, the existence of which must in principle always be renegotiated.

„Although a divided world is something that is given to the individual as something that cannot be ignored, in reality it is essentially made by us and can therefore, within certain limits, always be shaped and changed.”

However, at a fundamental level, we must carefully distinguish between those properties of the world that exist independently of us and those whose occurrence depends entirely on us.[4] That an object has a certain mass and chemical composition are objectively ascertainable facts that exist completely without any human input. Of course, it takes people to recognise these facts and give them a name, but their existence does not depend on the attitude we take towards them. Things of this kind I have described above as nature and characterised as the object of human discovery. The philosopher John Searle calls these things, whose existence and that of their properties is independent of man, "nature-immanent". Examples of other nature-immanent facts are that H2O boils at 100 degrees Celsius or that the distance from the earth to the moon is 384,400 km. Even if there had never been a recognising being like man on earth, this would still be true. It is remarkable for our context that nature is robust in a certain sense, namely when its immanent facts cannot be blurred in the desired way and brought into a new form.

Those facts of the world that only exist relative to how we, as inventors, designers, observers and users see them, belong to the realm of the cultural. They are the elements that can be radically changed in the true, radical sense, and on which we must focus. A first step into the cultural realm is taken as soon as we start to manipulate the naturally found things of the world in a purposeful way and use them in a goal-oriented way. A stone can be used as a doorstop or paperweight, a tree trunk as a chair and so on. In these cases we use things to pursue a chosen goal or achieve a desired purpose with their help. Searle calls these operations "agentive functions" because we use the natural properties of things to realise functions imposed by us, such as sitting on a chair or weighing down paper. By developing professional competence in the sense of purposeful and purposeful action, appropriate procedures and objective artefacts with tool character, we begin to instrumentally transform the external world in order to successfully solve tasks we set ourselves.

The more complex the world is culturally transformed, the more conflicts can arise between assigned functions. You should not only be able to sit on a chair, you should be as comfortable as possible. And, at the same time, the chair should meet aesthetic demands, but it must also be affordable and so on. Of course, there is no guarantee that these things fulfil the functions that we intended for them. If a chair is uncomfortable, ugly or unaffordable, this means that it does not work at all, or only poorly, in relation to our requirements. In other words: it does not fulfil its purpose. So we see that in order to change the way the world works, we need to change the system of our purposes, goals and values so that things are given a new meaning.

„To change the way the world works, we need to change the system of our purposes, goals and values so that things are given a new meaning.”

6. New meaning

Dimensions of generating meaning by humans are not limited to the narrow circle of those functions that can be performed merely by virtue of their physical or chemical properties. The fact that we can use a tree trunk as a chair and a stone as a paperweight is a first dimension in which the general mechanics of new meaningfulness is revealed. In a truly radical sense, however, meaning only becomes creative in dimensions in which the assigned meaning is no longer bound to the natural properties of things. That, for example, a certain piece of paper can be regarded as a means of payment, a certain verbal utterance as marriage, and a certain act as the conclusion of a contract, is only possible on the basis of interpersonal cooperation, namely in the specific forms of collective agreement, which assigns a mutually recognised symbolic status to things, utterances and activities.

Not only things and events, but also people can be given a new status by imposing certain roles on them within a system of purposes, goals and values. Teachers, police officers or bankers, for example, each fulfil different functions in the various practices of a society. A social role combines normative behavioural expectations resulting from the status assigned to it in terms of rights, duties, entitlements and so on, as well as general expectations regarding certain attitudes and goals that can typically be attributed to the role holders. It is important to emphasise the characteristic dual character of generalised behavioural expectations: On the one hand, they allow the participants to draw mutual conclusions about the expected behaviour of the others (even if these expectations are disappointed in individual cases). On the other hand, they are associated with a normative pressure of expectation, which results directly from the reciprocally assigned role obligations. The normative role expectations can be regarded as socially generalised to the extent that there is sufficient agreement between the members of a practical context on the respective role models.

Every practice is a systematic connection of standardised patterns of action which establish relatively stable expectation structures between agents by means of social roles in order to establish a certain degree of expectation certainty with regard to dealing with the relevant facts. Whether a certain behaviour counts as the execution of a specific role action depends not only on the successful performance of certain activities, but also on their intersubjective validity in the context of a corresponding community.

„Whether a certain behaviour counts as the execution of a specific role action depends not only on the successful performance of certain activities, but also on their intersubjective validity in the context of a corresponding community.”

This means: Practices represent supra-individual conditions of successful interaction, whose factually existing structures suggest or even make possible certain patterns of action. Within the framework of a practice, any one agent will, to a large extent, act in the same way as everyone else in his place. The same pattern of action could basically be carried out by any participant in the same position. The structures characteristic of the performance of a particular practice are thus typically preserved even beyond the change of the agents temporarily involved in them.

Interpersonal practices are internally normatively structured via a specific system of rules. This system of rules gives the corresponding activity its characteristic form. For example, in the practice of playing football, it is determined which actions are considered "foul", which are considered "scoring a goal" and so on. This addresses the enabling character that practices have. Social norms not only regulate activities that already exist independently of them. They sometimes also constitute completely new (social) facts that would not exist without them. In such cases the rules are "logically superior" to the individual components of a corresponding fact. This means that these facts cannot be understood and explained at all without reference to the corresponding rules.

Collective recognition of these rules creates social facts that simply would not exist without their regular observance, and even more so, that draw their full practical effectiveness from the continuing collective acceptance of these rules. Using Searle's words: An X counts as Y in context C precisely because a critical mass of people accept it and act collectively on that basis.

As we have seen, the meaningful Y status can be assigned to a whole range of different phenomena that interact with each other in systematic relationships in a social practice. In this way, we give (new) meaning to things by way of constitutive rules: in humans, for example, as teachers, police officers or bankers; in objects, for example, as banknotes, tickets or certificates; and in events, for example, as exams, weddings or bank transfers. To participate in a practice and to treat the associated facts correctly as specified means to follow its constitutive rules.

It is obvious that the interpretations of situations of different agents must overlap sufficiently to enable these forms of practical interaction. For the expected patterns of action to stabilise permanently, all participants must interpret the situations and their associated options for action in a sufficiently similar way, because otherwise intersubjective behavioural norms would not be able to coordinate aligned interactions over long periods. Let's look at three different contexts with an audience situation: a football match, a church service and a music concert. In order to know whether to cheer, to listen in solemn silence or to applaud enthusiastically, we must know in which of these three contexts we currently find ourselves. We must have a sufficiently clear interpretation of the situation, which in turn sufficiently coincides with that of the other participants.

Social interaction systems are thus based on and (re-)produce symbolic structures of shared knowledge between their members. They are founded and fed by symbolically meaningful structures of a mutually shared culture. This culture thus represents both the medium and the object of the debate on the correct interpretation of symbolic situations. In the debate about the right interpretation, shared horizons of meaning and interpretative schemata are stabilised, which can be appropriated or changed in learning processes. The social world is thus not only normatively constituted, but also meaningfully constructed. Its meaning is based on meaningful systems of symbols and classification, which become the object of interpersonal conflicts and negotiation processes and can thus change in the course of their existence.

„The social world is thus not only normatively written, but also meaningfully constructed. Its meaning is based on meaningful systems of symbols and classification that become the object of interpersonal conflicts and negotiation processes and can thus change in the course of their existence.”

7. Integration

In the definition of social roles and their functions, a historical level of justification for the positions and goals assigned to them is sedimented. Every socially settled practice is thus at least associated with the claim to legitimately regulate the framework of action set with it. In this sense, societies are always orders of justification that include all persons falling within their scope. For the construction of the social world is not a natural phenomenon, nor an unalterable fact, nor the result of a higher power, which we may lament or welcome, but which we could not change. Practices are human-made and must therefore be justifiable to each individual (whom they affect).

The meaningful symbol and classification systems are always the subject of negotiation processes.
„For the construction of the social world is not a natural phenomenon, nor an unalterable fact, nor the result of a higher power, which we may lament or welcome, but which we could not change.”

The mere establishment of a normative order, in which general rules are to coordinate the behaviour of the members, is therefore not sufficient to successfully stabilise the shared horizons of meaning that it creates. Mutual expectations of behaviour are only effectively institutionalised if ambition and reality do not diverge too often. In other words, the actual behaviour of all those concerned must also be predominantly guided by the given structure. If the agents seize every favourable opportunity to deviate from the applicable rules in their own interests, social conditions threaten to erode rapidly.

Since Émile Durkheim, it has been customary to speak of solidarity, which must exist reciprocally between the members of a social group to reliably strengthen their social ties. The "joint" consciousness of associated group members, created in solidarity, creates a social bonding force in which interpersonal relationships are based on feelings of belonging and solidarity rather than on manifest violence or strategic calculation. Every social order is dependent on the general recognition and voluntary compliance with its rules, which in individual cases are often perceived as a personal imposition. If the social rules are largely rejected and the goals they are intended to achieve are constantly frustrated, this is an expression of a social imbalance in which the sense of solidarity and the social cohesion it creates is dissolved – the social order disintegrates, the common bond is broken.

„Every social order is dependent on the general recognition and voluntary compliance with its rules, which in individual cases are often perceived as a personal imposition.”

A social structure can therefore only be regarded as successfully integrated to the extent that the predominant actions of its members are characterised by a non-coercive orientation towards the values and norms of this order. The members must have all the motives for assuming and fulfilling the necessary tasks and obligations that are internally linked to their respective roles. ‘Social integration’ thus refers to a state in which institutionalised role expectations are generally accepted and collectively taken into account. The personal interests and individual attitudes of the agents must harmonise with the constitutive rules of the social order in such a way that a motivational willingness to act in conformity with the norm is generated.

The fact that constitutive rules have the necessary socially binding force, i.e. that they actually represent collectively effective patterns of orientation for the actions of participants in practice, "cannot therefore be attributed merely to empirical regularity. Rather, it depends on intersubjective validity, i.e. on the fact that a) subjects who base their behaviour on rules deviate from them and b) their deviating behaviour is criticised as a breach of rules"[5]. If one adds the previous insights to this statement, successful integration is ideally characterised by the fact that a sufficient number of participants in practice accept the norms and values of the order and treat them as guiding their actions, and know from each other that this is the case. A normative order that is regarded as legitimate in this sense gives it a status of legitimate authority in the eyes of its members and thus ensures the necessary (mass) loyalty to its rules as well as mutual solidarity between its members.

Legitimacy, loyalty and solidarity prove to be the three central pillars that characterise a normatively integrated social order.

8. Epilogue

We have now learned a great deal about the mechanisms by which society constructs meanings and thus creates new meaning. Most of the things in our living world act for a long time as fixed points by which we can reliably orientate ourselves until one day they no longer function as we would like them to and are surpassed by new, better things. Even if it sometimes looks as if politics and large corporations are steering this development from above, the process of creating new meaning, at its core, always happens bottom-up. Of course, visionaries and pioneers are also needed. But every disruptive idea must develop enough appeal to carry the majority of people along.

Digitization provides us with innovative tools to readjust a large part of the traditional conditions. With our knowledge of the nature of changeable elements and the forces that cause change, as outlined here, we can hopefully better decide how to design better solutions and products in the future. In any case, I am curious to see what mystery will be in my eyes when I look at my son in thirty years and no longer understand the world.


  1. See also Bunz, Mercedes: Die stille Revolution. Wie Algorithmen Wissen, Arbeit, Öffentlichkeit und Politik verändern, ohne dabei viel Lärm zu machen, Berlin 2011; Floridi, Luciano: The 4th Revolution. How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality, Oxford 2014; Stadler, Felix: Kultur der Digitalität, Berlin 2016; Behrendt, Hauke; Süpple, Steffen: An der Wiege des Homo Digitalis. Die digitale Transformation gestalten. Published by Intuity Media Lab, Stuttgart 2017, URL; Ramge, Thomas: Mensch und Maschine. Wie künstliche Intelligenz und Roboter unser Leben verändern, Stuttgart 2018. back
  2. See also Floridi, Luciano: The 4th Revolution. Chapt. 4. back
  3. See also O’Reilly, Tim: WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us, New York 2017, P. 10ff. back
  4. See also for the following Searle, John: Die Konstruktion der gesellschaftlichen Wirklichkeit. Zur Ontologie sozialer Tatsachen, Frankfurt a.M. 1992, Chapt. 1. back
  5. Habermas, Jürgen: Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, Band 2: Zur Kritik der funktionalen Vernunft, fourth reviewed edition, Frankfurt a.M. 1987, p. 33. back

About the author

Hauke Behrendt holds a PhD in Philosophy and is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Philosophy at the University of Stuttgart.