Open Minds: Adapting to the Future
Professor Gesche Joost: "I created my own political program"

Gesche Joost
Gesche Joost | Photo: Gesche Joost

When Professor Gesche Joost entered politics, she remembered what her parents once said. An interview by Ijoma Mangold.

ZEITmagazin: Ms. Joost, is it sometimes strenuous for you to never be offline?

Gesche Joost: No, I think instead that this is the new “normal.” During the course of the NSA scandal there was often an intuitive sort of reaction: then don’t go on Facebook, then turn off your smartphone. That doesn’t help anymore today. Even when I turn off my smartphone I’m being tracked. That is why we have to think about how we can safeguard digital sovereignty. Responsible citizenship must include being able to decide for oneself what data we network.

ZEITmagazin: There is a culturally critical bias that says although we communicate more and more, our communications are ever more lacking in substance.

Joost: Precisely, and that we can save ourselves from that with “digital detox.” I think that’s nonsense – but certainly we must set our own focuses. Like my doctoral student who says, “I do a Facebook fast while working on my doctoral thesis.” I also have my own protected zones: when I delve deeply into a subject I do not use a cell phone. That’s necessary to avoid spreading oneself too thin.

ZEITmagazin: When do you spread yourself too thin?

Joost: While writing. When I attempt to recapture my thoughts and put them into linear logic – because logic on the web is not linear, but hyper-textual and always parallel. I think in a rather networked and visual way; writing is a good counter-balance to that.

ZEITmagazin: At your laboratory at Berlin’s Universität der Künste, you are researching promising future technologies. With your certainty about the future, do you feel lonesome in this country?

Joost: Yes, sometimes I am alone with that. I experience different worlds in politics, in the EKD. In my research, everything is networked, for others however, the Internet is still as it was in the 1990s. They may write an email now and then or design a website. Our worries about the future are very German; I am not experiencing a departure into the digital age. This places us within a critical tradition, which I appreciate, but on the other hand our development is too slow since we have reached a certain stage of saturation.

ZEITmagazin: We are doing too well to depart into the future?

Joost: Yes, I think so sometimes. I also notice it here in my lab. When young people come from other countries, you notice right away that they bring a dynamic with them ... they want something. While Germans coming from established structures sometimes want nothing at all – they’re satisfied with what we have.

ZEITmagazin: Do you believe that we will nevertheless be a more happy country in twenty years?

Joost: I believe that we will be faced with more challenges and this bubble of satisfaction will burst. We have to give ourselves a shake and reorganize in order to be able to appreciate once again what we have accomplished. When we can further develop free society that is a precious asset.

ZEITmagazin: Have there been situations in your life when you needed help for which there was no app available?

Joost: When Peer Steinbrück asked me in 2013 whether I wanted to join his competency team it was like jumping into the deep end. I had never been on a political stage before. It was a situation in which I asked myself, “Can I do this? What will be expected of me? Where will I obtain knowledge of party politics?”

ZEITmagazin: How did you find answers?

Joost: My parents used to always say to me, “You can do it!” They gave me a basic sense of confidence. That’s a solid bank. I said to myself, “Well, Peer Steinbrück must know it if he thinks I can do it. He’ll have put some thought into it.” After I was asked, I was supposed to keep everything secret. So a submarine phase ensued before the curtain could be raised. Eventually, though, something leaked and one Saturday morning at seven I was told, “You’ll be getting a call from the Süddeutsche (a major national newspaper) in a moment.” Now it’s official, now you have to break surface. And I thought, “I’m not prepared at all!” I thought everything was taken care of in the political system. They have such big strategies on the walls with timelines and dossiers. Not a chance. I put together my own political program with the help of many colleagues in the SPD. If I had not had the self-confidence my parents instilled in me, it would have been a flop.

Gesche Joost was a guest of the Goethe-Institut Toronto and participated in our OPEN MINDS: Adapting to the Future speaker series on June 14, 2016 at the Toronto Music Garden. She spoke about "Art as an early warning system" & the arts.