Wednesday, 10 October 2012

What a country!

Well, you could probably say I'm still not fully adjusted to my new surroundings.

This is very much an offline society. There are extremely few public services and sources of information available online, such as about the budget and other political matters. Those that do exist are privately run and in constant danger of being sued into oblivion. Likewise, trying to achieve any official business like registration, passport matters etc. online is completely in vain, as is getting doctors' appointments and the like.

For years while living in the UK I have done a large part of my weekly grocery shopping online. Not having a car meant it was much easier to do a large bulk order and have it delivered, rather than transporting everything with my bicycle. All big supermarket chains in the UK offer online delivery within a selectable one hour time slot for a fee of £3.50 or free if the order is above £100. I also happen to think that it's ecologically sensible for one lorry to do a delivery round rather than every family driving to the supermarket in their SUVs. Of course, German supermarkets offer neither automatic check-outs to reduce queueing times nor online delivery nor even just a way to check their product range online. No surprise there.

The only way for a German edition of Wikipedia to exist in Germany is by constructing it such that only the domain name is run by a German branch of the federation while all content is being hosted in the US, a liberal and democratic country by comparison. As with the remaining WWW, 10 years have not been enough for German society (and by extension, its legal system) to accommodate a freely available encyclopædia.

This must also be the only country where WiFi in cafés and coffee shops is actually receding because of a brain-damaged interpretation of the law to make ISPs liable for any wrongdoings of their customers — yay for shoot the messenger!

Why is there virtually no online television? On the weekend, I wanted to watch the flagship show Wetten dass (I won't even dwell on the fact that it's now a 30 year old concept). I had to discover that only short snippets of the 3h show are available online.

There is still practically nobody who sells electronic books in Germany at a time where sales have long overtaken those of the dead tree variety in countries like the US and the UK. The consensus seems to be along the lines of »an e-book reader has no soul and looks silly on the bookshelf« — fair enough, I always thought books were mostly about the content.

Online services like Google Street View and YouTube are largely unavailable in Germany because the legal system has not been able to accommodate them 20 years after the WWW's creation. Street View doesn't even exist outside of a few select locations, and like millions other videos, YouTube's most-watched (400m) and most-liked (3m) video is unavailable to watch in Germany.

This society has such a stubborn aversion to change, technology and progress in general that it's amazing there is still such a strong self-confidence about leading the world in those very areas.

It's telling to observe the ludicrous consensus about what is forwards: questionable undertakings such as rebuilding Frauenkirche and the surrounding »original« centre of Dresden is counted as »progress«, as is the addition of grassroots elements to a parliamentary democracy.

If there was at least some decency to be content in the conviction of sociological and technological leadership. However, on top of all that, it really takes a country that hallucinates a »Leitkultur« for itself to become as condescending and patronising towards other nations as this one.