Profile: Sascha Lobo, nerd king in internet desert
22 May 2012
Revolt against data retention, distrust of Google and Facebook: in all things Internet, Germany is an “emerging nation”, says Sascha Lobo. The best-known blogger and Internet pioneer in the country is going through something similar. He is sought after – and hated.
Why does the whole world hate Sascha Lobo? This is going to be an interview where only one question has to be asked: everything else will follow all by itself. Sascha Lobo says he will be pleased to meet at Soho House Berlin, once the headquarters of the SED (the East German Communist Party) and now an English-style club – and his “living room”.
And so we meet high above Berlin, in a tea bar. It’s a rainy, ugly afternoon down in Torstrasse. The ugliest street in Berlin is also the hippest – so far. First, we need to talk about how we will talk to each other. And about how we can talk to each other on the Internet.
Sascha Lobo speaks almost without facial expressions, and very seldom betrays any insecurity. Add in the fact that nothing is happening around him, sitting there on a red sofa patterned with red roses, and one gets the impression of a large screen that streams text – text that is also avidly read.
“The language of the Internet,” he says, “is a language of its own. The abuse is definitely part of it. There is a poetry of invective.” And the Internet trolls who pop up to spoil his fun? “Decomposers,” he calls them. “The ones who carry off the corpses. Carrion feeders.”
A whiff of incest
The Internet may not yet be fully understood in Germany: “Here, people think of the Web: If I go on it, I’ll get mucked about.” Just don’t buy anything on the Internet! Lobo laughs. Germany is still an emerging Internet nation, with an emerging Internet fear.
Lobo’s sentences are smooth and free of doubt. He speaks as Sascha Lobo, as a character, as an ambassador. A steady-state interview, one that he has become rather accustomed to – when he speaks, it’s for public consumption. The prevailing rules he has simply internalised: sell, entertain, stand out from the crowd. It has worked out perfectly, like a machine that runs by itself now.
Sascha Lobo’s success points to something missing. The Internet is a world unto itself, designed by experts and played on by bloggers. The rest of the society is happy to use the Internet passively. Germany’s digital society is a monarchy, the Internet their sovereign territory – and Sascha Lobo reigns almost supreme. Fifteen years of the Internet have changed everything, and nobody knows what that means for us.
What happens next only two groups know: the nerds and those who take what the nerds think up and translate it for the general public. These are the Web experts. The experts, or let’s call them the explainers, are roughly three: Sascha Lobo, Sascha Lobo and Sascha Lobo.
The bloggers keep to their own regular circles on the Web. As a result, the Web community in Germany has a whiff of incest to it, and there is a yawning gap between insiders and outsiders. The more the cultural pessimists warn in the newspapers about the evil of the Web, the more the cultural optimists argue on behalf of the new digital life.
Far and wide, there is no more visible and active character to be found explaining the world to the public in such breadth. Lobo blogs, talks, explains, twitters and writes columns on practically every website. And because he’s been doing it for a long time and seems to be having fun with it too, always has the right phrases at hand and is therefore also very well paid (thanks to our inadequacy and the digital incompetence of his customers) he is hated with a passion.
His immediate competitors, other bloggers, envy him; the analogue media, from whom he has wrested the sovereignty of interpretation of a substantial part of the world, scorn him; and the large audience that does not want any part of a mass movement rejects him. Type “Sascha Lobo Arschloch” (asshole) into Google and 9,000 hits spring up.
But he doesn’t makes it easy for people to like him, either: his trademark is a red mohawk. The hair would still be fine if he didn’t always remark that he wears it only for marketing reasons. For the sake of recognition. For some, this is a form of cynicism that’s easy to hate. But self-irony and self-relativisation have always belonged to Lobo’s communication strategy.
“The net,” Lobo says, “works for every sender as a return channel, and thus as a permanent confrontation with his own misconduct.” Everything that is said on it meets with a tremendous sounding board. To top it off, there is always an opinion, a reaction, a critique, accusations, a rebuttal. It is the era of written democracy. The idea of democracy has to be worked out on the Internet, and the interpreters of that democracy make up a kind of People’s Chamber.
A golden age
For every executive, democracy means having to get around election results and expressions of the public will that don’t suit them. On the Internet, the ones who once sat in the back row and spoke too softly now have the chance to be noticed – even the wackos and the whiners. And this communication places the existence of absolute truth per se into question. There is no right, and no wrong: there is only the eternal debate.
Our misbehaviour is put on public show, the hard way. General stupidity as well, and so on. Describing the general sloppiness, Sascha Lobo remarks: “The fact that people read only the first ten search results on Google is not Google’s problem.”
The first generation of digital natives are already groaning at school about their fusty computer science teachers, and anyone can hack into a computer system or the biology teacher’s iPhone. What used to be nerd-level has now become merely the average.
And coming up fast behind Sascha Lobo in the Google+ rankings are the youngsters of the Pirate Party. Perhaps later it will be said about this era: it was a peculiar time of transition, when you could watch movies on the net without paying for them, a golden age when a punk had to explain everything once again to the dorks.
Really, it was beautiful. Someday, Sascha Lobo may become the symbol of this time of transition. Already there’s something of the dinosaur to this character with the red comb.
Translated from the German by Anton Baer