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Elizaveta Bersegova
August 17, 2015

People in beta: Fabian Hemmert

Welcome to our PEOPLE in Beta series. We are requesting a little insight from speakers and workshop holders of People in Beta festival about who they really are. Dr.-Ing. Fabian Hemmert works as a researcher in the Design Research Lab at the Berlin University of the Arts and is regarded as one of the world's foremost experts in mobile telecommunications. Fabian will deliver a talk on Haptic technology, how our body understands the digital world and how the boundaries between the digital and the physical will continue to blur in the future. We chatted to him recently about the joys of getting lost in Paris and his childhood dream of becoming a magician.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in designing future interactive technology?

As with every technology, it’s rather not the technology itself that’s challenging. It’s us, humans. What we can observe these days is that we are more and more trapped in our mobile phones. They interrupt conversations and they absorb our attention. Attention is the most scarce resource in our society — it’s what everybody wants from us and what we want from everybody. The good news about us being the problem is: it’s also in our hands. We can make sure that our relationship to technology is a healthy one.

Which of your inventions are you most proud of and why?

Pride is not the right emotional response to an invention. Ideas are much like plants: in the beginning, they need to be put in the right environment and they need lots of protection. Then they need nourishment (often in the form of other, matching ideas), until they have grown enough substance to stand (and convince others) by themselves. It’s more like gardening and not so much like hunting.

When you were a kid, what did you dream of becoming when you grew up?

PIB interview Fabian Hemmert pict

When I was young, I wanted to become a magician. It was a fascinating job for me: making impossible things a reality. My alternative plan was to become an explorer and venture into undiscovered lands.

Who would have thought that it would be possible to be both at once and even including time travel? Exploring possible futures through design, by building devices today that might exist tomorrow - it’s really more than I could have ever imagined.

What’s your favourite way to blow off steam in your free time?

Movement. From an evolutionary perspective, humans’ natural reaction to adrenaline is physical movement (fight or flight) - we just tend to experience adrenaline these days without moving. And we shouldn’t do that. So let’s move.

I discovered that I get loads of ideas when I go for a run, especially when I don’t listen to music. So I take a small notebook and a pencil with me. This also motivates me to go for a run: I know that I will come back with a list of ideas.

Recently we got into playing laser tag, which I can highly recommend. Note-taking on the laser battlefield is something I’m still working on, though.

What quirks or virtues impress you the most in people?

I’m much impressed when people stand up for their ideas, no matter how crazy they are judged by others.

Who’s your nearest and dearest person in the world and why?

My beloved fiancée, Sarah. She is fantastic. She supports me in everything I do and we are a great team. Inspired by the Muji CD player, we built a Raspberry-Pi-based Hanging Spotify Jukebox together and now we’re creating Diarings.

We also enjoy disconnecting together. Last year we went to Paris together, leaving our smartphones at home. We got lost in the streets, went to lousy restaurants - no Google Maps, no TripAdvisor. Despite these things (or maybe even because of them), it was a great weekend. It was uninterrupted and we enjoyed it very much. Sarah contributes a lot to this: I develop many of my ideas together with her - she’s more than just a “Plus One”.(Plus, how could I use Clue otherwise?)

What makes you feel lucky to live in this time and place?

I actually wouldn’t mind living a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But since we’re stuck in 2015, let’s see:

These are very exciting times. Opportunities to do something new open up all the time. As I’m often driven by curiosity, I usually find one or two things every day that would be nice to experiment with. I’m actually sure that every time and place is exciting in some way - boredom is only one’s inability to interact meaningfully with the world around one.

What’s the one thing you would change about the world if you could?

I would remove the concept of advertisement. It’s manipulating many people in a very bad way. It creates emotional Fata Morganas. It’s a complete waste of time and worse, of attention.

Tea or coffee?

I’m more into cold drinks, so I prefer iced coffee.

Any predictions for the future?

640TB should be enough for anyone.

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