Societal Pitfalls, Downfalls, and Opportunities at Falling Walls

Each year, scientists present their latest breakthroughs and innovations at our conference. Each year, we leave the conference feeling inspired, illuminated, fascinated, in awe or overwhelmed, sometimes all of the above. Our presenters take us all over the world, whether inside or outside our minds. We are not just interdisciplinary, we go beyond disciplines and refuse to limit us in terms of discipline or field of research.

In the coming weeks, we would like to re-introduce you to some of the lectures of the past Falling Walls Conferences. We will show you talks that either share a discipline, a goal, a common theme or perhaps they might be just the author’s personal top 5 talks of the last six years of Falling Walls. To start off, we are going to showcase three presenters who share a focus on oppressed and silenced voices throughout the world.

The lectures presented below show three of our illustrious speakers who focus on important contemporary societal challenges. The overall theme is the challenge a globalised world poses for issues such as citizen participation, human rights and available information. The presenters deal with the way we as a species co-exist, whether they discuss the merit and effect of human rights activism, journalism and information in the digital age, equality or the marginalisation of large parts of the world population. These speakers in particular stand up for those without a voice and shed lights on pressing issues of oppression and expulsion, and methods of how to combat these ills.

Salil Shetty, the Secretary General of Amnesty International, presents a broad, general overview of the status quo of the human rights situation worldwide. Through his own professional experience, he possesses a unique insight and does not shy away from harsh criticism. He blames the west for being “hypocritical” but refuses to offer a one-sided critique. Rather, he expands his view to also discuss Amnesty International’s recent work in India and Brazil, widening his scope of analysis and showing how different countries defend or negate human rights. By showing dark episodes of human rights violations, his talk becomes a plea for effective activism.

This global mindset can also be found in Alan Rusbridger’s perspective on Journalism in the Digital Age. The former editor-in-chief of the Guardian who revolutionised the online presence of the newspaper and has been involved in many high-profile cases over press freedom, offers insight into the way journalists work in an increasingly complex and at times treacherous political landscape. During the Snowden revelations of 2013, the Guardian, under his stewardship, was scrutinised heavily by the British government and had to ultimately destroy hard drives containing sensitive data. This was perhaps the most poignant example of a national government’s futile attempt to try to erase knowledge that had already gone global, published and presented by a new class of global journalists.

The final lecture sees Saskia Sassen presenting a global meta-analysis of the capabilities of humankind and its inherent potential for creation and destruction. In her presentation, she foregoes minute details in order to illustrate connections and entanglements of planetary proportions. Showcasing geographical destruction due to climate change, an economic system that, according to her view, has gone absolutely haywire, as well as increasing inequality, Sassen asks dramatic questions. It is within the capabilities of humans to change these developments though, she explains, ending her talk on a somewhat hopeful note. In her book “Explusions”, Sassen expands this research and deals further with those members of our societies who increasingly disappear from view, further elaborating on many issues she raises in her lecture.

Though the topics of these talks may be at times grim, the speakers show ways of tearing down the walls of apathy, disenfranchisement and silence that stand in the way of a more open and just society. You can find many more talks on similar or completely different topics by browsing our video library.

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