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Photo of author Carl Karlsson working in a shared office in Sofia, Bulgaria

Author Carl Karlsson working in a shared office in Sofia, Bulgaria

Personal file
Carl Karlsson

-OpEd-

"Do you get how big this is? It's been two hours now…"

No, I didn't get how big it was. Mostly, I was amazed that Daniel was both speaking in full sentences and making eye contact — I'd only ever seen him muted and bent over his computer screen scrolling through graphs and columns. But now he was reclining and spinning his office chair in the freshly remodeled common area of the co-working space I've called "the office" for the past four weeks.

Facebook vs. freedom

"If Facebook stays down, some of my clients will lose six-figures," he said, looking half-amused, half-panicked. Daniel (who turned out to be quite the talker during social media outages) had quit his day job after getting "almost rich" on bitcoin, and now divided his time between crypto trading, PR consultancy and freelance "growth hacking."

His isn't a particularly original story here at the shared office in central Sofia, Bulgaria. Many I've spoken to since arriving in September do something IT-Crypto related — mostly expats, some having moved here for the corporate tax flat rate of 10%, others just passing through before the next nomadic destination.

I realized how hooked the world is on our battery of alerts and likes.

No matter what their gig or angle or life hack, every single person gives the same reason as Daniel for moving their lives online and on the road: more freedom. "Have you checked bitcoin? … Way up. Decentralization, man," Daniel went on. More people had dropped into the common room, unable to either work or waste time in the usual ways on Facebook or Instagram or WhatsApp. Suddenly, there was far more social interaction in this kitsch four-story building than I'd seen ever since arriving.

Photo of a backlit hand holding a smart phone with Facebook, WhatApp and Instagram icons on the screen.

Facebook-linked apps suffered a 6-hour outage

Andre M. Chang/ZUMA

Back to Zuckerberg's normal

A full-fledged debate was on about what this all meant: "If they built Facebook on a blockchain, this wouldn't have happened," an Estonian web designer from the top floor weighed in. "How safe is our data if they can't even keep their platforms up and running?"

The discussion went on as the evening arrived. Sitting there, listening to the tech-heavy analysis I couldn't fully understand — and philosophical riffs nobody could understand — I realized how hooked the world is on our battery of alerts and likes and digital noise. My only (unshared) thought was: This couldn't possibly be "more freedom."

Any person governed by forces beyond comprehension can never be considered truly free.

After all, who really did understand any of this? Who actually knows where blockchain will take us? Who has read Facebook's privacy policy?

We will be assured that some simple glitch took down the Facebook empire, and now all is back online — and Mark Zuckerberg will even recoup his lost billions. But the forces behind our economy are more complex than ever, and any person governed by forces beyond comprehension can never be considered truly free. And we digital nomads of Bulgaria jonesing for Facebook and WhatsApp to come back online are the final, self-deluded proof.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Ukraine Is Turning Into A "New Israel" — Where Everyone Is A Soldier

From businessmen to farmers, Ukrainian society has been militarizing for the past six months to defend its sovereignty. In the future it may find itself like Israel, permanently armed to protect its sovereignty.

Ukrainian civilians learn how to shoot and other military skills at a shooting range in Lviv on July 30, 2022.

Guillaume Ptak

KYIV — The war in Ukraine has reached a turning point. Vladimir Putin's army has suffered its worst setback since the beginning of the invasion. The Russian army has experienced a counter-offensive that many experts consider masterful, so it must retreat and cede vast territories to its opponent.

The lightning victory that the head of the Kremlin had dreamed of never took place. The losses are considerable — Ukrainian troops on the battlefield now outnumber the Russians.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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On April 5, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky predicted that at the end of the conflict, Ukraine would become a "big Israel". In an interview with Ukrainian media, he said then, "In all the institutions, supermarkets, cinemas, there will be people with weapons."

The problem of national security will be the country's most important one in the next decade. An "absolutely liberal, and European" society would therefore no longer be on the agenda, according to the Ukrainian president.

Having long since swapped his suit and tie for a jacket or a khaki T-shirt during his public appearances, Zelensky has undeniably become one of the symbols of this growing militarization of Ukrainian society. However, the president claimed that Ukraine would not become an "authoritarian" regime: "An authoritarian state would lose to Russia. Ukrainians know what they are fighting for."

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

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