Watching Tech Titans Wake Up

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten is the founder and CEO of The Next Web, based in Amsterdam. Recently, Financial Times acquired a majority stake in the tech media platform, known for its engaging annual conference.

Boris ​Veldhuijzen​ van Zanten is having breakfast at the At Six Hotel, while scrolling on his phone. The dutch entrepreneur, who is in Stockholm for The Absolut Company’s Tomorrow’s Thought Leaders gathering, is browsing for clothes in a French online store.

This behavior is one of the two trends currently on his radar; how we take amazing technological solutions for granted. The fact that he can shop for pants in France from his breakfast table in Stockholm and have them delivered to a hotel in San Francisco, using only his phone, is a wondrous thing that we all take for granted these days.
 
How quickly we adapt to new tech and make it partof our everyday lives is fascinating to Boris. He points out that he has started to notice how his own tech consumption keeps changing rapidly. He no longer uses a computer, but does all his work on his iPad. He finds himself moving away from the text-based interfaces of Google docs, to the more object-focused dashboards of Trello. ”Just like we moved from radio to TV, and paper to computers, we are now shifting from text to objects in how we process data and do our work. “​At our conference two years ago, a speaker predicted that soon a startup would be born that would have its entire workforce using only smartphones. It seemed unrealistic at the time, but I think we’re almost there.”​ he explains.
 
The conference he is referring to is the TNW conference in Amsterdam, which he co-founded in 2006, along with the tech news website bearing the same name. The TNW website now ranks among the top 50 tech media outlets in the world – the only one on thelist not from the US or backed by venture capital (however, since this interview took place, Financial Times has acquired a majority stake in TNW) – and the conference has grown into the biggest tech event in Europe, attracting 17,500 visitors this year and growing by 20% annually. Boris sits at the heart of both these knowledge hubs, and enjoys first-row tickets as the tech world keeps changing around him.
 
The rapidly shifting behaviours, and how people seem to adapt their lives around machines, is one of the clear trends heis currently spotting. The other major thing he’s seeing is what he calls ”the humanity in tech”. Tech is not about ones and zeros, but rather about brainsand hearts. ”The most successful apps are both created and used by people, and the story behind the tech is more interesting than the tech itself. It’s all about the people.”, he says.
 
He points out how our lives change with technology, and how technology’s growing pains become major global concerns, as in the case of Russian social media campaigns infiltrating the US elections. Still, he remains tech positive; ”With the world going through such dramatic changes, there are bound to be some rough edges along the way. Even if Facebook gets a great deal of negative press right now, it’s overall effect on society has been positive by truly connecting the world.”
 
And he is now sensing the dawn of a new era, where the tech sector will dive even deeper into its own consciousness. Tech startups are no longer pushing employees to work all-nighters, but rather to improve their work through personal development, meditation, smart nutrition andsufficient rest. At TNW 2018, an entire track of the conference mirrored this trend by highlighting stress management, meditation entrepreneurs and an inspirational speech by YouTube philosopher Jason Silva. Boris explains how ”tech deserves to change the world in a human and civilised way, where people are allowed to feel happy and safe” and that he is glad to now see this shift in the mindset of leading tech companies around the world.
 
As for his own company, he hopes to create an organisation sustainable enough to outlive himself and keep providing the world with new knowledge for another 100 years at least. This year, TNW celebrates it 14th birthday and we’re curious to see if the teenage conference will show off an even more mindful version of itself in its 2019 instalment.