All good things come to an end at some stage. That is how I felt when Finnair contacted me in October and told me that they are renewing the concept of Blue Wings. Time to get a new roster of columnists.

A curious and open mind is often happy. For me, reading and writing equals happiness. It has been a privilege to write this column for 12 years. It all started in 2005. Since then I have written over 120 stories in this space. Two books have been published based on the texts, and I hope to publish a third one next year.

The basic aim of the column has been to deal with topics that are of interest to international readers visiting Finland and Finnish readers interested in international subjects. The great thing is that I have been able to write about whatever I want, things close to my heart.

Throughout the years of writing I have held various professional posts, which have inevitably influenced the topics. As a member of the European Parliament I wrote about things European. Sometimes I would make fun of European stereotypes; in other columns I would tell French presidents and Italian prime ministers about Finnish cuisine.

When I became a government minister I started writing about how to brand Finland, Finnish architecture, and travelling in Finland.

I also dealt with issues relating to foreign policy. One of my all-time favorites was a column in which I talked about the similarities of child minding and foreign policy. And naturally the idea came from my wife, who should get the credit for many of the ideas I have written about over the years.

As the years went on I moved on to more philosophical subjects, such as the art of being kind, body and mind, artificial intelligence, big data, and even the future of homo sapiens. Many of the columns were based on books that I read over the years.

The good thing with writing a column is that your brain is on constant look-out for topics. That means that you must keep on learning and reading.

But the best thing has been the feedback from you, the readers. Not a week goes by without someone commenting on the column, whether in person or via email or social media. The column has been widely quoted and used as teaching material in schools around Finland, as well as for lectures and speeches on many occasions. There has even been a study written on the columns.

My last column in this magazine makes me both happy and sad. Happy, becauseI firmly believe (and preach) that we all need to do new things, renew ourselves. Sad because I have truly loved writing for Blue Wings. The process of writing has been a source of renewal in and of itself.

So, to all of my readers, reviewers, and commentators over the years, I say thank you and goodbye. This has been a wonderful journey. Let’s keep on reading and writing. And please do stay in touch.

Är sociala medier ett hot mot demokratin? Tidskriften The Economist ställde denna fråga i sitt nummer i början av november. Frågan må vara provokativ, men är samtidigt högst relevant, inte minst ur tre perspektiv.

För det första gäller det global demokrati. Sociala medier har fungerat som en katalysator för demokratiska rörelser omkring i världen.

Arabvåren i början av 2010-talet och Maidanrevolutionen i Ukraina 2013-2014 använde Facebook och Twitter för att mobilisera frihetsrörelser och föra fram budskap.

I början förstod inte auktoritära regimer de sociala mediernas kraft. Det tog dock inte länge för dem att vakna till. Nuförtiden ser man ofta statligt trollande i diverse kriser. Samtidigt används modern teknologi för att lokalisera politiskt motstånd.

För det andra spelar sociala medier en viktig roll i etablerade demokratiska val. Kandidater har en ypperlig möjlighet att föra fram sitt budskap utan de traditionella mediernas filter och tolkningar. Samtidigt kan man debattera direkt med andra kandidater.

Det är dock inte enbart en dans på demokratiska rosor. Val i exempelvis USA och Frankrike har präglats av både interna och externa försök att påverka slutresultatet via sociala medier. Oftast gäller det distribution av felaktig information, eller det som vi kallar för trollande.

För det tredje gäller det informationsflödet. I dagens värld av massiva dataflöden har sociala mediaplatformer som Facebook, Twitter, Youtube och Instagram en viktig roll som filter.

En stor del av nyheterna vi ser kommer ofta via våra olika sociala medier. Vem kontrollerar dessa medier? Eller borde de överhuvudtaget bli kontrollerade? Och om, på vilket sätt? Vem har ansvar? Det finns inte entydiga svar.

Det har varit lätt att använda dessa enorma platformer för att distribuera felaktig information.

Under årens lopp har samhällen byggt juridiska instrument – som exempelvis ärekränkning – som kvalitetskontroll för traditionella medier. Liknande kvalitetskontroller i sociala medier fattas.

Det viktigaste är att vi, som konsumenter av information, lär oss att skilja på vad som är fakta och fiktion. Detta kommer att ta sin tid, inte minst på grund av att vi ofta reagerar snabbt – och emotionellt – på information som vi stöter på.

Jag är inte av den åsikten att sociala medier är ett hot mot demokratin, tvärtom. Samtidigt är det viktigt att förstå hur modern informationsteknologi påverkar våra demokratiska processer. Utan klara spelregler kan demokratin skadas.

Big data is one of those buzzwords that you may have heard mentioned over the past few years. If you are like me, you will have realised that it is important, but you may not have fully understood its meaning.

I have good news.

Writer, comedian, and broadcaster Timandra Harkness’ latest book, Big Data – does size matter? (2016, Bloomsbury), is a great reference for us social scientists who struggle to understand the complex world of data.

The simplest definition of big data can be found on Google, the biggest data collector of all. According to the almighty search-engine, big data is “extremely large data sets that may be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions.”

We all provide big data with almost everything we do. You are most probably reading this on a Finnair flight, which you booked online. Through your mobile phone you will have revealed your preferred seat, favourite food, mode of transport, and travel destination. As you leave the plane you might jump into a taxi, which takes you to your favourite hotel. All registered on the net. You will probably post a picture or tell a story on your favourite social media. All before going for a run and recording it on your health app.

And naturally, you will be listening to your favourite music after watching a movie online, before booking a restaurant which was recommended on Trip Advisor. You can see where I’m going with this.

It’s a bit creepy, but big data knows where you are, where you have been, who your friends are, what makes you angry, who is falling in love with you, your favourite food and so much more. As a matter of fact, big data might just know you better than you know yourself.

Now, big data is, of course, great for business. It makes it easy to collect data and figure out consumer preferences and trends. It is equally great for science. By tracking disease patterns and analysing DNA and gene registers, scientists will be able to find cures.

This is truly exciting, but like any major change, it has its downside – most of which is linked to privacy. Unless you want to isolate yourself from society, it will be very difficult to stop being a provider of big data.

One of the things you can do is to decide what you want to keep private and from whom.

In any case you might want to reflect before the next time you type in your personal details in an online survey. Ask yourself who you are sharing the information with – and why.

Having read Harkness’ book helped me to understand the meaning of big data. I will probably not change my online habits radically, but at least I know what is happening with all the data that I voluntarily share.