No Boundaries - The Digital Nomads of Estonia Collection

The No Boundaries - The Digital Nomads of Estonia collection consists of oral history interviews with Estonians whose lives have been changed by the intersection of the country’s digital revolution and its rejoining of the free world; ranging from key people involved with initiating and shaping the policies that made the digital revolution possible, to those who grew up with, and were able to make full use of, the new possibilities to learn, create and live in the new, interconnected world, focusing on Estonians who have migrated to California’s Silicon Valley.

The interviews focus on the time just prior to Estonia’s regained liberty and up until the present, exploring different viewpoints on how the country was changed by the openness and opportunities made possible by these events coinciding so fortuitously with the digital revolution, and how this has impacted Estonian culture, identity, and outlook. Interviewees reflect on how the openness and new global opportunities have affected Estonia and their personal lives, their hopes and fears for the future, what being an Estonian means to them, their ties with Estonia, national identity, and Estonian cultural traits.

Subjects covered include Estonia, Estonian history, interwar Estonia, World War II (1939-1945), Soviet occupation, Nazi occupation, the Estonian diaspora, the digital revolution, entrepreneurship, creativity and resiliency, and Estonian identity in the future.

The Project

The project is an initiative by Stanford Libraries, centered around the amazing Estonian recovery following the regained independence and the country’s rejoining of the free world, and how this affects national identity, as told through the perspective and personal stories of a number of successful, innovative Estonian entrepreneurs and creatives, mainly those who have gone on to live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Interview with Steve Jurvetson, May 27, 2016
Interview with Kristel Kruustük (Viidik), May 26, 2016
Interview with Rainer Sternfeld, August 25, 2017

The project records, collects and publishes in-depth interviews carried out by Anders Hjemdahl and Camilla Andersson with the dual purpose of creating a research resource for the study of a unique time of dramatic changes in Estonia’s history, and telling the story of this period to the general public through the voices of people who were both affected by the changes of this time in history, and who took part in creating and shaping the changes. The goal of the project is to enable insights and create a better understanding of this period of recent history, stimulate interest in these subjects, and create a resource for current and future research.

Interview with Toomas Hendrik Ilves, October 1, 2017
Interview with Ott Kaukver, August 26, 2017
Interview with Andrus Viirg, September 31, 2017
Interview with Sten Tamkivi, May 25, 2016

Camilla Andersson and Anders Hjemdahl are media producers, developers and strategic communications experts who founded Hypnosis Interactive in Stockholm, Sweden in 1996. Sharing a passion for history and human rights, they founded the Far Shore project in 2002, documenting the culture, nature and history of Estonia’s coasts and islands, and founded think tank IICC in 2005, working internationally with issues relating to democracy, human rights and the reunification of European history after the fall of the Soviet empire. In 2014, Andersson and Hjemdahl founded Pacific Virtual Reality in Los Angeles, focusing on development and storytelling using immersive media (VR) and augmented reality (AR), while continuing to work with brand development and communication strategy. As producers, they have created projects with clients ranging from global companies like Sony, Virgin and Ericsson to government agencies, NGOs, museums, universities and non-profit organizations. They have received multiple awards for their work, e.g. the Order of Terra Mariana by President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia and the Sir John Templeton Freedom Award for excellence in international public relations.

The interviews

The collection currently includes seven video interviews, all of them publicly accessible. More interviews will be recorded and made accessible in the future.

Oral history interview with Steve Jurvetson, 2016

Venture capital investor Steve Jurvetson of Draper Jurvetson Fisher (investors in e.g. Tesla and SpaceX) talks about his prominent Estonian family’s background (from Saaremaa and Tallinn), their experiences during WWII and the occupations, his immediate family’s escape from Estonia to the United States, their subsequent reconnection with Estonia after the regained independence, and the role Estonia and Estonian identity plays in the lives of himself and his family today. He also shares his personal experiences and thoughts about the events around 1989-1991. Steve also discusses Estonian culture and identity, Estonia’s future prospects and challenges, and his personal hopes for Estonia in the future. He also talks about how Estonia can find its place in the world.

Oral history interview with Sten Tamkivi, 2016

Entrepreneur Sten Tamkivi (of Skype and later Teleport fame) talks about his family’s background (from Saaremaa and Tartu) and their experiences during the occupations, until the regained independence, and afterwards. He also shares his personal experiences and thoughts about the events around 1989-1991, and how the regained liberty and the possibilities of the digital revolution has shaped both his personal life, Estonia, and the prospects for Estonians and Estonian society. He explains how and why Estonia was able to fully utilize the digital revolution in the unique way that it did. Sten discusses Estonia’s opening up to the rest of the world, attitudes towards change, future prospects and challenges, if there is such a thing as Estonian culture, and his personal hopes for Estonia in the future. He also talks about his views on Estonian identity, and how Estonia can find its place in the world.

Oral history interview with Kristel Viidik, 2016

Kristel Viidik, founder of software testing company Testlio, talks about her family’s background (from Viljandi) and their experiences during the occupations, until the regained independence, and afterwards. She considers what her own reactions would have been. Kristel also shares her views of events around 1989-1991, and how the regained liberty and the possibilities of the digital revolution has shaped both herself and Estonia. Kristel discusses Estonia’s opening up to the rest of the world, attitudes towards change, future prospects and challenges, and her personal hopes for Estonia in the future. She also talks about Estonian identity and culture, and how Estonia can find its place in the world.

Oral history interview with Rainer Sternfeld, 2017

Entrepreneur Rainer Sternfeld (founder of PlanetOS, co-designer of the Statue of Liberty of Estonia) talks about his family’s background (Estonian father born in Siberia and Ukrainian-Estonian mother born in Estonia) and the experiences of his family during the Soviet occupation through the regained independence. He also shares his personal memories and thoughts from his childhood about the events around 1989-1991, how the regained liberty and the possibilities of electronics technology, the digital revolution, and his family’s strong focus on providing their children with better opportunities by studying and hard work has shaped his youth and adult life. He also shares his thoughts about Estonian cultural traits like a focus on simplicity, the challenges for Estonian and global society in moving forward and not getting mired in conservative nationalism and materialism, and the importance of a healthy, open discussion for the civil society in a world in flux.

Oral history interview with Ott Kaukver, 2017

Ott Kaukver, VP and GM of voice and video at Twilio Inc. and an early employee and former Head Of Engineering at Skype, talks about his family, their experiences during the war and the occupations, his memories from the regaining of independence, and how his inherited passion for maths and physics from his grandmother, and his father’s work as a computer scientist have shaped his life. Ott also shares his views on how the regained liberty and freedom of movement in combination with the possibilities of the digital revolution have shaped both himself and Estonia, and how younger generations have vastly different outlooks and opportunities than those who have gone before. Ott discusses his personal hopes for Estonia in the future, and the challenges Estonia is facing as a small country with a rapidly evolving society in need of finding a new, positive and more constructive identity instead of the victim mentality caused by the suffering of the past, and the importance of Estonia being an internationally recognized, open and attractive country, with a healthy civil society, a respectful, non-polarizing and open debate, and a meaningful democratic process.

Oral history interview with Andrus Viirg, 2017

Andrus Viirg, head of Enterprise Estonia Silicon Valley, talks about his family's experiences during the Soviet occupation and family members who emigrated, focusing on the events of the late 1980s and early 1990 and the subsequent digitalization of Estonia. He also discusses how Estonian companies and entrepreneurs have gained recognition and funding in Silicon Valley, and share some of his hopes and fears for Estonia's future.

Oral history interview with Toomas Hendrik Ilves, 2017

Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Toomas Hendrik Ilves lived in the United States and Canada, and spent almost a decade in Germany working for Radio Free Europe before he became an informal advisor to President Lennart Meri and Estonia’s ambassador to the United States in Washington, D.C. He later served as Foreign Minister of Estonia, as Vice President of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, and as President of Estonia for ten years (2006 - 2016). He is currently a Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Mr. Ilves discusses his family’s background, the events leading up to Estonian independence, and his role in shaping pivotal events and processes that have shaped the country’s recent history; with a special focus on the country’s rapid digitization and its consequences. He also discusses Estonia’s future as part of the digital world, embedded in the Western structures of finance, politics, and security.