Blessed with good health, we spend most of our days blissfully ignorant of a vital question: what do we do when we get sick?  In America, Australia or any other developed nation the answer is easy: we go to the doctor.   High-quality medical care might be expensive (or free, depending on where you live), but access to it can be taken for granted.  Thankfully.

This is not the case everywhere.

In Kenya, quacks posing as medical professionals treat gullible patients, depriving them both of their money and a chance for a cure.  With only 7000 qualified doctors to treat 40,000,000 Kenyans, the huge demand for medical services means anyone with enough medical knowledge to sound convincing can set up shop.  As a result, many Kenyans receive sub-standard medical care.  Some die because their doctor isn’t.

Fortunately, that has started to change.

A smartphone app, MedAfrica, provides any Kenyan with a smartphone a list of registered and certified medical providers.  When a Kenyan gets sick, they can learn – more or less instantly – if a particular practitioner is the real McCoy.

While most Kenyans do not yet own smartphones – the cheapest of these amazing devices still costs around $75, which is a lot of money in East Africa – the nation as a whole has 25,000,000 mobile subscriptions.  Half of Kenya owns a mobile, which means that even if they do not own a mobile themselves, Kenyans undoubtedly know someone who does.  And although smartphones are not in the majority, they aren’t entirely rare.  A Kenyan likely knows someone who owns a smartphone, so they could simply call or text that smartphone-enabled friend, and ask them to use MedAfrica check out their prospective doctor.

When people are sufficiently well-connected – hyperconnected – something known by any one of them can be shared with all of them, very quickly.  MedAfrica includes another feature, a decision-tree of questions which helps the sick self-diagnose their illnesses, making the same inquiries a doctor or nurse might.  From these responses MedAfrica offers up a provisional diagnosis that can point the the sick person toward the most effective treatment.  MedAfrica may not be as good as a doctor, but it’s free, and freely available to anyone with a smartphone, helping both patients and doctors.  When patients can off-load the burden from doctors, by doing some of the work themselves, doctors can spread themselves around, seeing the patients who will most benefit from their expertise.  MedAfrica helps make the creaky, overstretched Kenyan health system more effective.  This app will save lives.

That a little piece of software could have such a profound effect tells us a lot about how quickly and comprehensively our culture has transformed.  In 1999, half the planet had never made a phone call.  By 2009, half of us owned mobiles.  The world has grown connected, and that connectivity acts as an amplifier of human capabilities.  Individual efforts have wildly disproportionate effects.

Much of what transpired in 2011 – a year of turmoil, catastrophe and revolution – seemed chaotic and irrational.  In reality, 2011 saw the first fruits of hyperconnectivity: a rising tide of chaos goes hand-in-hand with our ability to reach out to one another.  Much that was difficult or rare has become easy and common.

We are unprepared for this sudden advancement in our capacity, and we have an urgent need to understand the origin and nature of our new-found capabilities. Like children in the bodies of giants, we kick over everything in our path, unaware of our own strength.   Some few among us have chosen to become agents of chaos, exploiting hyperempowerment for ends that serve only themselves.  Others have used hyperempowerment as a fulcrum – like the authors of MedAfrica, propelling Kenya forward with just the lightest touch.

From inside the fishbowl of this transformation – a civilizational acceleration hurtling us toward a future that feels very different and very potent – it’s difficult to understand how much we have changed.  In our behaviors and expectations, we are already very different than we were just half a billion seconds (15 years) ago.  In another half a billion seconds we will be almost unrecognizable.   What we are becoming will be incomprehensible to the people we once were.  The language of sharing and connectivity we employ today simply did not exist half a generation ago; the way we both depend upon and conform to a world of continuous connection tells us that there is no going back.  Even if all the devices vanished tomorrow, they have left a permanent mark on our collective psyche.  Once connected, we are not easily broken apart.  

Drawn from a decade of research into the social and technological factors fusing in this explosion of cultural change, our book, The Next Billion Seconds, has been broken into 100 chapters.  Every Tuesday and Thursday until December 20, 2012, we will dig a little deeper into the processes and products of hyperconnectivity.  For the next hundred posts, this blog will work to articulate a complete vision of a what happens, now that we’re all connected.  

4 thoughts on “1 – #INITIATION

  1. You wrote: ” The language of sharing and connectivity we employ today simply did not exist half a generation ago; the way we both depend upon and conform to a world of continuous connection tells us that there is no going back. Even if all the devices vanished tomorrow, they have left a permanent mark on our collective psyche. Once connected, we are not easily broken apart.”

    I have to disagree, the language of sharing and connectivity has always existed and has changed organically throughout millenia. What we have now a series of services and tools which make that sharing and connectivity more immediate. Which has it’s pluses and minuses, of course, but humanity will adapt.

    I’m sure you’ll go into this in a lot more detail in later chapters to prove your theory, but perhaps I’m just too cynical to believe that if we do, indeed, lose all our devices we won’t easily be broken apart. We’ll find other ways to maintain these new relationships, as necessary, but it will take some time and we may never regain many of the relationships we’ve built in the past “half billion seconds”. Or in my own case, probably a period even shorter than that.

    More positively, I’m happy to say I’ve finally got around to reading your work, I look forward to even more challenging pieces over the next few months.

    • Any introductory statement is by nature too dense and brief to admit the full range of meanings. And yes, in the following chapters I go into exquisite detail about how our sharing behaviors evolved, how we use them, and how they persist and have become embedded into our gadgets.

      As to whether we can survive the loss of our networks: it seems to have been the case in Egypt last year. This is because behavior changes, and the network is not behavior.

      Looking forward to your continued participation.

  2. Hi Mark,
    I heard you interviewed on ABC Radio a few weeks ago. I presumed that “The next 5 billion seconds” was an old fashioned softcover book.. Is it all online?

    I had the idea a few years ago for “mind bridge” a digital telepathy system. Using a cochlear ear implant and an off the shelf bluetooth ear piece, one could silently hear another persons voice via mobile phone. The difficulty in bi directional comms would be intercepting thought / vision and transmitting it. Google glasses are walking this path too.

    After hearing your interview I was ruminating on the idea of our reach of awareness via interconnectedness. If electricity were to stop, (and the infrastructure it supports) then our awareness horizon drops from the perimeter of our solar system, and beyond, to the extent of our sight lines and hearing, the borders of our suburbs. That blew my mind.. so thanks!!
    I look forward to devouring your book.


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