1 – #INITIATION

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.  

3 thoughts on “1 – #INITIATION

  1. Thanks Mark & Robert for your efforts. Your combination of anthropology, psychology, philosophy and Internet tech will be of great interest to me, having witnessed about three quarters of a billion seconds of the changes you’re describing.

    On the Tech & implementation layers I strongly agree that the change has been most profound, and is far from over. What I consider has not changed however, is the essence of the human person. People still long to be loved and to love. To be thoroughly known and appreciated.

    Hyper-connectivity has paradoxically helped and hindered these core desires.

    Facebook alone is cited in a third of all marriage break downs in the west.

    I’m looking forward to your endeavours, good luck!

  2. Hi,
    it seems to me that the use of a smartphone could be very well replaced in countries where it is still rare by a well written automated phone app.
    In this case for the cost of a local call, the 25,000,000 users with a mobile phone could all benefit today of the same service.
    In practice, they would have to listen to the short decision-tree of questions and by answering them with their own mobile phone, they would be redirected by a final geolocalizator to the very short list of registered and certified medical providers in their vicinity.

    Here, Actual Technology could solve the problem today without waiting that 25.000.000 mobile phones become Smartphones or that you have to know some smartphone owner… 😉

    Best,
    Jacopo

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