The world encompasses more than fishermen and limousine drivers, but these stories set the tone for our entire species: being connected means being more successful, and the more connected you are, the more successful you can be. Charles the limousine driver needed to double his connectivity to improve his earning capability. If the situation demanded a dozen smartphones, spread out against his dashboard, he’d do that, because each additional connection would add to his earning potential. The devices would pay for themselves, and Charles would be fat with connectivity and profits.
That’s exactly what the fishermen in Kerala realized. One fisherman with a mobile is omniscient – a seeing man in the land of the blind. A thousand fisherman, each with their own mobile, become a single, emergent, efficient market supply. The space between these two states – the single fisherman and the mobile as fisherman’s essential tool – is incredibly brief. Everyone within the market simultaneously recognizes that in order to realize their greatest profits, they must connect.
In villages and cities throughout the developing world, one scene has played out in endless repetitions over the last half billion seconds: an individual with a bit of money purchases a mobile. That mobile connects this individual to the marketplace, opening them to a range of economic opportunities, some of which the individual takes advantage of, improving their economic position. This individual is connected – in the flesh – to family and friends and colleagues, each of whom observe how the mobile has created new-found wealth for that individual.
Poorly educated people are not stupid; we are all born knowing how to imitate the behaviors of others, especially when that behavior confers tangible success. People save or borrow to acquire a mobile, and put that mobile to work for them, increasing their economic success. As a significant percentage of the population get mobiles, the advantages become more and more obvious, until everyone understands the relationship between the market and the mobile, and everyone migrates into mobile ownership.
This process of observation and imitation on a mass scale – hypermimesis – explains the unprecedented growth in the number of individuals owning mobiles. Barely sixty million owned a mobile in 1995; the end of 2012 will see us closing in on nearly five billion with at least one mobile device, a growth of nearly ten thousand percent in half a billion seconds. While many assumed adoption rates would slow after most of the world’s affluent bought a mobile, the adoption rate actually shot skyward, buoyed by the growing realization that future success depends upon connectivity.
In February 2012 China surpassed a billion mobile subscriptions, with nearly eight hundred million Chinese – greater than half the population – using a mobile. India, far poorer than newly-industrialized China, has nearly six hundred million subscribers. Africa – with less wealth than either Asian giant – has well over half a billion. Everywhere we look we see the mobile making inroads, but particularly in the poorest corners of the planet. People who barely have money for food will find the money to buy a mobile, because it represents the best opportunity they have ever had to increase their earning power.
Connectivity equals success. This has been demonstrated beyond any doubt. We sit in an in-between time, with the billion seconds following this discovery, but before it becomes the baseline behavior for our species. At the end of this billion seconds, being connected and being human will be seen as synonymous.
We are the species whose success relies upon our ability to communicate what we know to others around us. We put what others communicate to work. Some of what we communicate concerns how we communicate. When someone learns something about how to improve the connectivity between individuals, that information is shared. If it proves successful, those with whom this information was shared will share it again, radiating it through their own connections until the entire network – all five billion of us – act from this new understanding.
This new knowing expands the scope of our capabilities. We find that we can do more. We treasure these new powers, guarding them jealously, and mourning their loss in those situations – with a lost phone or a lost signal – where we can not put them into play. Rightly or wrongly, we tend to see our capabilities as us. As our capacities evolve, so our understanding of and expectations for ourselves change. We are locked into a loop of knowing and doing, with each of us directly connected to five billion others, every one of us intent on growing our own capabilities.
We hear the voices of others telling us things we need to know, sometimes whispered, sometimes repeated at deafening volumes. We whisper or shout, as need and opportunity allow. With everything we hear, we learn, and we do. This is all of us now, everywhere. We are all getting smarter, learning to do more, and as we learn and do, we learn better and do better, and learn to do better. We have plugged ourselves into an amplifier, turned to 11.
The most remarkable quality of the current moment is the pervasive whine of feedback, coursing through every human institution. Homo Nexus, locked within this amplifier, orients itself to the rising rush of power, so heady and seductive that it has already colored and now begins to drown out every other experience.
We are in too deep to turn back, swept up into a vortex of connection and empowerment, but past is merely prologue. Now inside the amplifier, each of us focuses on how to make it work for us, and with every thing we learn, our capabilities increase. It is ripping us away from what we were, half a billion seconds ago, thrusting us – collectively, connectively – into an entirely inescapable future.