I thought I’d continue with the theme of the internet as a complex adaptive and open platform, and use this post to share a number of stories on how people are using the internet in amazing ways:
The internet is a treasure trove of incredible empowerment. In April last year, I read about a boy, whose brother was working as a sweeper on India’s trains, who got lost and separated from his mother in 1986, when he was five. He found her. A quarter of a century later. Using Google Earth. Did the designers of the internet, the Web, Google Earth or the device used actually plan for this eventuality? That someone would retrace twenty-five-year-old steps to reconnect with a parent? No. But that’s not important. What’s important is that the internet could be used this way. That the Web could be used this way. That Google Earth could be used this way. And that the device could be used this way.
More recently I read that someone designed an app that used location/checkin data, in this instance from Foursquare, to help direct blind people. Now that’s augmented reality. Reality augmented by crowdsourced data overlaid on an open platform. Would the app have been perfect? No. Will this particular app succeed? Who knows? Not material. What matters is that the internet could be used this way, that GPS could be used this way, that Foursquare could be used this way. None of these things came for free. None of them needed to be designed this way. It happened because the people involved had a vision. A vision to do good.
A year ago, I read about someone who was checking in on her pet remotely, via the web, and found herself observing a burglar in her home. They caught the burglar.
A week or two ago, I took my family on vacation to a remote island. I didn’t realise how remote it was. We had to land at one of the larger islands in the group, and then take a small propellor-plane for 20 minutes. It wasn’t that simple. The BA flight arrived an hour late. We rushed, got on to the hopper plane, taxied and waited for clearance to take off. Not forthcoming. Why? The control tower hadn’t been able to raise anyone at the remote island airport to confirm that the lights would be kept on until after we landed. The pilot told me I’d better get hotels organised for the family and then fly the next day. I wasn’t having any of that, too much of a palaver. So I did the usual thing. Googled civil aviation at the remote island. Got a number. Called it. When someone picked up, passed the phone to the pilot. And then proceeded to negotiate a small fee for their keeping the airport open until after we landed. Simple ubiquitous connectivity, a browser, a search engine, people prepared to be flexible, and Robert is your parent’s sibling.
Just today, following my The Internet Contrives post yesterday, an old colleague and friend alerted me about something he knew I’d like. A tiny gadget that you slip into your luggage that then lets you track that piece of baggage with your smartphone. It even sends you a message when it comes into short range, so that you “know” when your bag is coming up the carousel.
There’s so much happening, so much that will gain quantum energy when the invention enters connected space. Organ printers. Drug printers. Movements small and large. Bluetooth stickers. Slinky on a treadmill.
Who could imagine such things?
All this was possible only because some people imagined a world where all this was possible. Because they designed things in a way that social, common good could come out of it.
My personal thanks to all those people, those that imagined the internet and the Web and GPS and so much we take for granted. People like Vint Cerf and Yogen Dalal and Carl Sunshine working on RFC 675. People like David P Reed and his work on TCP/IP and UDP. People like Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web. People who saw how open adaptive platforms, that helped provide compute, storage and communications access, could form a foundation that can change the world.
Everything is getting disrupted. Everywhere. Our personal lives and our public lives. Businesses and homes, our education, our health. The way we entertain ourselves. Our work and our play. Even government.
Because people had the vision to build open platforms.