Health inSite: Small worlds need a u-turn


Where we’re going with electronics…

As we look at the new innovations coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, NV this year (#CES2014 on twitter and elsewhere!), I find myself questioning what we are trying to accomplish in HealthIT trends when it comes to interacting with our technology.  Largely, this was prompted by a recent article about the formation of the recent Google-led Open Auto Alliance, a collaborative effort between nVidia, Google, Hyundai, Honda, GM, and Audi.

Humorously enough, or not, the article referenced above for the OAA includes a banner for Door-to-Door Organics (a local-to-online-to-local organic produce company from which I get a weekly delivery for my lunch each day) as the sponsored banner advertisement.


As a Google fan-boy of sorts (I’ve been a Gmail user since 2004, helped start a company in 2005 based on Google search technology, and chose Android for my first [and every subsequent] smart phone), I have long-lauded the value of Android integration into the many facets of life.  I rely on this technology in many ways day-in and day-out to help curate my experience in the real world.  But, I have to express some dismay at Google’s focus on making cars that are our “ultimate mobile device” as it goes against another important soapbox of mine – the future of our online lives actually exists in augmenting our offline ones.  See here: Google Glass, augmented reality, and even Google Goggles which just earlier this year helped me identify additional information for my mom about an artist while I was in a museum!

IBM makes a startling announcement!

Early in December, IBM released its predictions for the next 5 years of which, one in particular, was jarring and interesting to consider – that mobile will enable the local buyer.  While it may seem to be bold to suggest that companies like Zappos and Amazon are going to lose the buyer war, I think one would be foolish to overlook the trend toward buying local in many ways.  I don’t think IBM is trying to suggest that buying local is going to be true for bulk/large purchasing – as it’s going to remain significantly cheaper to buy many electronics direct from the warehouse for many people who don’t need the concierge services of an electronics store – but smaller, everyday purchases will remain daily purchases.  For that reason, I would concur that mobile has the potential to enable local purchasing in a way we’ve never experienced before.

Enter Small Worlds (both literal and figurative)

If my study in Network Science and Sociology has taught me nothing, it’s that when looking at trends in social design, if one ignores the general trend of the people that have to operate in a system, for glitziness, that company is losing out on finding the niche in which it is most likely to thrive.  Minidisc lost out to MP3s, Blue Ray is just now catching on against DVDs and that was a multi-billion dollar campaign, and more importantly, there is a certain level of social responsibility that should come with technological advancement.  For that reason, I ask a simple question: when we know that we are facing so many epidemics within the health of our populace, why would we focus on generating tech for the machine that most clearly has helped to create our epidemic.  Let me explain…

The greatest impact that we could have on the overall health and wellbeing (the optimally-performing self) is by leveraging the interpersonal experience that we have with one another.  There is no greater way, in my view, to leverage the way that we as humans interact with one another.  Network Science explains how we are the product of the many interactions that we have day-in and day-out.  This creates the product known as ‘small worlds’ in which we exist.  If you were to look at a graphing of your daily social interactions, you would find that there are a number of individuals (nodes) that have a significant impact on your daily life.  Some of those people (hubs) have a greater impact on other clusters of people, but ultimately, our interactions occur with about 150 people regularly.  Despite that, our impact on the health and wellbeing of a great number of other people through our interactions allow the network to act in a much more comprehensive way.  In effect, it’s not just our actions, but the actions of those we interact with, that ultimately impact the way in which the network perceives and reacts to those behaviors.

It’s time to focus on our communities, not ourselves

In many ways, the single most destructive piece of technology that we’ve created is the automobile. As of 2011, the average US citizen travels over 36 miles each day in their vehicle – which no doubt is why Google is looking at trying to maximize their time with their users in this environment.  However, from a society-design perspective, this also encourages obesity and ultimately social-distancing.  It enables us to live in communities that are often disparate and incompatible with building social structure.  While it has become a mainstay in our social psyche, it has also enabled a technology-subordinate population.  Our cars have created the perfect self-encapsulated environment that removes us from the need to interact positively with one another in meaningful ways.  My city of Denver, CO receives a walk score of 56; check yours here!

If only Google was spending more time on creating the “public square” instead of the “private car” of the future, we might see some pretty significant impact on mobile health technology and more importantly, helping to engineer with the social network in mind to create a healthier population.

Know of something Google or anyone else is doing toward this goal?  Other insights you want to share?  Tweet at me or comment below!

To our health,

Ryan Lucas
Manager, Engagement & Development
Follow me on twitter: @dz45tr