If there is anything good that is going to come out of all of this, it is the fact that we are going to be forced to take care of each other. I really like this, because it may be the first time in history that we actually have the full capacity, and I have been looking for a way to prove it. I didn’t ask for this plague, but I am going to make the best of it.
(You locked me in my house, so get ready for some philosophical rambling… I encourage you to push on through this one…what else have you got to do?)
There are three main forces that shape our lives, that hold together the framework of our modern society, listed here in the order in which they were created: government, industry, and healthcare.
For a really long time, government was the only significant player, and it was what pulled us out of primitive anarchy. For thousands of years, government was authoritarian: you did what you were told to do. Over time – and these United States led the way – societies have shifted to governments that allow personal freedom for the vast majority and mostly serve to keep the jack-o-napes in line. This works pretty well, but there is a major problem: modern governments in free societies can’t make people ethical. They can stop people from being shitty, but they can’t force you to be good. And like it or not, we are all driven to do what we need to do in our own best interest.
In more recent times, industry has taken on a greater and greater role. This has truly brought a revolution of products that have changed our world to the point that it would be unrecognizable and almost unnavigable to someone who lived some two hundred years ago. Water and electricity, boats and trains and cars and planes, and now computers. Those computers – for better or worse – have reshaped literally everything. But industry has a deep-seated problem that’s not unlike our own: we can’t force companies to be ethical. We can pass laws to try to keep them from being too shitty, but we can’t force them to be good. Just like people, businesses are going to act in their own best interest, and that interest is first and foremost money.
Healthcare wasn’t even a factor until recently, and that’s because we didn’t have anything that could meaningfully affect your life. In the not-too-distant past, if you got sick, you died. We are in the middle of a pandemic, but even the worst-case scenario isn’t going to be a fraction of the toll of something like the bubonic plague that killed near on half the people in the world and resonated for a couple of centuries. The life expectancy then was about half what it is today, and now the pace of medicine is so rapid that it is impossible for a physician to be current in anything but a narrow specialty. In addition, we apply what we know to everyone, and we still haven’t adapted to that massive change. So as the cost of these advances continues to climb, the growth of this societal expense is exponential. Cherry on top: how we live is more important to health than treating things when it goes wrong, so the astronomical spending in healthcare isn’t making us any healthier.
None of these things can save us. The government can’t make us be good people or force businesses to become benevolent. The businesses that are our industry, no matter what they make or do, were designed around a profit motive, and so it is a requirement for their continued existence. Healthcare is focused on fixing things that go wrong despite the fact that our health is determined by how we live, not how we are treated. So what are we to do?
I suggest we create our own solutions, and for the first time in history, we can.
Remember those computers? They have changed the single most important aspect of our society: how we connect. Throughout history, all those thousands of years, societies are based on how people interact, how we connect. Until the last few years, those connections have been primarily personal, face to face. For a long, long time, we had no other choice. We invented writing and mail, then things like telephones, and now we have these hand-held computers that let us connect in new ways and almost continually. Some want this to stop, because it is not how they learned to interact, and it’s just not natural. But these thoughts are folly, these things are here to stay, and so the way we connect has changed forever. Whether we want to admit it or not, people like to connect, and industry is going to feed that desire: it is going to sell us new and better stuff that we want. In a free society, the government is not going to limit this, and even the healthcare system is trying to figure out how to use this to advantage.
The one thing we haven’t done is the one thing that we can now do: decide how we want to connect. We can now build systems that let us connect on our own terms, the way we want, as much as we want. The secret – the magic ingredient – is called software. These new languages that tell these computers what to do has advanced just as rapidly as everything else. Software is actually what makes computers powerful, and we can now make – write – almost anything we want, easily, inexpensively, and reproduce it over and over again, for free.
About ten years ago, a company called Uber brought us a new way to connect. Transportation is essential for modern life, and this software – this app – allows someone to connect to a ride. This connection has value, and the company was built on the idea that it could capitalize on that need, it could profit from our desire to have a ready means of getting around. This is time-honored economics: supply and demand. You want it, they have it. But the company was created to make money, and the design of their app allows them to control that connection; without that control, there is no way to profit.
OK, what if we write our own app? What if we make a system that is even more powerful, one that can be used by even more people, one that lets anyone connect on their own terms, the way they want, as much as they want? And what if we can reproduce this system, and make it safer, and make it more flexible, and make it available to anyone? Well this is no way to run a business, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. So what would happen?
We are getting ready to find out. We have this tremendous need to connect, and we now have the capability to do that on our own terms. Connections are extremely valuable, and we can now distribute them to everyone the way they want them, as much as they want. This is going to change society again, but this time in a good way. Connections are the asset that we can now provide to others without cost to anyone, where the more you take of that asset, the stronger you are as an individual, and the stronger the community becomes as a whole. We will be enabled to meaningfully connect with whatever and whoever we want to, to live better, to live healthier. We will be able to take care of each other, not just in this time of crisis, but into the future.
What we demonstrate over the next few months will become a template for creating solutions that we will never get from government, industry, or healthcare, because it’s not what they were designed to do. But that doesn’t matter anymore, because we no longer need to rely on someone else fixing our problems for us. Instead, we can finally come together and do it ourselves.