This photo of the Milky Way as seen from Nepal stopped me in my tracks, making me forget about the iPad I was holding. I looked right through the device to the world that exists far beyond the reach of Apple, Google, or any other human creation.
We live in a strange time. If you focus on technology, science and innovation, it can seem like we are on the verge of knowing all the answers. If you focus on business, finance, politics or the human condition, it can seem like we are on the edge of a very bleak future.
Reality lies somewhere in the middle.
The world is filled with amazing possibilities, but our system for seeing the world is nearing the end of its useful life. That system is a mass production, sell-more-each-year, zero-sum mindset. It requires that some folks win, and others lose. It churns out massive amounts of waste, and it encourages us to pay more attention to stuff than to each other, or to the vast universe in which we live. The last vestiges of this system are pushing us towards a second, more devastating recession.
I say this as a suburban-dwelling capitalist. Much as I love all this stuff, there’s a persistent gnawing feeling in my gut that says: something is really broken here.
Since it’s hard to change the world based on gut instinct, I am pushing an idea called Common Sensor. It’s the notion that by deploying trillions of sensors into the world, we will begin to understand what is actually happening around us – and we will be able to make better decisions.
This wave of smaller and smaller sensors is already sweeping across the planet. You find them in phones, cars, office buildings, streets, bridges, exercise equipment, appliances, games, and even the ocean.
But it’s not the sensors that capture my attention, it’s the potential for common sense decisions that follow them. Most companies still make decisions based on the biases and gut feelings of their top managers. Most governments set policies based on insanely simplified public discussions (soundbites rule.)
The better we understand what is really happening in the world around us, the better decisions we can make.
The Milky Way photo was taken from the Annapurna Sanctuary, in the Modi Khola Valley, one of the most remote and beautiful places on Earth. I found it thanks to Zite, Flickr, my iPad, Discover Magazine, and wireless technology.
If we use technology to make us smarter, calmer, and more focused… life will be good.
If we use technology to distract us from the pain and suffering around us… life will be bad.
That’s just common sense.