We humans are tribal, grouping ourselves by a multitude of criteria: physical, intellectual, political, emotional, etc. Belonging to a tribe comforts us and often we take pride in its exclusivity. Our tribal communities exist in parallel with each other, cooperating and competing. Adam Smith, Charles Darwin, and Henry Ford would see the value in this arrangement—divide according to expertise, perfect your skills, and conquer the marketplace: may the best tribe win.
The Internet and its auxiliary technologies have enabled a novel dimension in tribal behavior during our recent past. New networking tools allow unprecedented global interaction, sweeping aside nation and place. We now freely interact with others, generating new combinations of people and ideas, and creating spontaneous global communities. Our actions increasingly mirror Buckminster Fuller's words: “Our thoughts are inherently radially expansive and contractive, topological systems that are mathematically describable only as four- and six-dimensional systems.”
These new communities are important chiefly because of their rapid, widespread growth. Scattered human attention and intention suddenly align and converge; the power of this collective focus is undeniable. One individual can inform the entire community and even redirect its gaze. Democratic, potent, and sometimes chaotic, Internet-based communities are changing how the world operates.
This growing power and connectivity beg the question: will individuals and their communities come together to solve some very urgent global problems?
In industrialized nations, healthcare is struggling just as baby boomers enter their time of greatest medical need. Insufficient financial preparedness and high expectations exacerbate the gap between aspiration and pocketbook. At MMVR, we explore ways to harness information technology to solve healthcare problems—and we are making progress.
In the developing world, things are more challenging. The United Nations reports that, in 2007 and for the first time ever, the majority of the world's population will live in urban areas, while the number of slum dwellers will surpass one billion. The World Health Organization says 2.6 billion people do not have even a proper toilet. Other sources estimate that two billion children receive little or no education.
A dark and chaotic dystopia makes for an intriguing sci-fi story. In the real world, though, massive urban poverty fuels violence and misery that reach across political borders. Will global networking bring a convergence of individual and tribal problem solving so that, as everyone comes to find everyone else at their doorstep, we encounter allies and not enemies?
A recent exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City displayed a barrel-shaped water carrier that easily rolled along the ground, improving daily life in places where water is transported by human labor. The design seems so obvious and simple. The durability and utility of the device, however, rely on plastics developed by the industrialized world.
The One Laptop Per Child project is an even more ambitious attempt to bring rich world know-how to the developing world. Like the water carrier, the laptops are designed for simplicity of use, hardiness, and inexpensive reproduction. They result from the collaborative effort of some of the best minds in the IT industry and academia—affluent individuals who share a vision of knowledge distributed globally and without economic obstacles.
At MMVR, we focus on cutting-edge medical technology—generally, it's expensive stuff. While the benefits of innovation trickle downward, from the privileged few to the broader masses, we should expand this trickle into a flood. Can breakthrough applications in simulation, visualization, robotics, and informatics engender tools as ingeniously straightforward as the barrel water carrier, or be as ubiquitously helpful as these ultra-low-cost laptops? With some extra creativity, we can design better healthcare for the developing world, too.
It is a privilege to be part of the MMVR community, to have colleagues and friends who are so talented, ambitious, and committed to worthy goals. Thank you for including us.