Greek philosophers Parmenides and Heraclitus argued about the identity of the one universal constant. Heraclitus posited that the one source of constancy was an ever present state of change, having famously stated that “no man ever steps in the same river twice”. Parmenides responded by maintaining that change is an illusion, perceived wrongly by fooled senses. Instead, Parmenides argued all material constructs were elements of an indivisible oneness.
We are living in a decidedly Heraclitian world. Scanning across the landscape of our society, it is impossible to ignore the march of change through the fields of energy, education, agriculture, demographics, healthcare, transportation, government, media and the like. To his credit, Parmenides was right in observing a connectedness amongst parts; these systems emerge and dissolve from the same underlying forces in the same way that waves are merely the result of currents below the surface.
My point is this: the world is in a constant state of change, and now more than ever. By vowing to change it, we ignore that it changes regardless of what we do. Our role is to steer that change by making use of the new possibilities that result from underlying currents.
In this way, the best ‘social’ entrepreneurs are surfers. They ride waves of change to get where they need to go. Kiva surfed the convergence of peer to peer platforms, online payment software, and a growing charitable instinct amongst Westerners. Brightfarms places farms atop supermarket roofs and sells hyper local, super fresh produce downstairs at a higher margin that is an economic advantage in that notoriously low margin industry. They surfed the convergence of fuel prices that squeezed food distribution, new urban farming technology, and ballooning ethical produce consumption. No philanthropy – just economic, social and environmental sense.
This explains our company’s fascination with the internet of things (http://www NULL.theinternetofthings NULL.eu/), and our participation in the founding of ThingTank Ventures, whose aim is to achieve social change through next generation technology. We get many raised eyebrows when we reveal this to colleagues in the ‘social entrepreneurship’ community. After all, isn’t big data and digital sensing the realm of traditional tech entrepreneurs? Isn’t data collection an invasion of privacy? In our view, that’s part of the problem. The main financial drivers of technological progress tend to be defense, advertising, gaming and pornography. What wonderful catalysts for progress. Instead, we need to begin with improving human experience as the anchoring motive, and design around that.
Regardless of whether we do or don’t intervene, the internet of things is descending upon us. Cisco notes (http://blogs NULL.cisco NULL.com/news/the-internet-of-things-infographic/) that around two years ago, we reached a point where more devices connected to each other than people on the planet. That number will grow to an estimated 30-50 billion connected devices in the next decade. The question is what value this will have for society. That is as yet unanswered, and therefore, is our responsibility.