Throughout history, we have been inherently social creatures with human connectivity being derived from religious and social communities as well as living conditions. As these communities have weakened, we have attempted to substitute them with virtual structures. Today we are living in a world not just of virtual human connectivity, but of accelerating hyperconnectivity enabled by technology.
We shouldn’t be surprised by this phenomenon. The media has been talking about it for more than 10 years. An April 2007 Time magazine carried a feature called ‘The Hyperconnected’ suggesting that constant connectivity is a burden on our peace and sanity. In May 2008, Computerworld said there was a ‘coming “stampede” of hyperconnectivity’. In the same month, Ars Technica wrote that “While these Internet-thirsty gadget hounds are a respectable minority right now, the International Data Corporation (IDC) says the need for connectivity is on the rise—and the enterprise needs to be ready. So do the psychiatrists.”
So, what is hyperconnectivity? IDC defines it as “the sharp increase in the interconnectedness of people, organisations and objects that has resulted from three consecutive waves of technology innovation: the internet, mobile technology and the Internet of Things (IoT),” writes the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in its recent report “Hyperconnected Organizations: How Businesses are Adapting to the Hyperconnected Age”. It defines a ‘hyperconnected user’ as someone who uses at least seven communication devices and nine communication applications.
Let’s examine the numbers. It is estimated that, within two years, there will be 6.1bn smartphones alone for a global population of 7.8bn. There will also be at least 31 billion internet-connected devices on the planet. Initially I thought that was a lot. How many ‘IoT’ (Internet of Things) devices do you already have? I have at least 11. If we then start to think about the growing number of connected fridges, home security systems, heating, lighting, bathrooms, and connected cars it’s not such an astonishing number.
And it is not just about the connected devices, but also about the number of apps we use. A 2017 report from App Annie suggested that people use nine apps a day, and 30 on a monthly basis. This is comparable to 2015 reports from both Forrester and Nielsen and is known as the 30:10 rule (meaning we use roughly 30 apps per months, 10 per day). Beyond utilities and tools, the most popular app category tends to be social networking & communication. Market data company Statista estimated that, globally on average in 2017, people spent 135 minutes a day on social networking – up 50 per cent from 90 minutes in 2012. It’s clear we are seeking direct interaction with people and organisations.
Science also supports the human need to connect. Social psychologist and neuroscientist, Matthew Lieberman’s book ‘Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect’ explains our basic need to belong to a group and form relationships. And the brain is the centre of the social self. Indeed, having strong social bonds is as good for you as quitting smoking.
However the urge for these bonds are not always sated by the hunger to connect online. The quality of these connections need to be considered, that they are meaningful. Humans are becoming more self-aware of these limitations and are starting to identify the dangers of being hyper-connected when, counterintuitively, they feel isolated and depressed. As Steve Furtick eloquently describes, this is often because we, “struggle with insecurity because we compare our personal ‘behind-the-scenes’ with everyone else’s highlight reel”.
But connecting with other people, even in the most basic ways, can make you happier—especially when you know they need your help.
Given this fundamental need for connectivity and relationships, there’s a huge opportunity for technology companies to help people connect in meaningful ways with both other each and organisations. The opportunity to use this connectivity to help others enhances its value yet further and makes humans happier as a result.
Through the work we do with Howdy, I see companies using technology to connect with their employees and alumni, not-for-profits using it to create groups of mutually supportive entrepreneurs and to connect those entrepreneurs with mentors and funding bodies, governmental bodies using it to help people network globally, and thought leaders using it to create connected communities of their followers.
It’s clear that ‘hyperconnectivity’ will create challenges that ethics and legislation will need to get ahead of. GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation introduced this year in the EU) is a great step in the right direction in terms of data protection and privacy. More legislation will need to be introduced to deal with meaty ethical issues around artificial intelligence, deep learning, and other such technologies.
Yet, even with these challenges, I am optimistic and excited about companies like Howdy creating opportunities in this hyperconnected world to help people create more authentic relationships. As Aristotle said 2700 years ago, “Man is by nature a social animal.” To the extent we can harness technology to build and deepen relationships through helping others and so making people happier, a hyperconnected world sounds like one in which us social animals will thrive.