imageThree laws that shape the digital world have kicked into high gear, changing our lives in ways we cannot yet imagine. Those three forces are Metcalfe’s Law (in brief, the increasing value of networks), Moore’s Law (that processing power doubles every 18 months, or even faster), and the Law of Accelerating Returns (the fast pace of technological change).

The guy who told me about that at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (#CES2015) was Shelly Palmer, something of a Renaissance Man in the evolving digital world, advising communications companies, composing music, patenting TV technology, investing in ventures, hosting shows on digital living, writing books, and (best of all), sharing stories and insights gleaned from his decades of working in the field since his early teens.

I had the pleasure of meeting with a group blown away by Shelly’s observations early one morning this week at CES, and want to share his thoughts in Health Populi. The context is highly relevant to health and health care.

What struck Shelly was a complete paradigm shift coming fast — impacting how we advertise, how we communicate, and how consumers will gain greater empowerment. He talked about the traditional paradigm in media and communications of inspiring a call to action – an immediate action nudged by a direct response ad, a call to action on a weekend inviting a consumer to test-drive a car at some point in the short-term future, or an aspirational call to action – like the one Shelly experienced at the age of 8 when he saw his first BMW ad and, 40 years later at the age of 48, bought his first BMW car.

Shelly believes that call-to-action modus operandi is now changing. Everything that can be connected will be connected, he saw, walking and talking with folks from Qualcomm, Samsung, Intel and others involved in supporting the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) world. “This is inevitaable, whether it’s a good or bad idea,” he noted.

That’s because 3 bn people worldwide are now connected to the public internet, rising to 4 bn in 2020. Cisco says that by 2017, 50 bn devices will be connected. And with connected things, as you live your life, you create one data point, then another, then another…not through conscious interaction, but in the “unconscious doing of life,” Shelly described, a profound shift in how we live which was evidenced everywhere at #CES2015.

“Everywhere you look are data gathering tools,” he observed. There’s no one single point source. “We are authenticating ourselves and by virtue of authentication creating data sets that are actionable without our knowledge” of them being created, Shelly explained.

Shelly is optimistic that consumers will be empowered by the data sets and tools we are creating now. He’s optimistic about empowered everything: the empowered consumer, empowered business, empowered data sets.

This connectedness leads to another sociological change Shelly saw in evidence at this year’s CES: we are empowered to live in an on-demand economy as never before. He pointed to Uber and Airbnb, both on-demand businesses. The on-demand economy isn’t a new-new thing, Shelly reminded us: anyone who’s raised an infant has lived in an on-demand economy (your kid cries, then gets your attention, he quipped).

He looked back to the history of communication in America, pointing to 1815 on the timeline. If you wanted to communicate two hundred years ago, you measured the time lag in horse days: it tooks months to get a message from New York City to L.A. In 1859, that time was cut down as the telegraph went from NYC to St. Joseph, MO, and from there, the Pony Express rider rode about two weeks to Oakland, California. This was a big paradigm shift, reducing the communication time lag from four months to, say, one to two months. In 1861, when the transcontinental telegraph was completed, you would get an answer in 10 minutes. “Can you imagine that level of paradigm shift?” Shelly asked.

“That’s the level of exponential shift I see on the floor of CES right now,” he noted.

The new-new things aren’t concept cars we’ll see in 20 years but stuff that’s shipping now, Shelly enthused.

He left the audience with this inspirational advice: take your personal expertise, consider how you would change what you do B2B, B2C, or for you as a person. How would your behaviors change based on the data sets being created? How do you think business will change based on the analysis of that data?

“We have to be more responsible about what we do and how we do it. I personally believe that each of you is an architect for the future…Try and do it with immense responsibility to your shareholders but be responsible to one another as digital citizens….If we keep that in our minds, something awesome will happen,” Shelly concluded.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Shelly’s final pronouncement has particular relevance and resonance for those of us who are serving health and health care market segments: consumers, caregivers, providers, researchers, payors, and the expanding constellation of stakeholders who touch on the social determinants of health.

Digital health is fast-growing at the Consumer Electronics Show, with the number of suppliers in health up another 35% over the 2014 CES. The excitement around health tracking, sensors and medical device-grade technologies coming home to patients and well consumers is palpable, and some products are working pretty well right out of the box. It behooves us to continue to work hard to design products for usability, affordability, and accessibility. But Job #1 is to solve real clinical and health problems with technology – not to deploy technologies that are looking for problems to solve.

As Shawn DuBravac, chief economist at CES, said in a pre-CES meet-up, “We’re now moving into an environment where we accept that it’s technologically possible and now we ask ‘is it technologically meaningful? Does it really matter?'”

Some awesome things are indeed happening in health and technology, confirmed this week at #CES2015. For specifics about those health-happenings, check out my blog posts here from earlier this week, and stay tuned to an upcoming Huffington Post column and ongoing comments here on Health Populi.

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