Mobile world: a meeting of minds

Our increasingly mobile and interconnected world is empowering mankind by bringing people together to solve common problems, share ideas and progress economic development

This is the best time in history to be alive. Access to education, healthcare and employment is increasing for populations the world over. If you are born poor, the chances of escaping poverty and leading a long and healthy life are significantly better than ever before. In large part, this is due to the quantum leaps in progress associated with global mobility.

Development is about the evolution of ideas. Whether it’s learning that washing one’s hands or smoking less improves health outcomes or how economies should be managed to ensure sustainable employment and growth, it is the sharing of ideas with others that can accelerate the progress of societies.

Knowledge sharing

The 21st century, in just a few short years, has seen huge leaps forward in global connectivity thanks in part to the staggering growth of the likes of Google, Facebook and YouTube. These digital-world developments have had a profound impact in the world’s classrooms and universities, with centres of learning more connected now than ever before. As well as opening up opportunities for sharing knowledge, new technologies are capable of giving children even in the remotest corners of the planet access to learning.

The number of exceptionally talented people who are able to contribute to innovation and global problem-solving is growing rapidly as a result of population growth, rising literacy and growing mobility

Education – of children and adults, in both formal and informal settings – is vital to the global flow of ideas. In the important phase of development economics, education and training are all about ‘learning to learn’. Without this capacity, ideas have no vitality. Education is also a central part of translating global ideas into local variations that support innovation. However, poor people who lack access to technology, education and information are denied the opportunity to participate in this process. Closing the digital divide must be a priority for all societies.

Advances in transport and logistics are also facilitating a much more connected world, with notable new hubs in places such as the UAE and South Korea redefining geography, and with it business and social networks. The advantages of mobility are evident in the magnetic power of cities to draw people together. Urbanisation provides individuals with new possibilities of education and connects them to the markets they need. Most importantly, urbanisation creates the platform for the sharing of ideas and building of powerful teams. This is the most significant contribution to human and social development. But as urban areas grow, so too will the need for greater mobility and integration in a localised area. Our metropolises are getting smarter and more efficient thanks to advances in technology and engineering, and with better management of a city’s assets – physical, environmental, economic and social – a sustainable future and better quality of life is achievable despite an increase in people. 

Collective genius

Although the evidence shows that the attractiveness of cities is not fading, the exponential growth in virtual connectivity over the past two decades has led to an accelerated and worldwide sharing of ideas, with tremendously exciting outcomes. The power of wireless and fibre-optic transmission as well as our computers and smartphones is doubling every year, while simultaneously becoming cheaper to use. The potential to learn new things, share ideas and engage in virtual collaboration is growing at a corresponding pace.

Nowhere is this more relevant – and necessary – than in the area of global finance. As individual economies move towards an increasingly connected future, new technology is allowing for greater regulation of the industry with infinitely more transparency and accountability in international investment.

Consider this: mobile phones will soon outnumber the earth’s seven billion people, and already more than a third of our world’s population are connected to the internet, with this having grown by more than 500 per cent over the past decade. Soon almost everyone everywhere will be connected. We have seen the transformative power of an increasingly wide range of applications, but what is less widely appreciated is how the sharing of ideas can lead to the flowering of collective genius.

There is a random distribution of genius in the world, and the number of exceptionally talented people who are able to contribute to innovation and global problem-solving is growing rapidly as a result of population growth, rising literacy and growing mobility. But it is not only the few with truly exceptional ability that can solve problems. We all have fragments of ability. Together, we can collaborate in developing ideas that may be richer in their potential than those dreamed up by single individuals. Diversity has been shown to foster dynamism in societies and innovation in ideas. The challenge is how to harness the extraordinary potential associated with the exponential growth in connectivity.

Managing risks

Our increasingly mobilised world is also physically broadening horizons for all nationalities. While migratory patterns in the past were often dictated by trade routes, greater access to information and affordable travel has meant that opportunities to work or study overseas are now accessible to more than just a privileged minority. Cosmopolitan communities are springing up in cities, with cultural practices and customs shared and adapted as populations become more diverse.

However, not all connectivity is good. Much of the potential social gain is threatened by a system vulnerable to spam or criminal capture.

But by being aware of the risks of connectivity we can find ways to embed resilience and avoid fragility in these diverse systems, so that isolated incidents don’t resonate into national or even global shocks. Harvesting the upsides of global mobility and protecting against the downside risks will ensure that citizens don’t start to see connectivity as a source of threat rather than opportunity. To avoid societies becoming more protectionist, we need to demonstrate that advancements in all areas of mobility are a source of strength, and accelerate the extent to which our connectivity and greater openness is harvested as a force for personal and global problem-solving.