Population Density, Local, and the Disruptive Snowman

Posted on June 6, 2011. Filed under: Hyperpublic |

Riddle: Two men sit on a bus together, discussing life and change, on the way to a paintball facility in Coram, NY.  The bus is a standard luxury coach, with let’s call it 50 seats, including the driver’s and the one in the restroom.  At any given moment, what is the maximum number of people on the bus with them?

Answer: 7 Billion

Explanation: Our environment is no longer defined simply by its physical components.  The matter that occupies a given space is, indeed, a major contributor to the definition of a given environment, but with the rise of mobile connectivity, physically remote actors are influencing, and in fact redefining every environment through which we move.

Many people, particularly of older generations, are uncomfortable with the increased presence of non-physical parties in a given situation or environment.  I think part of the reason for this is because people select their physical space based on what type of interaction and experience they wish to have in a given moment.  It used to be, when physical matter largely defined a space, certain spaces would induce predictable behavior and experience.

For example, 5 years ago, if I got on my bike and road to the beach, I could be reasonably certain that I would see ocean, waves, sand, people laying on towels, relaxing, laughter, running, sunshine, and not a whole lot more.  I could also be reasonably certain that I would not see or experience violence, aggression, snowmen, racially charged activism, etc…  The one less predictable contributor to my experience at the beach (or the primary variable), is the specific people who move into that physical space during the same window of time that I occupy it.  They, too, define, my environment, but given that they also use similar logic when making their decisions as to what space they will occupy, I can assume they will also behave consistent with the parameters defined by the predictable physical elements of the beach.

So…I enter the space known as “beach” when I want to behave consistently with the way others who are consuming those predictable physical elements will likely be behaving.

Today, when I go to the beach, I see all the aforementioned predictable physical and elements, but I also see a snowman on Instagram, posted in the same moment as I watch a wave crash, by an 18 year old Inuit girl in the arctic circle.  She is part of my environment as well.  Her contribution shapes my experience in that moment, and all of the sudden I have consumed an input that will change the way I move through the physical environment “beach”.  I become aware, for a moment, of the concept of winter, and remember that this sunshine will not last, and maybe I move from running and laughing to frowning, and when I frown, the girl on the next towel over sees and consumes my frown, but she came to the beach for laughter and happiness, and now, in this moment, the beach is no longer consistent with her expectation of “the beach.”

Now you might be thinking, “well, Jordan, you are just one person out of 1000 at the beach, and one photo of a snowman isn’t going to change the beach” to which I would respond, “you’re right, I am just 1 in a 1000, but the volume of people who engage with non-physically present actors or participants within a physical space is growing at breakneck rates.  And what’s more, the frequency in a given time interval, that they engage with those non-physically present beings is rising even faster.”

So what does all this mean?  It means that older generations are being forced to redefine their concepts of previously predictable environments in a way that makes them uncomfortable.  It means that, in general, environments and experiences in a physical space are no longer as predictable as they used to be.  It means that the variable of “people” that causes deviance from the expected experience in a given environment is now a much more heavily weighted input because population density has been turned on it’s head, and now 1 Million people occupy or are present in a space that previously held 1000.

We are entering a time when millions of people are beginning to occupy moments and spaces previously held by hundreds.  Local environments will never be the same.

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3 Responses to “Population Density, Local, and the Disruptive Snowman”

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i disagree with your conclusions. Nothing is being redefined.

ex: You could imagine the snowman at the beach without your iPhone and the environment would still be a beach and behave the same.

i’m not sure i understand….

Claim: “Our environment is no longer defined simply by its physical components.”
Please explain this more, I don’t get it.

You claim that internet capable devices are altering the environment, but they aren’t (aside from the pollution from manufacturing and disposal). They may be altering people’s experience in those environments, but i think you’re over stating the effect by projecting it into the physical. Yes, you can physically see a 2d snowman on the beach on your device. Or you could draw one in the sand. Or just close your eyes and imagine it. The physical environment already provides for far superior experience, one reason many i know shut the phone off to enjoy it more fully.

I do understand the power of fusion and combining shared experience, but it’s not for everyone, and it is not for all-the-time. Would going to a funeral and the beach at the same time be cool for you?

I also think the bus will hold 7 billion, but we might want a cleaner burning engine. 🙂

ps was re-reading a few times and saw this: “uncomfortable with the increased presence of non-physical parties” interesting description of … ghosts?)(ghosts in the machine?) made me smile.

thanks for writing!


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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I think there is one metric that can be used to measure the value of a human life and that’s impact. How did you change things? How many people did you touch? How different is the world because you lived in it and how positive was the change that you affected? (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it) You can email me at Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com

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