What makes Homo Sapiens superior to other animals? We are weaker and slower, but our brains are 3–5 times bigger than those of our nearest species, the Orang Utans. Are the achievements of building the atomic bomb or inventing the internet the main differentiators? Of course not — what makes Homo Sapiens superior is his ability to communicate and to be social — his cultural foundation.
About 300,000 years ago, the fire had become a household means to heat, to cook, and the basis for some other important innovations. For the first time in their millions of years long history, the human species could overcome the lion, slash-and-burn entire forests, and more. The ability to cook alone reduced the mortality rate of mothers and newborns: mothers could give birth to babies years before they developed their enormous heads relative to their remaining body. No other animal needs around 15 years of growing up before being able to care for oneself.
Fire and cooking have proved to be fundamental game-changers for human evolution. And yet, another ability of Homo Sapiens is at least as important: language, oral, written, and other forms of communication have laid the foundation of human evolution of the last 80−100,000 years. Language is the main tool we have been using to become the superior species of the planet.
Language enables us to transport information, to socialize and to bond with or gossip about others, and to communicate what doesn’t even exist; just think of fairy tales, myths, or — much-loved in technology — the future. Studies show that a modern human being can regularly interact with a group of 150 people. Interaction and communication in groups of more than 150 need some tools to structure communication — without that, communication is flawed and brings disastrous results. (Doubt that? Just look at big enterprises.) The ability of making use of a fictional language and to create content and appropriate communication structures that allow us to spread stories, gossip, or beliefs among thousands, a hundred thousand or even millions is what differentiates us from the other animals.
For now, language is our most personal instrument to express ourselves. But what about our actions? Actions speak louder than words. And sometimes, we see differences between a person’s actions and her words, that is, if we actually see her acting. If there are discrepancies between what we do and what we say — or if people just don’t know what we do, or what the reasons are for how we behave — how should there be any understanding between us? How should we really get the meaning of another person’s words or actions?
Imagine, you are bullied away from the left lane of the highway by an aggressive driver. Anger comes up — you start flashing your headlights, you honk, or you even curse him. What if you knew that he just learned about his 5‑year-old’s critical accident and that he was desperately rushing to the hospital? Wouldn’t you perceive a lot more sympathy for him?
We all interpret other people’s actions from time to time. Often, we judge these actions — in most cases on the basis of very limited knowledge of the respective contexts. More information about the people you interact with and more information about the contexts of your interactions would certainly help in understanding each other much better.
Imagine a tool that provides you with every kind of data of your personal behavior and data of your environment, weather data, data of the situation you are in — in short: your contextual data. This tool would help you to know everything about yourself — even things you had not been aware of before. It would act as your personal mirror. You could use this tool not only to inform yourself but others as well. You could inform your significant other about your actual mood, or you could inform your kids about being late to fetch them from school. You could inform strangers that you are in a hurry — so they could let you pass or would offer you to check-out at the register. Imagine, this tool would do that automatically, effortlessly — without any intervention from your side. You could decide who receives what pieces and quality of your personal behavioral information.
Couldn’t such a tool change your life? And that of people you communicate with? Couldn’t this tool play an integral role in social interactions? Wouldn’t this tool help people to understand each other much better?
This tool is not fiction. This tool will be launched in 2015. It’s an app we are developing at our company Datarella. Its project name is LifeLine. On your smartphone it collects your behavioral data, analyzes and visualizes the data, and sends it back to you in a meaningful feedback loop. You decide which information you share with whom — all information is yours. LifeLine helps you to know yourself and other people better.
It’s very early to assess the implications of LifeLine, but I’m very confident that it will change the way we live, that it will help us to understand each other significantly better. In that way, it could play a role in helping to facilitate the next level of human evolution. That might sound far-stretched, and we will experience a lot of skepticism, indignation, and outright fear when it comes to integrating all that data into our lives.
To accept one’s own data as important, meaningful, and vital, to learn about the advantages of sharing this data with others and to experience the benefits of openness and transparency (you might call it post-privacy), all that takes time. I think, future generations won’t understand why it took their forefathers that long to accept data as an integral and vital element of their lives. Future school kids will laugh at our anxieties and they will ask their teachers how we could afford not to manage our data, how we could have survived without an active personal data management. This claim isn’t difficult to make: the data exist, it will be available for anybody. Shouldn’t you take care of it and make the best possible use of it?