Beyond the Bubble: Exploring Context and Connectivity at the Quartz Next Billion Conference

Beyond the Bubble: Exploring Context and Connectivity at the Quartz Next Billion Conference

By: Jane Hainze

If you follow the burgeoning tech scene, chances are you’ve noticed that it exists in something of a vacuum. While the Valley’s insular interconnectedness has inspired some of its greatest ideas, it’s that same relative isolation that’s led to the critique that it’s an industry trapped in a bubble.

Quartz’s recent “Next Billion Conference” found itself at the perimeter of that bubble as it explored the economic, social, and political implications of the next billion people to gain full access to the Internet and technology. Quartz cites that by 2016, global internet traffic is expected to double. Speakers from a large swath of industries—from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria to an entrepreneur building a smokeless camp stove—all offered projections as to how we can expect to see these changes play out, and what we should do about it.

The day dabbled in a range of themes, from the social habits of networked teens to the resurgence of Tweedism in American democracy. Above all though, it was a chance to grapple with how we understand connectivity and context in our increasingly globalized marketplace. Bringing connectivity to the next billion will inevitably force tech to break out of its vacuum as it confronts massive paradigm shifts in leadership, politics, and beyond. All of the anxiety surrounding the Silicon Valley vacuum might be eased, speakers seemed to conclude, by exploring possibilities outside of the bubble we’ve created for ourselves.

This isn’t merely food for thought for academics, media pundits, or entrepreneurs, either. It carries weight for the public relations industry, too—and I was lucky enough to catch some of those insights when I attended the conference (thanks, LaunchSquad!). I’ve compiled some of those actionable insights below.

Context is key.

  • Increasingly, success in today’s tech marketplace requires being able to extend your reach outside traditional, local markets and insert your brand into the global marketplace.
  • If you want to create a truly global product, you need to build with context—your own background and cultural assumptions—in mind. People across the world use systems and technologies in radically different ways depending on their context. (For example, people in developing countries use the new digital gift card app, Gyft, as a form of mobile payments / transactions. In the U.S., it’s typically utilized at its most base function: to digitally store gift cards.)
  • In short, global success in tech today doesn’t just require disruption, but a reimagining of disruptions that can get traction across cross-cultural boundaries.

The world is flatter, but it’s more unequally distributed than ever.

  • We’re more connected and powerful than ever (for instance, the smartphones in our pockets have 100x the power of the original Apollo rocket), but that connectivity is lopsided, which is problematic: it’s well-documented that Internet access can improve a country’s GDP and quality of life for its citizens.
  • People are already designing innovative ways to bring that power to those who need it most. Some of the best examples highlighted in the conference: GoTennaProject Loon (from Google[x]), and Satellogic.

We don’t need more start-ups, we need more stay-throughs.

  • Central to the drive to connect the rest of the world is a need to build startups that are willing to “go the distance”—i.e., willing to stay beyond that initial spurt of innovation and actually drive substantial change. When startups enter a developing market, oftentimes they’ll abruptly depart after making their big splash, leaving the country with broken ideals and broken innovation.
  • Utilizing a mix of high and low tech solutions, applicable both in developing and first world markets, will be key to driving actionable, sustainable innovation.

In short? The tech world is evolving, and the PR industry needs to evolve along with it.

[tweetthis twitter_handles=”@JaneWeese” url=””]The biggest risk for PR is becoming a bystander to the changes that are reshaping the story of tech.[/tweetthis]
In reality, there’s never been a greater need for our industry to actively participate in tech’s latest transformation by crafting stories that resonate across economic and cultural boundaries. LaunchSquad has always considered itself a company of storytellers—as such, I’m eager to see how we tell the tale of tech’s newest transformation, both for our clients, and for “the next billion.”

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