How many human problems are there that technology could possibly solve?

George Polti created the Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations categorizing  every situation that might occur in a story or performance– crime, vengeance, self-sacrifice for an ideal, etc.

Of course, there are other attempts to do this as well. Here’s another popular way to categorize the human existence:

  • [wo]man vs. nature
  • [wo]man vs. [wo]man
  • [wo]man vs. the environment
  • [wo]man vs. machines/technology
  • [wo]man vs. the supernatural
  • [wo]man vs. self
  • [wo]man vs. god/religion

If we think of our existence as a series of stories limited by a relatively small amount of themes, we actually have few problems to solve in our everyday lives. 

The biggest problem solver I’ve witnessed in my lifetime is the internet. We can buy things easier, communicate with more people in new and different ways, and we’re now privy to the world’s information. 

The second biggest problem solver is the internet in my pocket. I know where I am now at all times and I can access anything wherever I am. The iPhone was the first device to make this dead stupid simple. And remember how the App Store wasn’t launched for over one year after the iPhone debuted? Apple solved the majority of our everyday problems with the relatively few apps that came pre-loaded on our iPhones– Maps, Contacts, email, etc.. The App Store was designed to solve the last 10% of problems– the nice-to-haves.

Three and a half years later, we’ve got over 350,000 apps available to us. But if you look at all of your apps, how many of them do you actually use on a daily or even weekly basis? I’d say 10 to 15. Out of 350,000!

So what does this mean? 

  • We all live in the same world constrained by 36 situations in our lives.
  • Humans, in fact, have very few real problems that the mobile internet can solve.
  • The 350,000 “solutions” are simply variations on the process of solving the same limited number of problems.

Has the internet/mobile web actually moved so fast in the last few decades that it’s already solved 99% of our problems? For example, what has been a serious home run solution coming out of the internet in the past 2 years? People will say Groupon or Foursquare. But I’m talking solutions to real problems. 

So is the future of the internet/mobile simply variations of process– instead of two clicks to solve a problem today, in the future it will be only one click? Or are we going to invent new “problems” for ourselves, and therefore, new technology solutions? 

I’m afraid the human brain, our culture, our mores, our desires, move much slower than the pace of these new solutions to problems we really don’t have. Although it’s nice-to-have our music streaming from the cloud anywhere and everywhere, it’s that simple, it’s still just a nice-to-have. Fundamental problems, like real human relationships with our closest friends and family, will be the same thousands of years into the future, just as they always have been.

Solutions to our current real problems are political, not technological. We’ve had plenty of great ideas and tech solutions to transform our schools and our healthcare system, but the barrier is our leaders and the politics of their relationships with stakeholders. How can the internet disrupt the behind-the-scenes politics of real ego-driven political leaders and their relationships with their stakeholders and constituents? Good luck with that. Behind closed door politics is as old as our species and fundamental to human nature. We all know that’s how things work– that’s why we’re in three wars– because of behind-the-scenes politicking trying to solve that one problem:

man vs. god/religion