Overcoming the Waste of Human Inefficiency: A Challenge to Skype

I bought the book The Genius of China after Joseph Schoendorf from Accel Partners (who had just returned from China) recommended it at the AlwaysOn conference at Stanford University this summer.

I’m working my way through this fascinating history. In the section on Agriculture, author Robert Temple claims:

“The Chinese [agricultural] system was at least ten times as efficient as the European one, and could be up to thirty times as efficient, in terms of harvest yield. And this was the case for seventeen or eighteen hundred years. Through all those centuries, China was so far in advance of the West in terms of agricultural productivity that the contrast, if the two halves of the world had only been able to see it, was rather like the contrast today between what is called the ‘developed world’ and what is called the ‘developing world.'”

Imagine the wastefulness of hundreds of millions of Europeans farming for nearly two thousand years without the knowledge of such things as:

  • Growing crops in rows and weeding them carefully
  • Cast iron hoes and animal-drawn hoes
  • Iron plows
  • Efficient horse harnesses
  • Rotary winnowing fans
  • Seed drills

As the world becomes more connected to information through internet (1 billion users) and to each other through the cell phones (2 billion users) there is an unprecented opportunity to share knowledge and technology and best-practices across national borders so that one nation isn’t 10-30 times less efficient in production than the more advanced nations. All humanity will benefit if free people in all nations can gain more knowledge and tools and become productive enough to lift themselves out of poverty. Imagine how much better the world’s population could be supported if Russian, Indian, and Chinese agriculture could double or triple in its yield.

Shifting gears from agriculture to another major industry, telecommunications, there is some ubiquitous inefficiency that I believe will be solved by Skype or some other innovative new player, and I can’t wait for it to happen.

Imagine how many billions of people make phone calls every day to people who don’t answer their calls. Either they are not home, or are not at work, or are busy and not able to talk at the moment. This probably happens billions of times a day.

Voice mail helps turn what hoped to be a synchronous conversation into an asynchronous one. But there is a better way.

As a Skype user and promoter, one of the things I love about Skype is that like instant messaging, I know if my contact is online at the moment and taking calls. So I don’t waste time Skyping someone who is not available.

I love that about instant messaging too.

So why not save billions of people the wasted time (and in the U.S. wasted long distance fees) that comes from making calls that won’t be answered (except by an answering machine)?

I want to know if the person I am about to call is available to talk, before I dial the number.

I think Skype will find a way to do this on portable devices as well as on the desktop.

And the whole world will be better for it. In fact, I bet this single technological transformation would make almost every human being slightly more efficient than they are today, and would therefore increase the world economic output ever so slightly.

So let it be written; so let it be done.

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One Comment

  1. Steve Grizzell

    Paul,

    You are the second person speaking very highly of Skype. The other was Sanch at FatPipes. Anyway I signed up for an account and once I get a microphone for my computer I would like to give you a call and try it out.

    Steve

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