The gap between an idea and its execution – between thought and app – is growing increasingly narrow, opening up a rich playing field for youthful innovators.
Today, more than in any previous historical epoch, the arc from the conception of an idea (dreaming it up) to its execution (creating a product in the real world) is shorter than ever before. With global connectivity and cross-border access to data and resources, with crowdfunding and collaborative hubs, it is easier than ever to take an innovative idea in your head and make it real.
This kind of rapid innovation and application is reshaping the world as we know it, with new apps and technologies launching almost daily on the global stage. This is encouraging, because, as we are firmly located in the epoch known the Anthropocene (defined by scientists as dating from 1945) – which is a period in which humans have a greater impact on the planet than any other species or natural force – we are going to need to solve problems as quickly as we create them.
But not for nothing are we known as Homo Sapiens Sapiens – knowing man. Today, more than ever, our capacity to know ‘stuff’ is growing exponentially. Need to know about thermo-nuclear reactions, positron-emission tomography, biomimetics, capacitive crosstalk or simulated annealing? You have multiple university libraries, search engines, digital catalogues and online articles at your fingertips to help you find out. There’s a blog or a manual on practically every subject on the planet, so that your ability to transform a thought (a bright idea) into an app (a real-world application) can happen almost instantaneously. And innovators and imagineers are getting younger and younger.
Millennials seem to be coming up with substantive solutions to real-world problems. Top teens have invented apps that enhance the sound quality of stethoscopes, providing a visual graph on a screen; they have worked on gene sequencing, identifying ‘chimeras’ (two genes that connect to form a unique protein) in rare carcinomas; they have helped to augment the accuracy of FNA (Fine Needle Aspirates) tests for early breast cancer detection. They have designed computer programmes that identify inhibitors that will render deadly flu viruses non-contagious.
These are life-saving innovations and, across the globe, other young millennials are making a difference through playful innovation and insatiable curiosity: like the 17-year-old who developed a tool for tracking and ‘cleaning up’ inactive satellites and other space debris, in order to avoid space collisions. In fact, tech millennials have made an impact in virtually every realm of human experience and endeavour. Their methods are often cheap, home-made and cost-effective – from easy water filtration and purification systems for rural areas, to a $10 Global Inlet Director – a simple piece of plastic that can redirect the air flow in an aeroplane cabin to reduce contagious disease transmissions by 55%.
Whereas, in the past, innovations were slow to filter down from research labs to reach real people on the street, today, the gap between an idea and access to its applications is narrowing dramatically. It’s a short moment from a tweet (someone broadcasting their idea to the world), to the street – people who can benefit from that new technology.
And it often begins with online play. The abundance of bloggers and YouTubers out there means that ideas are circulating at an unprecedented rate. Kids can watch YouTube videos showcasing ‘life hacks’, demonstrating recycling, repurposing and upcycling ideas, providing step-by-step lessons on how to do just about anything on the planet.
It’s an epoch marked by an unparalleled fertility of ideas, with cross-pollinations and collaborations across continents. Kids are engaging and talking to each other like never before, albeit often in a virtual space, within a virtual community.
And funding for tech projects is now within reach of innovative millennials. Crowd-funding, online campaigns and social networks provide massive audiences who are keen to donate cash to the next compelling project.
With this kind of inventiveness, coupled with access to data, professional networks and resources, the future looks promising. And while humans continue to ransack the planet to meet their energy and consumer needs, they’re equally capable of coming up with practical, accessible solutions that undo the damage. The gap between idea and app is narrowing daily.