It was the photo of a colony of Fire Ants balled together into a protective unit, floating amidst the debris and devastation of flooded Houston, that caused me to wonder about the notion of “nature vs. nature” and “technology vs. nature.”
You see, these Fire Ants began evolving in Brazil, where wet conditions forced them to adapt both physically—as in structurally—and behaviorally—as in group response. During the hurricane, they floated to survival, all the while remaining a lethal threat.
Meanwhile, it was a bad week for humans.
So, I looked at the photo of the Fire Ants and wondered about our technology and where we’re investing and putting our efforts.
I (like many of you, no doubt) use an app that tells me the weather almost to my block. It’s pretty accurate…it even starts trilling if it’s about to drizzle. But it only pays off if I have an umbrella or raincoat, or decide to stay inside.
Like you, I watched the recent news, agonized over the modeled storm tracking and prayed for it to change course. I listened to the pundits opine and wondered why people didn’t leave. This wasn’t the drizzle trill…it was the clarion of disaster. You know the rest.
Technology told us that a storm was coming…but, unlike those Fire Ants, we can’t ball up and ride the waves as a community. Sadly, we drown.
Where was our technology? Better draining? Better building? Better warnings?
This reminded me of the Tsunami Stones and a piece I wrote several years ago. Tsunami Stones have dotted the coastline of Japan for centuries. They mark the highest point the last Tsunami reached, warning people not to build below them. No one listens.
In fact, when the last Tsunami struck the wall that had been constructed to hold in the surge, the wall proved worthless. People and houses were swept away like so many matchsticks. The wall was considered tech, not the Tsunami Stones…bad choice.
And here we are in Houston, with every 300- or 500-year mega storm flood now reduced to mere single digit intervals. Rich or poor, it all got hit.
Yet technology did play a big role in the storm, making us more like those Fire Ants than you might think.
The 911 Network, which on any given day saves lives, was overwhelmed to the point of meltdown. As reported by The New York Times:
Emergency responders could not always keep pace with the influx of rescue requests as residents from neighborhoods across the city watched the waters rise higher and higher.
Elderly people were trapped, placing calls:
3:04 p.m. Grandmother has a bad hip and bad knees. grandmother also has a pacemaker.
5:20 p.m. We are on our second story first floor flooded We are both 70 years old
2:07 a.m. Mom 88 has Alzheimer cannot walk. 62 year old disabled with extreme back condition. Both have medical needs.
Children were trapped, too:
10:56 p.m. 3 adults and 3 children trapped; some might be drowning. Water is knee deep!
1:41 a.m. One Pregnant Mother and 4 year old with Asthma and his machine is damaged in the water.
So people turned to what we do best, …what is in our primal, evolved DNA: Sharing. Locals used Social Networks to call for help.
In the Facebook group, “Hurricane Harvey 2017 – Together We Will Make It; TOGETHER WE WILL REBUILD,” comments about rescuing, road conditions and additional resources continued through the weekend.
People also used the networks to connect for comfort and support. One article in the The New York Times reported:
The shelter had been organized through Facebook and text messages, primarily by a woman who works in a furniture store. One family with a catering business was making a huge bin of pasta. “In an hour we really need to start thinking about showers,” said John Puz, another volunteer.
Facebook did a safety check for Houstonians as well, using the model created in 2015 after the Nepal earthquake. Not only were there notifications to “mark yourself safe” but also maps and relevant groups populated on the check’s homepage:
Google played a role as well, mapping evacuation resources:
While Amazon helped raise money by creating a wish list for donations:
Airbnb provided urgent accommodations:
Fast Company reported on the evolution of this rebuilding approach. Although users reached each other during Hurricane Sandy on Twitter and via other social media apps, now people aren’t helping each other one on one but also using government and logistical resources on social media. These resources are only getting better.
Bottom line: everyone played to their strengths, utilizing their core connectivity and utility. People used these strengths as they do, as we have evolved these skills to grow accustomed to…the only way we know how to be.
Although at first glance the Fire Ants depressed me with our seeming lack of evolution, I am feeling good about how we’ve managed to make connected tech work as an extension of our lives. Despite my remaining concerns about our clear inability to learn from the Tsunami Stones, our evolutionary advancement is in actuality far superior to those pesky Fire Ants.
Even as we wrestle with siloed algorithms, fake news, social media addictions and the hijacking of our connectivity by evil forces, people—good people and good intentions—triumph in the end.
Just remember… when you hear the drizzle trill, get an umbrella!
“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin
The mindless locking of ant limbs doesn’t hold a candle to Airbnb using its network to find shelter for people in trouble. Sharing your status with loved ones on Facebook is an improv that only humanity can do.
I’m pretty bullish on our future.
At the end of the day, it’s always People First. Sadly but surely, Houston is the latest proof… Fire Ants be damned.
What do you think?