What Facebook’s 1 billion number really means

Editor’s Note: Dr. Sreedhar Potarazu, an ophthalmologist and entrepreneur, is the founder and CEO of VitalSpring Technologies Inc., a software company focused on providing employers with applications to aid in purchasing health care. He is the author of a book “Get Off The Dime: The Secret of Changing Who Pays For Your Health Care.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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Facebook recently reached an impressive milestone: one billion people used the website in a single day

Sreedhar Potarazu: The number represents how much everything has changed so fast in our world

CNN  — 

Facebook reached an impressive milestone recently. CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on the platform that “For the first time ever, one billion people used Facebook in a single day…. 1 in 7 people on Earth used Facebook to connect with their friends and family.”

Think about that for a moment. One billion people. That ain’t chopped liver. Or Big Macs. That’s one thousand million people – more than three times the population of the United States – on a single website on a single day.

The implications are enormous, and not only for Facebook. The number 1 billion represents how much everything has changed so fast in our world – and how things will continue to change ever faster.

Sreedhar Potarazu

Facebook and a few other companies such as Uber, Google and Twitter are leveraging the power of social networking to fundamentally alter how people in the world communicate and exchange information. These companies are analyzing incredibly vast amounts of data every second that affect more than a billion people a day. And they’re just getting started.

Just consider this:

Time reduction from point A to B

Uber has created a platform that allows people to move from one location to another in 60 countries. Google allows us to find information on demand. When was the last time you visited a local library to look something up in a reference book? Facebook and Twitter enable us to correspond in real time not only with family, friends and coworkers, but with anyone in the world who has Internet access.

Easy access to nearly all information

Whether you want to learn to play the banjo, smoke a brisket, train a dog, perform brain surgery, or attend college classes, everything you need to know is at your fingertips in the shortest period of time and in the most convenient way possible.

The whole Internet fits in your pocket

A personal computer ties us to a desk; a laptop ties us to a flat surface, even if it’s our lap. But a smartphone goes in one hand and connects us to everyone and everything, everywhere, whether we’re in Manhattan or Madagascar. This was impossible in all of human history except now. No wonder it has affected how we function in our daily lives.

As a news and information consumer, I count on Facebook and Twitter to keep me abreast of everything I need to know faster than television or radio ever did.

As a traveler, I count on Uber to deliver a car to my exact location and take me to my destination in less time than it takes me to hail a cab in rush hour.

And as a physician, I see how this sharing of massive amounts of data affects public health. We can predict health crises earlier, which allows us to react faster. Google, for example, has used its search engine to pinpoint where people are seeking information on the flu. That information enables medical personnel to identify outbreaks more quickly and to predict with great accuracy where the disease will spread.

The tech industry has profoundly reduced the distance and time between point A and point B in information sharing. And now it’s conceivable to talk about huge numbers like a billion people.

If we look at health care, the implications are:

• We’ll see more and better advances in disease treatment, because we’ll be able to detect disease earlier.

• We’ll be able to alert people to impending disasters, because we’ll get information more quickly.

• We’ll be able to provide treatment even to people in the most remote places in the world, thanks to the connectivity of the Internet.

But there are tradeoffs.

Privacy is one, because what people care or don’t care to share is unpredictable. We also can’t be sure that companies will want to share data. For example, a wearable device that contains data from millions of people might be able to predict that you are about to have a heart attack. But will the device’s manufacturer share data with an ambulance service that automatically speeds to your rescue? Will your pharmacy share data with a company like Uber and send your prescription to your home instead of forcing you to come pick it up?

And who’s going to pay for all this? These services don’t come cheap, and neither do the smartphones that enable us to use them. The fact is, many people who need them can’t afford them. Making the Internet available to everyone in the world is a great accomplishment only if everyone in the world can afford the device that connects to it. Will Apple, Samsung and the other smartphone manufacturers be willing to “dumb down” their smartphones to make them more affordable? Can they afford not to?

These are questions that will have to be answered soon, because the number 2 billion may be around the corner.

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