Physical Networks >< Digital Networks

Interactions with the real world

This post is a mess and would love help in ordering the ideas. Anyone that contribute will be very much appreciated.

How do we interact today and how this interaction connect us from the physical world into the digital world?

I believe we can divide this interaction between for concepts: the physical ( restaurant with chair and table), the digital world (Yelp of that restaurant), the Atoms (we in flesh and bones) and the Bits (our digital expressions and footprint).

Before we had any smartphones or internet we could only interact inside the physical world. So to talk to my uncle in Belgium I would have to literally call him or send him a postcard or letter. We were interacting atoms with the physical world inside the physical world constraints. We couldn't get out of it and this define our definition of time and space.

Time was limited to the real time interaction with the physical world. When we send a letter or postcard there couldn’t be a difference between the moment where we were opening or reading it and the moment it was distributed to as. Today’s optionality didn’t exist. We were limited on the time: I could only see my friends when we went to play soccer or see my uncle from Belgium only when he came to visit us (or I travel there). This is the physical network interaction with itself on a close circle that wouldn’t let us break the barriers of time and space. I called this the interaction between the Physical world and our Atoms. All our experiences were determined by the limitations of both concepts.


Then we got the internet and a whole new world open to us. The digital networks start opening up to an incredible world of opportunities that could be a only unimaginable by just the ideas or dreams we could only constrains by our own imagination.

So when the digital network appear our first approach as humans was to use it to interact between each other on what we call the digital world. We interact by using email or exchanging messages (MySpace, Msn, ICQ) and we use the internet as a mere communication channel. Fast forward we got FB, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and other networks in which billions of people interact with each other in a just pure digital way (but they are still atoms, aka humans). There was an inside circle in which the all interaction were made through just the digital world. Friends we interact just over the internet, things we consumed just in the internet and we got our little piece of life inside of it. This is what I called the interaction between our Atoms (the physical people) and the Digital World.

What did this change in us? Everything. The constraints of time and space has been eliminated up to a certain point. We can communicate real-time but without a necessity of it to be on demand. On the previous interaction (Physical and Atoms) when we got a letter we wouldn't have being able to obtain the message unless the physical world (the letter) in specific time and place had arrived to us. We now (email, sms, imessage) can obtain this message without the interaction of the physical world. We have beat the constraints of time and space. Almost.

But this didn't end there. There was also an interaction between the digital and the physical world that we didn’t got it in the networks created between us for communication. The physical world was not limited to our personas, but everything that surrounded us. We didn’t change our behavior. We simply realize that there was a bridge to build between us and the physical world.

We got Yelp, we got Foursquare and we started interacting in the digital world to decide our decision in the physical world. Our behavior was decided digitally but our actions where physical. A digital network of our friends sitting on top of every restaurant, bar and coffee shop we go. Magically we started melting both networks of interaction and created some magical experiences. This interaction with the rest of the physical world came on a one way direction. We filled the digital world with information about the physical world and use it to interact between each others. We check in into a place and find who was next to us. Now we are almost on the verge of crossing that bridge but on the opposite direction.

The physical world will start to talk to us. It has already started with beacons and cameras. We are trying to make into bits what is constraint by time and space. This is something that excites me. There are many startups working on the IoT that also makes me believe we will see a progress never seen before. Some people can argue that e-commerce is also part of this bridge but I actually believe is just a different expression of humans interacting with each other. There is a digitalization of the physical world (retail store into Amazon) but we are still interacting on a one way direction by moving from ourselves (atoms) towards the digital world.

Companies as Estimote or Density.io* are trying to extract the information from the physical world and make it into bits so it can interact with us on a digital way. Density.io is trying to express our physical interactions and converted into bits. In a more simple way: they are tracking real time human foot traffic to let you know when can you go to your favorite place. They are taking the physical world into our bits where it can interact with us on a digital way.

There is one more interaction between what I called the physical networks and the digital ones. This is the space where the digital world interacts only with bits of ourselves. A clear example are the AI assistants that would connect my digital interactions into digital actions (example connect my email with my calendar to be able to set a meeting). There is no physical world or human atoms in this process. The whole process and interaction is taking place in the cloud and done by software. This is an exciting and scary place where we will see great progress in the next years to come.

I won't extend to much in this space due that I don't have a strong opinion on what will happen and where we will go from now.

This are my thoughts on how we interact with each other and the world, and what are my thoughts about it. One of my investments thesis I tend to use is with this framework of interactions as a tool, I analyze and search for industries and sectors where the process hasn't happened yet (physical into digital, atoms into bits). As “software eats the world” we are continuously changing and adapting how we interact and experience each other. In this crossroads, I believe, is where the most interesting innovations is happening.

If you are working in something exciting where this concepts applied and that you feel I can help, please don’t doubt in contacting me. Twitter @jdcarlu or just email me jd[at]phari.co

I think you will enjoy reading this other piece:

*I'm an investor.