Chapter Three: A Precedent for Momentous Change

In Chapters 1 and 2, Eric Topol has given some examples of the way smartphones make certain interactions possible, but Chapter 3 is where we get a deep dive into a fascinating historical parallel, the printing press. Indeed, Topol labels the period before and after Gutenberg launched the typography era as before printing press (BPP) and after printing press (APP). The APP helped the explosion of knowledge, spurred innnovation along with a marked reduction of cost (see table 3.1 for more attributes). In addition, the social change wrought by the printing press helped usher in the Renaissance, the Lutheran Reformation, modern science and even the Industrial Revolution. Broad, bold and not unreasonable consequences of the printing press, that would be inconceivable to people living around Gutenberg’s lifetime.

How does the smartphone analogy work as compared to the sweeping and long term effects of the printing press? Topol makes a pretty good case for the smartphone here. Among the superlative descriptives strewn around in this section of the book are: 

  • transformative explosion of knowledge
  • accelerated innovation
  • momentous change

Indeed, change is the key aspect here, and we all have experienced the changes made possible because of the smartphone, changes that perhaps even the late Steve Jobs could not have envisioned. The rise of social networks, fostering autonomy and creativity, and alleviation of something so mundane as boredom are some of the things that smartphones have done a wee bit better than the printing press.

But how about the medicine and empowering patients? Topol sees that smartphones are a fulcrum in the battle to invert the power equilibrium, just as Luther confronted the authority of the church after circulating over three hundred thousand copies of his 95 Theses. This are mainly ‘app’ focused, with information about some vital aspects already available such as activity, heart rate and blood pressure, and blood sugar - and some more with other developing apps and inventors. A segue: Topol mentions the performance of multiple blood tests from a drop of blood using a microfluidic attachment, surely a reference to Theranos; see the update in his newer edition here. Nevertheless, there definitely is a shift in the existing asymmetry, which is leading to a democratization of medicine, and leads nicely to the next chapter