I've just arrived back in Los Angeles, fresh off the plane from a whirlwind trip to Brazil. Harley and Company was there to talk to venture capital firms, companies and brands about the newly emerging and incredibly complex startup scene in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The 12-hour, internet-free plane ride gave us ample time for contemplation and led to some words I never thought would come out of my mouth: "Smart phones might be one the biggest social empowerment tools that has ever been invented."
There I said it, and I sort of hate myself for it, but it doesn't make it any less true.
In places like America, many of us take for granted that we walk around every day with a pocket-sized source of limitless information and decision making companion.
Thanks in large part to smart phones, TV networks no longer control what we watch because of streaming. Family, friends and even strangers can find us no matter where we go (if we allow them to). Traffic jams are thwarted, local businesses are made and destroyed on the strength of a Yelp review.
This new paradigm of consumer empowerment has created a ripple effect felt in every part of our society, perhaps the very fabric of our culture. We're now led to believe that what we say about companies or products matters, well, because it does.
The power of crowdsourced review, and the platforms it's created, have shaken the boots (and wallets) of titans in every industry.
We've also democratized the creation and provision of content. We live in a world where anyone can make the next app that ends up in the pocket of millions (perhaps billions). That app could be a distraction from life, could be a photosharing service that changes how we see the world, it could be educational content. We're on a path to creating previously unimaginable efficiencies, from better traffic patterns to robust peer-to-peer share economies.
These thoughts have led me to my latest high-minded fantasy. What if tomorrow one of these guys, who has more money than anyone, ever, will know what do to with decided to give millions of people in Brazil smartphones, broadband access and all the data they could ever use. What would happen?
Now this is not to say we don't have more pressing global concerns like access to education and healthcare. Those, of course, should come first, but can you imagine if this came second or third?
Suddenly people all over Brazil would be able to watch whatever shows or content they wanted, exposing them to new ideas and products. Doctors could use health apps with remote diagnostics on the elderly in rural villages. Children could receive tutoring for entrance exams or learn English, regardless of economic status. The possibilities are truly endless.
Then, of course, there's the rash of unintended consequences that one couldn't even begin to predict, some good and some bad. Maybe thefts would spike or people would sell them for money.
But then again, if you flooded the market the right way, maybe not.