The Biggest Event in Human History

hxWhat is the biggest event in human history?

OK, let’s ask that question in a bit more specific way:¬†Which event in human history led to the most significant change for the most people over, say, five years?

Was it an epidemic? The Black Death in the mid-fourteenth century killed as many as 200 million people worldwide, almost all during a five year span of 1347-1352. The Spanish Flu of 1918-1919 killed 50 million and afflicted several hundred million more over just one year.

Was it a war? The deadliest war in history is World War II, resulting in over 50 million deaths over five years (about 3% of global population at the time) and many tens of millions of wounded. Hundreds of millions of people were directly impacted. Other deadly wars in history (Mongol conquests, Qing conquest, Spanish conquest of the Aztecs) also resulted in tens of millions of deaths but generally took place over many decades.

Was it a famine? There have been a number of famines in history with over 10 million deaths (China, India, Bangladesh, Iran, Ukraine). Famines generally take place over a short amount of time (sometimes only months).

What about religion? Christianity represents the world’s largest religion with about 2.4 billion followers — but has taken millennia to reach this number.

How about Technology? Many technologies obviously have had profound impact on society — although they generally are adopted over decades (or centuries).¬† The telephone, for example, took 25 years to achieve 10% adoption just in the US. It took another 40 years to reach 40% adoption. The printing press, electricity, vaccines, atomic power — all awesomely influential — exercised that influence over many decades of growth.

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So what does this list of epic human events have to do with the internet? Well, researchers estimate that over the next five years about 3 billion people will have first access to the internet through smartphones or other devices. With the first connection comes access to knowledge, communications, distance eduction, telehealth, online banking, government services — and other profoundly influential services.

So does this “connecting” of half the planet merit being in the discussion of the biggest events in human history? It is difficult (and frankly a little unseemly) to compare internet access to epidemics or wars — but the point is that it is virtually impossible to impact billions of people over a short number of years in a meaningful way (even with things like disease or war or famine). But that is what is happening at this very moment.

So it is arguably one of the most significant events in world history — but it doesn’t have a name. Maybe what this process really needs is a name. It sadly won’t be possible to coin something as catchy as “Black Death” or World War II” — but we need something. We really need something.

How about “The Great Connecting”?