“If you can’t be located, you’re nobody.”
No, this is not one of Kierkegaard’s existential proclamations or a “hippy riddle” (as my daughter would say), but a critical 21st-century conundrum described in a November 2015 article by media executive Frederic Filloux.
Thus, “75% of the earth’s population…don’t exist…This means that around 4 billion people are invisible; unable to report crime; unable to get deliveries or receive aid; and unable to exercise many of their rights as citizens because they simply have no way to communicate where they live.” Chris Sheldrick, CEO of What3Words, shared these mind-bending words at November’s Next Billion conference in NYC.
“Poor addressing might seem no more than annoying in some countries, but around the world it hampers the growth and development of nations, ultimately costing lives.” Another powerful statement.
Now, what if anywhere on the planet, any of us could find anyone else with just three words?
In his recent article, Filloux describes how Sheldrick, after struggling with organizing large musical events around the world using GPS coordinates, shared his frustration with a mathematician friend. This anonymous friend suggested replacing GPS coordinates with a combination of three words, in any language, which could specify every 3 x 3 meter square (that’s about 10 x 10 feet to you and me) on the planet.
You read that correctly. Each of the 57 trillion 3 x 3 meter squares in the world has a pre-assigned, fixed, and unique three-word address. That’s not only amazing and potentially life-saving, but can save millions of dollars.
(Filloux’s article is well worth the three-minute read. Sorry, I can’t be held responsible for the time you’ll spend in subsequent contemplation.)
After reading the article, I was compelled to compare What3Words with the US ZIP code system. As we know, the basic format consists of five numbers and an optional four. But despite the geographic derivation of most ZIP codes, the codes themselves do not represent geographic regions. Instead, most represent address groups or delivery routes. Beyond the US, other countries have other systems based on their own algorithms. It’s all rather messy, I’d say.
“Our goal is for What3Words to become a global standard for communicating location.”
I’ll be watching.
Susan Andersen (current location “dock.volume.ozone”)
what3words is a free download from iTunes for iOS or Android.