Why Hyper Wellbeing is the future of mobile: Part 1

Part 1: The failing “sick care” model

The Hyper Wellbeing conference in Silicon Valley on November 14-16 is not “just another event” in an already-full calendar of “digital health” gatherings. It seeks to significantly raise our collective aspiration for computing. It is both profound and practical.

The passion comes from a longstanding personal friend, Lee S Dryburgh, who is the event founder. I interviewed him at his home, where he graciously shared some of his life experiences, and how they led to the Hyper Wellbeing concept and event.

Through Lee, I have come to appreciate how our present vision for mobile and wearable technology is remarkably limited in its ambitions. We sabotage our efforts to apply these devices to truly meaningful problems. That’s because we fail to focus on human needs, and how technology can help us to meet them.

This interview is offered as a corrective to our myopic and faulty collective vision. I have written about some important things over the past decade and a half: the rise of ‘over the top’ players, the new science of network performance, the emergence of ‘hypervoice’, and the technical folly of laws on ‘net neutrality’.

This trumps them all in significance, and by a large margin. I believe Lee’s Hyper Wellbeing vision is as profound and prophetic as, say, those offered in the 1960s with the rise of cyberspace and hypertext.

This is a not a short or quick read. It is being serialised in several parts. I believe that it is well worth your time and effort.

MG: You ran a series of successful eComm conferences on emerging communications from 2008 to 2011, holding them in both the US and Europe. Why have you moved on from that domain to establish the Hyper Wellbeing conference?

LD: The original eComm event was created in part because I foresaw an impending revolution, which was mobile becoming “open”. This is something we can now look back in hindsight as the third generation of the telephone, after basic fixed and mobile voice. It manifested itself as iOS and Android, the latter of which premiered at eComm 2008 in Mountain View, CA. I also had foresaw application stores coming, the phone becoming a portable computer, voice becoming just an app among many. This democratised innovation for mobile devices, as anyone could write and publish an app.

I didn’t move on: Hyper Wellbeing is the future of mobile communications! I could have called it “emerging communications” again, or a “future of mobile” conference. The problem is that the wrong people would have come along, and with the wrong mind-set. So I made a hard choice and had to create a new name.

Alexander Graham Bell (along with others) enabled a revolution. That initial idea has been developed extensively over time. For instance, you can direct-dial people internationally. Calls have become far cheaper. We’ve added side functionality, like video calling and SMS. Companies like Skype have turned voice into software.

Yet these changes all root back to the same basic thing: moving some kind of message over a distance. That 130 year (or so) revolution is over, as it’s not where new mass value creation will be in future. As a result, “mobile” in its current format is a mature industry.

For its part, voice telephony has become just another (and relatively infrequently used) app. The huge “minutes, messages and megabytes” system will take time to become antiquated, but it will become obsolete and collapse.

So the end of “mobile communications” is not about phone calls becoming software-based and free; those are now irrelevant. It is that the value being offered is no longer considered sufficiently valuable to be a core driver of industry revenue. The ability to send pictures, texts, and voice and video streams will all become embedded into our environment, like running water.

I now see another revolution ahead for what we have thus far called the “mobile phone”. That’s what Hyper Wellbeing represents.

What inspired you to create the Hyper Wellbeing concept?

The concept of “programming” needs to be widened, taking us beyond digital computers to also include us. We have a new opportunity, as we gain more intimate access to our biological platform.

The start of this realization was three years ago when I found myself obese, with a high body mass index. I felt terrible, with poor energy. Inwardly, I felt something was wrong, and it bothered me. So I went for blood tests and they came back saying I was pre-diabetic.

“Oh, you are probably going to be diabetic quite soon” the doctor declared casually. I thought “Me? Diabetic? Even pre-diabetic? No! Never!”

So I tried conventional, traditional, mainstream methods of weight loss. Calories in, calories out. Eat less, exercise more. The problem was weight would come back, and I’d feel even worse. Also, my blood markers got worse when following mainstream weight loss wisdom; my cortisol was higher, for example.

Then I came across a BBC Horizon documentary, “Eat, Fast and Live Longer” by Michael Mosley. I was inspired: the body is “programmatic”; I’d never viewed it that way. The human body is a “computer” too!

So I began to experiment with different “code”. I tried five-plus-two fasting, and I immediately felt better. That led me to more significant fasting periods, high-fat diets and then months spent ketogenic.

We have been told not to eat large amounts of fat. At the time I was vegan, used health food shops, spent lots, took health supplements and consumed no junk food. My cooking ingredients were fresh from the local market. I ate in accordance with government health guidelines, and rarely drank alcohol. Yet I was pre-diabetic and obese.

I had nothing to lose, so I decided to experiment and reverse my diet: I went from 80% carbs to 70% fat! I ate lots of butter and practically drank olive oil. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Now this is personal to me, and may not work for others with different genetics. That said, for me, switching to a high-fat diet, whilst keeping protein the same, began to fix everything instantly.

My mind, sleep, and weight all got better. Within four months, I was being warned by medics that I had lost so much weight that I could cause myself hormonal problems. I only had 6% body fat, and women that I dated were complaining that I was too skinny! Yet I wasn’t starving myself. I just periodically fasted and switched the macro nutrients around.

I then did another experiment where I put on 8 kg of muscle, and a university sports professor accused me of taking testosterone. He said it was “impossible” to take off that much fat and put on that much muscle over the same period!

I began to notice how the body is in a sense “programmatic”, whereas the institutional so-called “health advice” is one-size-fits-all. Given the diversity of our genes, microbiome, life history, and environment, that impersonalized advice simply cannot be true! It is also often fundamentally wrong, like telling us it’s bad to eat fat, or that we should eat breakfast.

Once I began to see food and drink as ”executable lines of code” run on the “human platform”, I realised that we have to take our health destiny more into our own hands.

You experienced a number of family events which made you start pondering the healthcare system. Tell us more.

These examples are hurtful to recount. The first and easier one is that my mother said she had Parkinson’s disease. She was already terminally ill with cancer. This made her believe God had it in for her, with yet another condition. It also added to my father’s practical and emotional load. For example, she had to drink from a child’s cup, and it distressed my father seeing her shake so much.

Yet I wondered… that seemed like a rather sudden onset of Parkinson’s disease. So I searched the Web just half an hour for data on the topic. There was a list of drugs which, in combination, could cause the symptoms of Parkinson’s. So my father pointed this out to her doctor, who changed her prescription. Within days she he was “cured”! But if I hadn’t Googled it, she would have spent the last few years of life with yet another “disease”, and my father would also have suffered.

As another example, I went to see my father, who was also terminally ill with cancer. He was talking with me whilst on a strong IV painkiller. He hadn’t been for an operation, so I wasn’t sure why he had an IV drip. He seemed tired, so asked to rest, and I said that I would come to see him the next day. I didn’t know that would be the last sentence I would ever share with him.

When I came the next day, I saw my father was not on an IV drip any more. He didn’t look OK, so I asked the nurse. She said he had been operated on just hours before, and was coming round. I listened to the sounds in his throat, and it was like pure agony. Then it clicked, he is not only in agony, he is quite probably dying. Yet the IV painkiller drip was gone and he was in an ordinary recovery ward. This meant he had no privacy, and was subjected to bright lights and loud noises. There were four nurses and a doctor on the ward. I began to wonder if I was crazy and “imagining incompetence”. Surely I must be wrong somehow?

I then saw a nurse try to give my father oral painkillers, which he couldn’t take as he was unconscious. She was shouting his name at him, as if he had dementia. I sat thinking… yesterday he seemed fine and had no operation, but was on an IV drip; however today, he’s clearly in pain and has had an operation, but now he’s on oral painkillers. How come?

Then came the final straw. A woman came by with a cart, asking if he wants ice cream, and was shouting in his face because he was not answering, again like he had dementia. I suddenly snapped as I concluded in that moment that, whilst I may be a complete outsider to medicine and to the medical system, what was being done in front of me by medical staff was medical incompetence and tantamount to torture.

So when I saw a group of senior consulting doctors walk into a meeting room opposite, I stormed in. “There’s a man in bed here, he’s in agony and dying, and the staff are shouting at him and trying to feed him ice cream!”. The one who appeared the most senior immediately broke off his meeting and took charge. Less than an hour or so later he met me and the staff member who had been in charge of the ward. They admitted a catalogue of mistakes, and promised to turn the situation around as fast as possible. My father was soon put into a private room with proper palliative care for his dying process.

If I hadn’t come in, a dying man would have been left in an abysmal state. It just made me realise that medicine is just something learnt at university. It made me question the whole institutional top-down approach to healthcare. It simply doesn’t fit our consumer society. It is almost like something from medieval times.

Having a degree in something doesn’t mean you practise it well. The patient-caregiver model is outdated. We all need to take a proactive role in our own health, yet this is not supported well. Yes, we need to top that up with doctors who specialise, and there are some who are truly exceptional. But it needs to be more of a peer relationship.


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