We lost a legend this year. All Steve Jobs ever wanted was to change the world. And whether you love Apple or hate it, you have to admit that Jobs achieved his goal.
At a minimum, he mainstreamed a lot of things we now take for granted: downloadable music, super elegant hardware, multi-touch user interfaces, app stores, Apple Stores, voice-based virtual assistants, and white earbuds, to name just a few.
Jobs was as controversial in life as he has been since his death; his bio has only sharpened controversy over whether he was a brilliant visionary, a totalitarian task-master or, most likely, both.
I think one of the most interesting things about Jobs is his lifelong insistence that you could “change the world,” as he put it. With the right perspective, as well as determination and effort, any of us could “make a dent in the universe,” he believed.
Call me one of the crazy ones, but I think he was right. The world he and many other tech visionaries shaped now gives us the tools to connect with people almost anywhere; join movements that pressure companies and governments to change their policies; and learn just about anything.
So as we make our New Year’s resolutions, here are a few suggestions on how you can leverage new technology to change the world:
I know I’ve been a relentless cheerleader for Google’s social network in this space since it launched in the summer. But to me, Google+ is the most transformative new technology product to come out in the past decade.
For starters, Google+ is radically international. My Twitter followers, for example, are about 80 percent Americans. Facebook? Forget it. About 95 percent of my friends on Facebook are American—and probably 75 percent are in either California or New York, where I have lived and left behind a trail of family and friends.
But on Google+, fewer than 10 percent of the people who have circled me are Americans. As a result, I have meaningful conversations every day with people in Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Indonesia, and just about every country you can think of. And there’s something about the network, something about how conversations unfold on Google+, that favors substantive conversation rather than frivolous banter or pointless trolling.
I’ve traveled all over the world, but I find Google+ far more broadening and enlightening even than travel.
Facebook is easy and comfortable because most of the conversations are with and about people you already know. But Google+ involves deep conversations with brilliant strangers, and is mind-expanding and radically educational. At least, it has been for me.
Also: Google+ offers “hangouts,” which is a feature that lets you video chat with up to nine other users. Hangouts is also broadening, as various people from different places all over the world get together and just talk like they were in the same living room.
Google+ brings people together for meaningful conversation, and as such makes the world a better place. If you’re not on it, joining up and getting active would be a great resolution for the new year. Circle me here.
It turns out that boycotts can work! A funny thing happened this month. While everyone was debating the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA), GoDaddy came out strongly in favor of the bill. GoDaddy is an Internet domain registrar and Web hosting company.
Prominent journalists and bloggers pounced on the company, calling for a boycott. Some 70,000 customers have since moved their domains to competitors.
But here’s the amazing part. As a result of this sudden and catastrophic financial and public relations disaster, GoDaddy reversed its position, and now claims to actively oppose SOPA.
The lesson here for all of us is that boycotts can work.
Why not make a resolution to get involved in boycotts related to issues you care about?
Learn something new
The Internet has become the greatest classroom ever. Apple offers iTunes U, which is a collection of lectures from some of the world’s greatest universities. Podcasts continue to be one of the greatest ways to learn ever invented. YouTube has instructional videos on how to bake bread, do yoga, brew beer or do just about anything you’d like to learn how to do. Teachers have taken to Google+, using hangouts to give instructions on how to play the guitar and a world of other subjects.
The whole problem of finding teachers and instructional materials has been largely solved by the Internet. No excuses! Make your resolution to learn something new!
Start your own company
If you think startups and entrepreneurship are for other people, you might want to reconsider. Social networks provide new opportunities for promoting your business worldwide. And options like Kickstarter give you new ways to fund your new venture.
Donate or sell old electronics
Sites like Gazelle will buy your used electronics at a pretty good price—and make good use of them.
The Environmental Protection Agency publishes a site that will tell where you can donate or recycle your old electronics locally.
Look, you’ve got a big, ugly pile of old electronics junk in your house or garage. So do I. Let’s take action, and resolve to get rid of this stuff.
If you’re going to make new year’s resolutions this year, think about all the new opportunities that exist to make a real difference in the world.
Think different! And in 2012 change the world.
[Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. Contact and learn more about Mike at Elgan.com, or subscribe to his free e-mail newsletter, Mike’s List.]