Since I took the plunge and became a web developer full time, the knowledge I've learned has come from thousands of resources, nearly all of them online. Blog posts, instructional videos, demos, forums, and books, to name a few. These resources enabled me to develop the skills I needed.
Unlike many sources of higher education in the US, I was not denied access due to a lack of money, lack of experience, lack of skill, or any other factor. I'm indebted to the thousands of people who made deposits into that virtual knowledge bank, each contributing their part.
When information is free, it is empowering. It removes friction from the process of exploring a topic, or trying something for the first time. It removes "lack of access" from the list of barriers keeping people in ignorance and poverty.
I hear people in education talk about technology in the classroom, and don't get me wrong, technology is great. But the technology is only as good as the information it provides access to. Technology for technology's sake might make your superintendents feel good, but we have a higher goal called "actually learning." We need access to a rich landscape of online resources, and the business models to support them long term.
There are hundreds of approaches to freeing information, from President Obama's Open Government initiative to the legally murky activities of Hacktivist groups. Crowdsourcing projects like FreeBase or Wikipedia free information by tapping the wisdom of the crowd. Organizations like Creative Commons provide a licensing framework around the free release of creative works like art, writing, and music. Each effort chips away at the problem.
I don't pretend to believe that free access to information will solve the worlds problems. It won't. But put the right information in the right hands at the right time, and it can change lives. It's certainly changed mine.
I've been thinking about some people I really admire and how they got to the places where they are at. Throughout that process, I've settled on two principles I'd like to focus on this year. Call them resolutions if you want. Here they are:
1. Don't consume. Create.
There's a lot to consume in this world. Television, music, news, movies, podcasts, blog posts, and never-ending status updates. Sometimes, when I'm indulging in consumption (like, for example, checking out my website analytics or getting lost on Wikipedia) I justify my actions, saying "hey, at least it's educational" (or at least edu-tainment). But if I'm honest with myself, I know it's not true. Consumption is consumption and it's an act of The Resistance. If learning was my goal then I'd be learning more effectively by actively doing, than passively consuming. Learning isn't my aim when I'm consuming. Subtle, rationalizable work-avoidance is my aim.
I'd rather create.
It's fulfilling, it's rewarding, it's exciting, and it's hard (that's four good reasons to do anything). I don't care if it's an open source contribution, a logo design, a blog post, or a tower made of legos. I want to walk away from this year with trail of creations in my wake. There are plenty of people in this world who are content to consume the work of others. I don't want to be one of them.
2. Be the change that you want to see
This sounds somewhat glib, but I mean it in the most practical of terms. Odds are that if you want to see something, there are a lot of other people who want to see it too. Maybe it's a blog post documenting how to set up a certain workflow, or a tool that would automate your process, or somebody you follow on twitter following you back. It could be anything. Projects like archive.org and stackoverflow.com started out with an absence in the world waiting to be filled. And I wouldn't confine this principle the digital world. Do you wish you were part of a dinner group? Do you wish you had somebody to trade off babysitting with, instead of always paying for a babysitter? Make it happen. If you fill an absence out there, somebody, somewhere will be grateful.
These principles share a common idea: don't settle. Don't settle for complacency and don't settle for less than you can give. That's an ideal worth striving for this year.
On April 14th 2013 I had an idea, and I thought it was pretty good. I'm kind of a podcast junkie and I wanted to start up a Podcast airing a series of stories about how the web is impacting the human experience. It would do for the web what Radiolab is doing for science. It would provide a representation of life in the connected age. It would be The New Aesthetic in audio form. I was pretty excited.
Of course, I had several projects on my plate at the time. Things got busy and the podcast went to the bottom of the list. You know how these things often go.
On September 17th WNYC launched a new podcast called TLDR, "a weekly podcast featuring short, surprising stories about the internet".
At first I was crushed. Then I thought, you know, maybe this isn't what I had in mind. Maybe it'll be quirky and off-target. You know, an off-putting nerd-fest full of 4chan memes, sound effects, and internet subculture. Maybe it'll just fizzle out.
But I started listening to it and guys, it's awesome. SOOOOOOOO GOOD!
They're doing such a great job with it, that I've realized that I just have to let my idea go. They're doing everything with it that I ever dreamed to do (plus, they've got funds). Listen to it. Tell all your friends.
So go forth and conquer TLDR. Blow them out of the water.