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Rules and resolutions for 2016

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Five things we need to do better

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Hello. Hi there. Welcome to 2016, everyone. Have some Advil.

Okay! Let's wipe the last bits of the party from your eyes and get this new year started on the right foot. It's a new day, a new year, and a new you. Yesterday? Doesn't matter. The mistakes of 2015? Wiped from the slate. It was a rough year, but we're better for it. We failed fast, we embraced disruption, and we learned to thrive on change — so let's put down some ground rules for making the best of the next 365 days. Here, now, are some rules and resolutions for our technology-addled culture in 2016.

1. How we behave online is just as important as how we behave in person — and often more important

If there's one thing we need to focus on and accomplish in 2016, it's treating each other better online. Our social platforms are bigger and more important than ever, and it's time we created the kinds of social norms that keep attacks, abuse, and harassment under control in our other shared spaces. Part of this responsibility falls on companies like Facebook and Twitter, which need to actually put product resources behind literally years of empty talk, but part of this is on us as well. We can choose to be nicer when we communicate online, we can choose to not to participate in flamewars, and we can choose to ignore the trolls. It's time we started exercising that choice more often.

2. Truly great tech products give you superpowers without demanding anything of you

We've spent years watching software eat the world — but that means we've all spent those years learning the intricacies and quirks of our software, and even sometimes building parts of our culture around them. Let's agree that we're past the tipping point now: it's time to start harshly criticizing tech products that add more complexity to our lives for little reason. It's also time to start celebrating those products that ask virtually nothing of us while offering up all the benefits of intelligence.

there's too much other cool stuff to play with to waste time on flaky smart lights

The seeds are already there: voice-controlled assistants and chat-based intelligent services have virtually no learning curve before you can start using them — you just talk. Drones and hoverboards don't require you to know how to fly or balance — you let the computers do most of the work while you just go. Uber and Airbnb, for all of their sharing-economy issues, don't require you to know anything about taxis or hotels. You just push the button and things happen.

Categories with seemingly huge potential like wearables and the internet of things have to start clearly demonstrating reasons why you'd add more chips and batteries and software to your life — there's too much other cool stuff to play with to waste time on flaky smart lights and smartwatch notification settings. The boring way to say it is that software should democratize expertise — buying a new tech product should be just as good as having an expert help you do something — but it's obviously more fun to say that software should give you superpowers, so let's run with it.

3.  Simplicity is not an end in itself

Here's the flipside to my argument that tech shouldn't demand anything of you — it also shouldn't treat you like you're stupid.

The tech industry spent 2015 trying to move past the laptop with all kinds of funky tablet hybrids, but it turns out that laptops are pretty great. Sure, they can get better — everything can get better — but laptops are fast and flexible and let you do things that no phone or tablet can even touch. I say this as someone who spends hours a day working on his phone — I don't carry my laptop around the office and I get by just fine. But when it's time to get serious about real work, or come up with something new, I always go back to my laptop.

simplicity imposes boundaries — someone else has already made choices for you

Simplicity is great; it's the key to making more tech reach more people. But simplicity also imposes boundaries; it means that someone else has already made choices for you, and it's time to start realizing that not everyone wants to make the same choices all the time.

To push the limits of a metaphor: full-powered desktop operating systems and laptops and workstations might be the trucks of the computing world, but the Ford F-150 has also been the best-selling vehicle in America for three decades now.

4. Let's take the interplay between technology and entertainment and media more seriously

The story of consumer technology is really just the story of media creation and distribution: from console radios and color TVs to satellites and surround sound to Walkmans and iPods to to streaming and Snapchat, we've been having the same conversation over and over again. Who's making our media? What are they making it with? How does it get to us, and who controls the pipes? What do the screens and speakers look like in our homes?

Here's one tiny example: The Verge launched in 2011 just as HD video-capable DSLRs burst onto the scene, which meant that beautiful video was an instant differentiator for us, but we needed an entire company behind us to manage selling ads and handling hosting. Just four years later, an entirely new generation of young YouTubers like Marques Brownlee are shooting crispy 4K video reviews, where a devoted army of fans have turned their channels into real, lucrative businesses. And every minute those fans spend watching MKBHD is a minute they're not spending watching traditional television, which means a lot of ad money is searching for eyeballs that will never come back to cable.

technology is making it easier to be creative, and harder to get paid for creativity

These dynamics are underneath every story about pop culture or entertainment or media — technology is making it easier to be creative, and harder to get paid for creativity. That is going to impact our culture, and we need to take it seriously.

5. Diversity matters

Sure, all internet media is thirsty clickbait, but there's an upside: in 2015 all sorts of major publications started seriously investing in coverage of race, identity, and gender issues. Why? Because people click on those stories like mad — the data showed that people are interested in seriously engaging in topics few mainstream media outlets would have previously considered covering. The Los Angeles Times hired a reporter just to cover Black Twitter, because so much of what happens there immediately crosses over into broad conversation. Mic.com sent Liz Plank charging towards the camera in a series of videos challenging social preconceptions getting millions of views on Facebook. BuzzFeed continued to prove that fine-grained slices of individual identity are among the most powerful and shareable types of media ever devised, and — even more powerfully — let the rest of us learn something about what it's like to be raised by Latino immigrant parents or transition to natural hair or just be an introvert on New Year's Eve. We spend our days staring at the supercomputers in our pockets, but we might actually be learning how to be more aware of other people because of it.

2016 can be that year. Let's make it happen

Ultimately all this technology and all these screens and all of this work is simply about connecting us to each other — our experiences and our struggles, our dreams and our fears. Making sure these tools are created and used by as many different kinds of people as possible is a direct pathway to a better, stronger culture. We need to hold ourselves accountable to that dream, and be clear when the impact of rapid technological progress hurt more people than it helps.

Smarter, simpler technology. Kinder communication. More diversity in media and art. This sounds like a pipe dream, doesn't it? But we're on the cusp. 2016 can be that year. Let's make it happen.