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Changing the World

Like much of my generation, I grew up believing that I should try to "change the world," presumably for the better. But I didn't know how to do this. Looking at how other people have changed the world I concluded there are five ways of doing it:

  Some people change the world by imposing their will on it.

  Some people change the world by discovering a truth.

  Some people change the world by changing people's minds.

  Some people change the world by creating things of great beauty.

  Some people change the world by making new tools for change.

Although I can admire all of these, the last mode of changing the world is the one that appeals to me the most. As a dramatic example of changing the world by making new tools, I include the creation of the Internet. I would also list something like building the rural credit system in Bangladesh as another example. Changing the world in this way can involve changing people's minds, and can entail imposing one's will to some extent, but it is mostly about enabling other people to change?by giving them tools to do so. This feels like progress.

The other appeal of tool creating is that change brought about this way is self-sustaining and self-correcting. By self-sustaining, I mean you can use tools to make other new tools. This gives enabling tools a self-amplifying effect that can gain importance with time. I like that. I feel this is a very different way to change the world from trying to impose your will on it, because when you do that the world tends to snap back after you stop trying, or after you leave. Also, enabling change through tools is self-correcting. People who try to change the world by imposing their will on it often cause unintended harm, because the consequences of the change are hard to predict. When the beneficiaries control the change themselves, they have a lot more opportunity for feedback. Thus, change of this sort has a better chance of being good.

I still want to change the world, but now I know how I want to do it: by making new tools for change.