Make a Wish

Posted by Nishant Shah at Dec 22, 2010 12:55 PM |
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It is that time of the year again, where we ring in the new, ring out the old, and say goodbye to another year that has passed us by. The earnest will take the time to reflect on things gone by, the romantics will look forward with hope to the future and the realists will point out that we are now one decade into the 21st century, and the world is changing. However, if you are a true digital native, you are probably going to head over to a website that helps you figure out 43 things that you want to do, not just in the next year, but in your foreseeable future.

43things.com is a unique social networking site, where you make a to-do list of things that you want to do in life. The list is a zeitgeist of possibilities: from losing that extra weight that has always bothered you, to spending quality time with your family to getting that degree you have desired for long from the university of your choice, to finding bliss. The lists are varied, unique and challenging. In almost six years of its existence, this website has drawn more than 2 million users from 82 countries, who have created a list of more than 30,000 unique goals that people want to fulfil in their lives.

Why is making such a list important? And why would you want a website to do it? Probably because in our humdrum lives, where every minute is spent in thinking about the next, we often forget the dreams that are important. On an everyday basis, the most interesting or important things in our lives are always things that we shall do “tomorrow”.

43 Things injects life back into the passions and hopes that we have for our future. It helps people to take a step back from routine life, to reflect on what is important to them. It works on the old idea of birds of a feather flocking together, this time enabling it through the power of the Web. People find connections because other people want to do the same thing as them. People describe their experiences, their failures, obstacles and the strategies they deployed in order to reach goals they thought were unreachable. There are stories being told and lessons being learned. And if nothing else, you are bound to get “cheer” from a passing stranger because your goal made them smile. Often a unique goal becomes a source of inspiration for others who might shape their lives around it. Sure, some goals will lose their charm, some will be replaced, and some will never be achieved, but you will always have the space to know that you have a dream, and you shared it with somebody else.

My favourite story is of a 22-year-old friend who, ever since she was three years old, wanted to be a fairy. As she grew up, she realised that it is not something that you can share with everybody. She knew that she would be laughed at, if she ever made it public. Earlier this year, she stumbled across 43 Things and just on a whim, put down as one of her goals “I want to become a fairy”. To her surprise, she discovered other adults around the world who have the same goal. They don’t really want to become fairies, but it is a dream about how they see themselves, and they all got together to voice it on the website. They connected and started talking about what attracted them to fairies, and why there is more to fairies than magic wands and gossamer wings.

They realised that what attracts them to thinking about themselves as fairies are kindness, generosity and the happiness in helping each other. From this discussion, 19 people from 11 countries, who were involved in the conversation, decided to do 12 random acts of kindness through 2010. And as the year draws to an end, they tell the stories of how in their role as fairies, they brought joy and smiles to strangers because they went out of their way to do something special for them. As my friend tells me the story, her eyes sparkle, and there is a big grin on her face. “I know this sounds stupid, but I feel like a fairy,” she wrote in her notes, as she was going through her goals. And somewhere out there, 18 other people also put a small tick-mark against their goals and dreamt of fairy dust.

Read the original in the Indian Express

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Nishant Shah

Dr. Nishant Shah is the co-founder and board member of the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, India, and is a professor at the Institute of Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media at Leuphana University in Germany, and is Dean of Research at ArtEZ Graduate School, the Netherlands.