You may have heard of the hand-cranked laptop pioneered by MIT's Nicholas Negroponte for "One Laptop Per Child," seen here:http://wiki.laptop.org/go/One_Laptop_per_Child
This innovation has always impressed me. You don't need a manual to know how to use it; it's not dependent on sunlight, outlets, or anything beyond your own ability to turn a crank. One minute of cranking provides ten minutes of use. While this may not be practical for most of us who use our laptops several hours a day, this technology could be used to power appliances with lower or less frequent electrical needs.
The concept I am suggesting is a small (3 by 3 inch) charging-base with several outlets or charging adapters that would accommodate any typical, home device (cell phones, toasters, lamps, etc.). The charging-base would be powered by a crank to allow you to hand-charge your device once it is plugged into the base.
Cell phones, for example, take a relatively short time to charge. If you wanted to make a 20 minute phone call it's very likely that a minute or so of cranking would allow such a call. Most people leave their phones on all the time but this too would be possible with the cranking system. Simply leaving your phone turned on uses very little electricity, you could carry the small charging-base with you in your purse or keep on in your office to re-power your cell phone anytime it got low.
Leaving cell phone chargers and other home appliances plugged in all the time uses an incredible amount of energy, relying more on a hand-cranked system would encourage people to not leave their appliances constantly plugged in to an outlet (since they would be plugging them into the charging-base for power) and further reduce electrical use.
Not to mention, in a country suffering from obesity, this could have some beneficial, physical side-effects.