From the Ed­i­tor

Fast Company - - Contents - Robert Safian

What kind of world do you want to live in? This is a ques­tion that is al­ways worth­while to ask our­selves. For me, I’d be cool with a world full of elec­tric cars and self-sus­tain­ing so­lar-pow­ered homes. It would be great if we weren’t spew­ing so many tox­ins into the en­vi­ron­ment, and if we sus­tain­ably gen­er­ated our own en­ergy. That may be why so many peo­ple are en­am­ored of Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of Tesla. His busi­ness is pred­i­cated on a vi­sion of the fu­ture that’s pretty darn ap­peal­ing.

I’d also love a world where peo­ple can seam­lessly share con­tent, and where ev­ery­one with a cre­ative idea has an equal op­por­tu­nity to pub­li­cize their work—and make a liv­ing from it. That’s the prom­ise behind Youtube, and one rea­son folks across the globe spend 1 bil­lion hours each day watch­ing what’s posted there.

But you know what I wouldn’t like as much? A world where only rich peo­ple get to drive safe cars and con­trol their own en­ergy. Where fake news and real news are in­dis­tin­guish­able, and where cre­ators of anti-semitic, ho­mo­pho­bic, racist, misog­y­nist con­tent can game the sys­tem to fi­nan­cially sup­port them­selves and spread their mes­sages.

To­day, all of these trends are si­mul­ta­ne­ously un­fold­ing, thanks—for good and for bad—to the im­pulses and in­ge­nu­ity of busi­nesses. Musk’s Tesla is both a mar­vel and a mi­rage, as se­nior writer Austin Carr ex­plains in “Tesla Raises the Roof” on page 64. Youtube may be the most pow­er­fully mis­un­der­stood me­dia op­er­a­tion around—a bet­the-com­pany fi­nan­cial moon­shot that will ei­ther take Google to the strato­sphere or un­der­cut a decade of brand build­ing, as Harry Mc­cracken re­ports in “Youtube Shoots for the Stars” on page 74. Yet Youtube is also a fron­tier land that rep­re­sents at once the best and worst im­pli­ca­tions of mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

This is the es­sen­tial re­al­ity of Amer­i­can busi­ness, pol­i­tics, and cul­ture right now—a tu­gof-war be­tween self­less­ness and self­ish­ness in an era of dra­matic change. Sure, tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment has great po­ten­tial to im­prove the hu­man con­di­tion. But in the near term, there is painful dis­rup­tion, waste, anger. It is messy and of­ten un­fair.

If we be­lieve that our ef­forts are mak­ing the world a bet­ter place, are we sim­ply fool­ing our­selves? If we don’t fool our­selves some­times, will we not even try to make a dif­fer­ence? In so many ways we are guinea pigs in an ecosys­tem that is un­du­lat­ing more rapidly than any­one can keep track of. (Maybe that’s why Elon Musk wants to go to space.)

Yet I choose to be­lieve that the fu­ture will be bet­ter than the past, that pos­si­bil­ity will de­feat ad­ver­sity. It’s an ar­ti­cle of faith for me. The proof that I cling to: the in­spi­ra­tion that we see around us, the hu­man em­brace of chal­lenge, the Tough Mud­der (see page 88) that is our mod­ern life.

So cheer for Musk, that his so­lar dreams might come to fruition, or cheer against him; watch and post on Youtube—and on the bur­geon­ing uni­verse of other plat­forms—or find other ways to spread ideas that an­i­mate you; learn, do, and be in­spired, as we all keep mud­ding on. The fight for a bet­ter world is its own re­ward, a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery that has no fixed des­ti­na­tion. Maybe we will never find what we seek, but is that so bad? As long as we strive, we grow. And the world grows with us.

A behind-thescenes look at how artist Lola Dupré con­structed her dy­namic por­trait of Tesla CEO Elon Musk (see page 64).

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