We Won. Now What?
I’ve spent the better part of three decades writing about tech, launching publications devoted to tech, and investing in or starting tech businesses. I devoted almost every waking and working hour of my life to the technology narrative. I did this because I believed society’s adaptation to technology was the most important story of our age, and for years that story was either willfully ignored, poorly told, or deeply misunderstood by the mainstream press.
As one of Wired’s founding editors a generation ago, I was seized with a missionary fervor — to us, the story of tech’s impact on society was painfully obvious, yet precious few leaders in politics, business, or culture were even paying attention. That ignorance fueled our zeal. We had to get the tech story out — the world’s future depended on it!
And everyone did get on board. Tech coverage became the most important (and, for a time, lucrative) beat at just about every respectable media outlet on the planet. Politicians scrambled to get smart on tech issues, markets re-organized in response to tech disruptors, and artists, musicians, and filmmakers rethought their work around the new reality of social platforms and digital distribution.
Technology has become both compass and map for deciphering just about every social issue — from Arab Spring to autism, business “disruption” to civil liberties. Tech hasn’t gone mainstream — it is the mainstream. It’s our cultural dowser, our lens for interpreting an increasingly complex society. Our new cultural heroes are Internet billionaires; our newly minted college graduates all want to start tech companies.
All of which leaves me wondering : What’s the next big story on the horizon, the narrative most people are missing that will shape our future just as technology did for the past 30 years?
I think the answer lies in the reinvention of capitalism. We’re on the brink of an entirely new approach to business, one built on shared principles of integrity, transparency, and sustainability. If we succeed, the world could become a far better place.
At Wired, we believed that technology would build that world for us. But I’ve come to a longer view of positive change, and I now believe technology alone won’t get us there. Tech is a fundamental force in our society, but business, as Douglas Rushkoff puts it, is our core operating system. If we are going to pay off the fantastic visions of our early tech dreams, we’ve got to consolidate what we’ve learned from the tech revolution and apply it to building a new kind of business culture.
What kind of culture? Examples are everywhere. For the first time in decades, an actual engineer — and a woman — has taken over at General Motors, and her core focus is on repairing her company’s broken culture, a culture built by decades of “maximizing shareholder value” above all else. On his first day as CEO, Unilever’s Paul Polman put “short term speculators” on notice, and promised to steer his company toward sustainable, long term value for all stakeholders. Under Mary Barra, GM has invested $1.5 billion into tech companies transforming transportation, and Unilever has pivoted its massive marketing spend to become “the trust mark of sustainable living.” And were it not for the threats and insights from NewCos like Uber and Lyft, or The Honest Company and Dollar Shave, these Fortune 50 giants would have most likely remained complacent.
Business is humanity’s most resilient, iterative, and productive mechanism for creating change in the world. And we’ve got a lot of change-making to do. Whether we face it or not, humanity is now playing on a shot clock. Our environment, our prosperity, and our very humanity is at stake. If we fail to reorganize our financialized, extractive economic system, posts like this, on platforms like Medium (or Facebook, or Google, or any of the technology titans we’ve come to celebrate) will be beyond irrelevant. Millennials already take this as fact — that’s why they want to start new kinds of companies and strive for purpose in their careers above all else. If you’ve read this far, I’m betting that you agree.
I don’t claim to have all the answers to what the next phase of capitalism will look like, but I do know one thing for sure: This story needs a publication that is relentlessly focused and fervently dedicated to covering it for you. We’re just getting started. I hope you’ll join us.
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