The most interesting tech story of the year had nothing to do with consumer gadgets or social networks. Instead, the biggest story of the year was the realization that all of these products and virtual connectors are blinding us from the fact that humanity hasn't made many great strides or solved many (if any) big problems since Stevie Wonder had a full head of hair. Or, as PayPal cofounder, Peter Thiel, put it, "We wanted flying cars—instead we got 140 characters." Don't get me wrong, I love that my phone completely shits on the computer I built myself in eighth grade. Or that cloud computing has all but negated the need for the USB flash drive I carry around. And, sure, there are a handful of startups that are working to create the next (insert successful company here). But looking through my email at all the pitches I receive for new companies and products, it's hard not to feel as if we're running on a treadmill.
There were a number of great pieces that touched on one or all parts of this: Mat Honan's "Fever Dream of a Guilt-Ridden Gadget Reporter," David Graeber's "Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit," Sam Biddle's "It's OK to Be a Hater Because Everything is Bad," and the entire issue of MIT Technology Review with Buzz Aldrin on the cover. All these pieces, at their core, hinted at the same question: Where do we go from here?
All of which brings me to Elon Musk.
The PayPal co-founder who went on to found the space transportation company SpaceX, and electric vehicle company Tesla Motors, has made it his business to solve issues that we've seemingly given up on. Or ones that we've been unable to crack. Before Tesla Motors, electric cars were as desirable as a '96 Geo Metro, that is to say, not at all. Realizing sex sells, Musk made 'em attractive and fun to drive. So much so that the Tesla Model S was crowned Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine's Car of the Year.
More important than weening people off fossil fuels with sexy coupes and luxury sedans, is space exploration. With SpaceX, Musk and his team of rocket scientists are re-imagining better and more cost-efficient ways for us to reach the stars. As NASA's goal of putting humans on Mars by 2030 gets dimmer and dimmer each year, Musk hasn't lost hope. Not only does he want to send a person to Mars, he wants to build an entire city. And he has good reason to believe: In 2012, SpaceX made a deal with NASA to design and build next-gen space shuttles capable of carrying astronauts. He was named one of Esquire's Americans of the Year, Wired called him an Icon, and Businessweek tagged him as the 21st century industrialist. If there's one person working to make sure all we leave behind isn't a stream of followers and touch screens, it's this dude. —Damien Scott, Complex (@thisisdscott)