from djevents on flickr

Elon Musk: a Steve Jobs for the Next Revolution

One morning I woke up and read that Steve Jobs had died. My world lost a little magic that day.

Jobs described computers as “bicycles for the mind.” They let our brains get further, faster, with less effort. He made it his life’s work to make using computers as simple and delightful as a Sunday bike ride, so easy and fun that everyone would want one.

It was a brilliant insight. Computers, when Jobs started working his magic, were frustrating and esoteric. They were for hobbyists and experts. Jobs, more than any other person, made them useful for average people. And far more than anyone else, he made them delightful.

There are only a handful of wonder makers in the world — Willy Wonkas, dreamers of dreams. Jobs, for all his well-chronicled faults, was one of them. His death took a light out of our skies.

But Jobs’s revolution is largely finished. He saw a world without computers and thought everyone should have one. Now we do. Of course they will become faster, smaller, more integrated, hopefully still more delightful, but Job’s vision of a bicycle for the everyday mind is, if not complete, at this point inevitable.

Elon Musk, rather than taking up Jobs’s vision, is exploring new territory that Jobs’s revolution opened up. The generation now hitting its professional stride is the first computer-native generation, the first to come of age in the Jobsian world of user-friendly computers in the home. We were raised on Jobs’s bicycles. How far can we go?

Musk thinks we can go to Mars. And perhaps more incredibly, he thinks we can go from LA to NYC without a drop of gas, powered only by the sun. He is using the tools of the Jobs revolution to start a revolution of his own.

There are a host of new businesses, industries, and possibilities the computing revolution has made possible. A couple that roll off the top of my head are high-frequency trading and targeted online advertising. What makes Musk unique, and what makes him a Jobs-like figure, is that he is working not only with technology, but with wonder.

His Tesla electric sports cars are not just technological marvels, they are beautiful. His aspirations with SpaceX are to be not only profitable, but inspiring. In the world that Jobs helped to create, Elon Musk is a new music maker, a new dreamer of dreams.

James A. Pearson lives, for the most part, out of two black REI duffel bags. He co-founded the humanitarian business Ember Arts and writes from his parallel lives in Uganda and California.