Category: elon musk

Silicon Valley’s CEO worship problem:

“We see this all of the time in religions,” Benjamin Zeller, associate professor of religion at Lake Forest College, told Salon. “[Musk] has an ability to become associated with exciting ideas in which he becomes the spokesman for those ideas. People see these leaders as the personification of their ambitions, goals, hopes and desires.”

Zeller, who wrote about the cult of Apple shortly after Jobs’ death in 2011, says that the tech industry is particularly prone to creating these cults of personality because technology is perceived to offer solutions to many of the world’s problems. One could draw biblical comparisons: that renewable energy will rescue us from the great flood of global warming or that Mars could someday offer humanity an exodus from a dying planet.

“Also, technology can sometimes seem like magic,” Zeller said. “It’s something beyond our mortal understanding.”

And Silicon Valley is not short on these Silicon prophets who profess to be disrupting convention and making the world a better place for everyone.

There’s Rob Rhinehart, founder of the food-substitute beverage Soylent, who’s selling the idea of a more efficient way to deliver nutrients to the body. Uber founder Travis Kalanick wants to take over the global taxi and livery industry with robotic cars. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has built his reputation around radically reinventing the workplace and urban living. There are fallen angels, too, like Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, once the darling of hedge fund investors for her (since disastrously failed) attempt to diagnose a range of diseases from one drop of blood.

Charismatic leaders, whether they’re Silicon Valley billionaires, presidents, or the heads of actual cults, carefully craft their charisma, says Zeller. We know from court documents, for example, that Musk himself has gotten upset when the “difficult to control” media is perceived as downplaying his role at Tesla…  

Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 5: Messiah

Check out the stunning artwork of Salina Marie Gomez, who we spoke to in today’s show. I love those falcons in particular.

Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 5: Messiah

The gospel of Elon Musk, according to his flock:

Last year, hospitalized and bedridden for several months following a suicide attempt, Salina Marie Gomez turned on individual notifications for Elon Musk’s tweets. Her interest had been piqued in late 2016, after hearing about Musk at work. She looked him up and watched an interview — the one where he’s talking about SpaceX and the challenges it faces as a company. The one where he tears up a little. A few months later, while she was stuck in bed recovering, her admiration grew into something more. 

“That was the only thing that was giving me hope, you know, to keep going,” she told me over the phone earlier this month. “I realized, like, ‘This is why I haven’t made a whole lot of progress with my own career, my own endeavors, because I haven’t been seeing the whole picture. I’ve just been seeing what humanity has been doing wrong, and not what we’ve been doing right.’”

Today, Gomez, a 39-year-old artist living in Westmont, Illinois, is working on Tweeting Me Softly, an illuminated book of Musk’s tweets. She considers herself more of a follower than a fan, explaining that fandom is for artists. “Not that I don’t consider him an artist,” she says. “I consider him one of the best artists. But I wouldn’t consider myself a fan because [the word] implies a kind of a blind obsession with a celebrity.” She is, however, a fan of what he’s doing. “Specifically getting us away from fossil fuels, getting us away from the addiction to oil,” she says. “[He has] a bigger, complete vision of where we’re going as a species, and is helping people remember that progress is good, and it doesn’t have to be this terrible thing.”

Gomez describes Musk fans as “woke” and unafraid of what’s wrong with the world. She believes Musk is making our planet a better place, and that his detractors are just consumers who “don’t want to be inconvenienced.” Journalists, she says, “cherry-pick” stories to piss him off. “They use them as weapons,” she says. “And it’s inappropriate, because what he’s doing is dire and essential for human survival … Sometimes media is there to really stop what he’s doing.” Gomez continues: “As a supporter of what he’s doing, [I’ve] become enraged because this is my future, too. And this is my planet, too.”

Gomez isn’t alone. She’s one member of a vast, global community of people who revere the 46-year-old entrepreneur with a passion better suited to a megachurch pastor than a tech mogul. With followers like her, Elon Musk — the South African-born multibillionaire known for high-profile, risky investments such as Tesla (electric cars), SpaceX (private space travel), the Boring Company (underground travel), and Neuralink (neurotechnology) — has reaped the benefits of a culture in which fandom dominates nearly everything. While his detractors see him as another out-of-touch, inexpert rich guy who either can’t or won’t acknowledge the damage he and his companies are doing, to his fans, Musk is a visionary out to save humanity from itself. They gravitate toward his charisma and his intoxicating brew of extreme wealth, a grand vision for society — articulated through his companies, which he has an odd habit of launching with tweets — and an internet-friendly playfulness that sets him apart from the stodgier members of his economic class. Among his more than 22 million followers, all of this inspires a level of righteous devotion rarely glimpsed outside of the replies to a Taylor Swift tweet.


Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 5: Messiah