Like many of you, I'm doing a lot of traveling these days, to places as different as San Francisco; Cannes, France; Washington, D.C.; Rome; Montreal; and Rochester, New York. It's funny, in a way. The triumph of digital culture hasn't changed the fact that nothing beats face-to-face interaction. These personal tête-à-têtes achieve a depth and spontaneity you just can't match via email, text, phone, Skype, Tumblr, DMs, or anything technological.
Recently, one subject has come up over and over. Every business exec and innovator I know seems to be grappling with the same problem: How much should I connect? How can I keep up with the swirl of the Twittersphere without losing what little private space I have? What do I engage in? What do I let go?
In this issue, our back-page columnist, Baratunde Thurston, tackles this subject head-on in "I Have Left the Internet," his personal tale of a 25-day digital detox he took last winter. As he writes: "I love my devices and [digital] services, [and] I love being connected to the global hive mind. . . . but I am more aware of the price we pay: lack of depth, reduced accuracy, lower quality, impatience, selfishness, and mental exhaustion, to name but a few. In choosing to digitally enhance [our] lives, we risk not living them."
It's a perfect expression of the paradoxes within the Age of Flux. At Fast Company, we love the promise and progress that technology brings . . . and the reflection and analysis that keeps technology from overwhelming us. We believe that the greatest innovations are spawned by a mix of knowledge, intuition, and good luck . . . and that the best new businesses make an emotional connection with their customers.
Wrestling with new dilemmas is exactly what makes modern life so thrilling. Baratunde's story is a personal exploration of these ideas, which are infused throughout this issue. Austin Carr's revealing story, "Big Shot," explores the paradox facing Kevin Systrom, the founder and still-leader of Instagram, who is tasked both with helping Mark Zuckerberg bring renewed urgency and passion to Facebook and with growing Instagram's own 100-million-and-rising user base. In "The Cobbler's Conundrum," Jeff Chu looks at Blake Mycoskie's effort at Toms to do good in a world where transparency means immediate, constant questioning of his charitable motives. Danielle Sacks goes in-depth with Leah Busque, the CEO of TaskRabbit, in "The Purpose-Driven Startup," the tale of a solid little startup whose business may soar—or sink—thanks to its grandiose vision.
Perhaps no single piece more unexpectedly captures this essence than "The Wire," Charles Fishman's visit with a small Maryland maker of wire baskets. At a time when most discussion of American manufacturing is negative, Fishman shows how an innovative approach—even in an unlikely place—can provide an inspiring new model for success.
We hope you enjoy these paradoxes as much as we do. We'll try to deliver such tales each and every minute on our websites fastcompany.com, fastcocreate.com, fastcodesign.com, fastcoexist.com, and fastcolabs.com. We'll deliver them via video, podcast, slide show, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, and e-mag. And, yes, we'll even deliver them in print, just in case you find some quiet time to relax, detach, and sit back for a few really good reads.
Photos by Roger Erickson
A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine.