I was reading my Kindle on the subway a few days ago when a passenger standing alongside interrupted me to ask how it worked. I found myself extolling the device's virtues, even as I acknowledged its shortcomings. Another passenger joined in, offering his opinion. It was a friendly and not unsophisticated conversation, and it struck me how different the New York subways are today from when I was growing up in the city in the 1970s.
Back then, going underground was a daunting, even scary, experience. I often remind my own children — too often, I'm sure they'd say — how much easier they have it these days.
Of course, that's the way it should be, as Admiral Mike Mullen, our cover subject, reminds us in "Joint Venture". "I have met parents all over the world," he says, "and they all just want to raise their kids to a higher standard than they were raised with." Mullen sees America's military mission — unexpectedly — through that lens: Delivering on the promise of progress to parents around the globe will promote security here at home.
If Mullen is right, this issue of Fast Company gives him plenty to work with. My own kids, no doubt, would consider Major League Gaming a sign of progress: Growing up to be professional Halo players at $250,000 a year is a pretty enticing prospect (Next Tech: Power Play). On a higher plane, senior writer Chuck Salter reports on IBM's World Community Grid (Look Who's Curing Cancer), which uses idle time on volunteers' computers to cure diseases and alleviate hunger. (If the article inspires you to volunteer for our WCG team, join at worldcommunitygrid.org, then search the team list for "Fast Company.") And in our annual Fast Cities package, we highlight 12 promising developments around the country, including eco-friendly urban farming, exhaust-free buses, and inventive car-sharing programs (Fast Cities 2010).
I don't mean to be a Pollyanna. There's still plenty of turmoil in our world: wars; a still-fragile financial system; discord, ethical lapses, and shortsightedness from some of our elected and corporate leaders. But those messages get plenty of attention from others in the media. At Fast Company, we see our role, in part, as reminding readers that there is also much to be optimistic about for the coming generations.
My Kindle is not perfect. But it's also new; the technology has within it the seeds of a better way of life. (My oldest son laments that his textbooks aren't available on the Kindle; why should he have to lug 30 pounds of books back and forth to school every day?) Admiral Mullen, unlike more conventional military leaders, sees the potential of new technologies and business breakthroughs to bridge the gap with other cultures and help ease tensions, and he's putting this philosophy to work for the cause of justice and peace across the globe. That, too, is a sign of better things to come.
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A version of this article appeared in the May 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.