Harvard Business Review meets Rolling Stone.
In the early 1990s, when HBR editors Alan Webber and Bill Taylor started Fast Company, this classic startup-style pitch embodied the vision. They wanted to provide the management and strategic insights of their publication but packaged in the stylish storytelling and dynamic visuals of the rock-and-culture magazine. Their prescient insight was that there was a growing cohort of employees who derived a lot of their personal sense of self from their work. They were committed to making change—inside their companies and in the world at large. They weren’t clock-punchers, nor were they necessarily already in the executive suite. The people Webber and Taylor wanted to reach shared a point of view, not a strict demographic or job title: Together, they wanted to remake business from being top down to bottom up, and they saw an opportunity to make management more adroit and humane and transform companies into a force for positive impact in society.
To parrot a buzzword of the era, they sought to fashion a New Economy. “It’s a short-hand term for the convergence of a set of factors all arriving simultaneously: The rise of global competition; the transformation of work by information technology; a generation of folks doing business today who have a very different attitude toward what they do,” Webber told the Boston Herald in 1993.
Fast Company would be their bible to help them do it.
The publication’s first issue was the November 1995 edition, and in the spirit of the business world the editors hoped to see, Fast Company created a different relationship with its audience than traditional media. Our website featured its own community, dubbed the Company of Friends, so the global readership could connect with Fast Company‘s creators and each other. Soon it would host its own conferences, long before live events became a pillar of modern media businesses.
While a lot has changed in a quarter century, Fast Company‘s essence remains strong. We remain committed to helping readers, viewers, listeners, and attendees of our live journalism events navigate the dramatic changes affecting business and our culture. We seek to offer insight and inspiration at every turn, so that Fast Company‘s patrons can make their own change.
These 28 articles from Fast Company‘s history not only showcase where we’ve been but all of these stories still have the power to provoke, and ideally, drive the kind of meaningful impact we want to see in the world.
In the editors letter in the first issue, Webber and Taylor promised to “start conversations, stimulate debates, provoke arguments, create healthy tension” while at the same time declaring “open season on pretenders.” This ethos struck a chord amid the internet-fueled economic boom, helping Fast Company establish itself quickly as an authority as the New Economy presented new ideas and new challenges.
“The Brand Called You” by Tom Peters (1997)
Every Instagram influencer and Twitter “blue check” owes a spiritual debt to this manifesto, the Magna Carta of personal branding. Peters’ exuberant prose extolling readers to stop thinking of themselves as being “defined by your job title” and to start thinking like the brand managers at Nike or Coca-Cola has always been a bit controversial—and yet, undeniable. Would a TikTok star score a Netflix special without the cultural influence of “The Brand Called You”? Doubtful.
“Free Agent Nation” by Daniel H. Pink (1998)
If you think of “The Brand Called You” as one helix making up the DNA of the modern worker, then “Free Agent Nation” is the second strand. We needed to be our own brands, because we did, in fact, work for ourselves. Pink, a former speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore, journeys across the country to discover the unseen economic force of “the self-employed, the independent contractors, the temps,” the estimated 25 million Americans embracing project-based work and the freedom that came with it. “Free Agent Nation” is focused on the movement’s potential for white-collar creative professionals and did not anticipate the way in which it would be weaponized against company permatemps and service-industry laborers (see “Pixel and Dimed,” below). But its original intent is worth revisiting if we’re ever to reclaim its spirit.
“Genius at Work” by Sara Terry (1998)
This inspiring profile of Bill Strickland takes readers to a place that other business publications had never even thought to tread: social entrepreneurship, which would soon become a hallmark of Fast Company‘s coverage. Strickland’s moving personal story connects directly with how he translated it into a series of organizations to help poor Black kids realize their potential through art, and it presents a vision for social impact as being as creative and challenging as any other aspect of business.
“Built to Flip” by Jim Collins (2000)
When the dot-com era overheated in late 1999 and early 2000, it exposed the kind of cynical, get-rich-quick behavior typically seen in economic manias. Startups with minimal or no revenues and no business model went public and became high-flying stocks. Collins, the bestselling author of Built to Last, wrote a jeremiad against the idea that the fundamentals of company building—”to create a superb management team, to develop a sustainable economic engine, to cultivate a culture that could withstand adversity and change, and to be the best in the world at what they did”—no longer mattered. The month that Collins’s essay appeared, the Nasdaq, where most dot-com companies went public, peaked. A month later, it crashed. Whenever markets get frothy and people start to argue that the old rules don’t apply, the wisdom embedded in “Built to Flip” is a refreshing corrective.
“Elevate Something Ordinary to Something Extraordinary” by Curtis Sittenfeld (2000)
Sittenfeld, who would go on to become a celebrated novelist (Prep, Rodham), delivers a vivid, writerly portrait of Samuel Mockbee, the larger-than-life architecture professor at Auburn University in Alabama who infused principles of racial and social justice into architecture through his Rural Studio and its efforts to improve the housing and lives of the residents of poverty-stricken Hale County. Mockbee passed away at the end of 2001, but his legacy at the Rural Studio lives on. (See “This House Costs Just $20,000” below)
After the dot-com crash took root by the end of 2000 and an economic recession kicked in, Fast Company adapted, reassessing ideas that might have once been orthodoxy while continuing to explore where there was excitement in business, such as the growing prevalence of design.
“But Wait, You Promised . . .” by Charles Fishman (2001)
One of the bedrock beliefs of the new digital age and everything that came with it was that customer service would be transformed. Everyone could now receive one-to-one personalized service thanks to the internet. Yet amid the rubble of the dot-com bust and recession, writer Charles Fishman realized that not only had we not achieved the nirvana we’d been told was coming but things had actually gotten worse. “Customer service in the new economy . . . has become a slow, dissatisfying tangle of telephones, computers, Web sites, email, and people that wastes time at a prodigious rate, produces far more aggravation than service, and, most often, leaves you feeling impotent.” Fishman journeys into the “belly of the beast,” as he says—wireless company call centers and eventually into Amazon and its then-renowned customer service—to get answers and a glimpse of why what should be so easy is unbelievably hard.
“The Wal-Mart You Don’t Know” by Charles Fishman (2003)
Walmart started in 1962, the very same year that both Target and KMart opened its doors. By the early 2000s, though, only one of them stood astride the global economy with unparalleled might. With Walmart arguably at its apex, writer Charles Fishman sought out “the story that never gets told . . . the story of the pressure the biggest retailer relentlessly applies to its suppliers in the name of bringing us ‘every day low prices.'” Through creative reporting in the face of a hostile subject which did not want its secrets revealed, Fishman unspools a tale not only of how the world’s most powerful company operates but also how it affects everything from U.S. manufacturing to the global economy. (Fishman’s story was expanded into the best-selling book The Wal-Mart Effect.)
“A Design for Living” by Linda Tischler (2004)
If there’s one person responsible for Fast Company‘s leadership in covering design as a strategic differentiator in business, it’s Linda Tischler. Using her charm and wit, she ingratiated herself into the high temple of design, bringing readers its secrets and plumbing the personality of its leading practitioners in a way that no one had ever attempted before. This sweet, tender profile of Michael Graves, the celebrated architect who brought good design to the masses through Target, explores his complicated career (people hated his PoMo buildings) and life, empathetically showing how an illness rendered him disabled. The punchline to the opening set piece of Graves in the hospital—”I do not want to die here, because it’s so ugly”—could well be a mantra for us all, seeking to create beauty and joy in the world against often insurmountable odds.
“Hondas in Space” by Jennifer Reingold (2005)
Fifteen years before SpaceX became the first private company to send astronauts into space, Jennifer Reingold visited what was merely an 88-person startup with dreams to “build a rocket faster, cheaper, and better than ever before.” As the first reporter ever to profile the ambitious aerospace startup, she gets to the deep truths that have guided the company to become the leader in the industry. First and foremost: They don’t think like rocket scientists, and they’re extremely resourceful in reusing parts that still work and adapting for what they need. The story also encounters SpaceX CEO Elon Musk before he’s a swashbuckling, global icon with a cult following. Musk is merely a driven entrepreneur sitting in a messy cubicle pouring tens of millions of his own money into an idea that had never been done and commenting on it with a dry wit. “I tell my wife that if this fails,” he says, “we’ll have to move into my parents’ basement.”
As the digital economy came roaring back amid the rise of the interlocking booms in social and mobile technology, Fast Company, under the leadership of editor Robert Safian, chronicled its rise, helping readers grasp both the leaders and internal philosophies driving the success of what has come to be known as Big Tech before most people even understood that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google were the four horsemen of the innovation economy. At the same time, the rise of Barack Obama symbolized a future for business that looked different than the past, and Fast Company sought to present that future today by showcasing a diverse group of leaders rising up and breaking through. Proactively navigating these shifts came to be catalyzed within a philosophy Safian summed up as Generation Flux, in which he advocated for how modern leaders develop the mindset and tools to stay ahead during this time of great change. In 2014, these efforts culminated in being awarded Magazine of the Year from the American Society of Magazine Editors.
“Hacker. Dropout. CEO.” by Ellen McGirt (2007)
In one of Safian’s first acts as editor, he dispatched writer Ellen McGirt to Palo Alto to track down the 22 year-old entrepreneur who had reportedly turned down acquisition offers of $750 million and then $1 billion for his still nascent though promising “social utility” called Facebook. McGirt’s portrait of Mark Zuckerberg—the Adidas shower-shoe wearing iconoclast—is both familiar (one can see glimpses of the oligarch with hammer-fisted control over a $700 billion-plus empire that’s amassed more than three billion users) and utterly surprising, as she captures small, telling details of Zuckerberg and Facebook’s early days, which have been shaved off the legend. Most important, though, what shines through is the company’s relentlessness to become what it achieved: “I’m here to build something for the long-term,” Zuckerberg says. “Anything else is a distraction.”
“The Knights’ Tale” by Chuck Salter (2007)
Phil Knight is a business legend as cofounder and longtime CEO of Nike: Shoe Dog, as he became after his 2016 memoir. Think of this surprising Chuck Salter profile of Knight and his son Travis, an aspiring animation director, as Shoe Dad. Salter reveals the doting yet demanding father behind the apparel empire builder, a man eager to correct the mistakes his father made in his own upbringing as he helps guide his children’s way in the world, even if he meddles his way into some of his own errors. After Travis makes clear he has no interest in joining Nike and learning his father’s lessons there, Phil finds a way to bring him close by bankrolling the Portland animation studio where Travis finds his passion, indoctrinating him in the tough lessons of business while also reveling in his son’s handiwork in helping to make the ambitious 3D, stop animation film Coraline. Travis is now a three-time Oscar nominee and one of Hollywood’s most sought-after A-list filmmakers, and his dad’s legacy is secure—in more ways than one.
“Green Guru Gone Wrong” by Danielle Sacks (2008)
This breathtaking exposé of Bill McDonough, “the environmental architect of our time,” slowly and cleverly punctures the hype balloon that he inflated around his vision for “cradle to cradle” design. Amid the boom of interest and activity in developing and funding sustainable solutions, McDonough projected the image that he had the answers—and the relationships with Hollywood power players, elite business leaders, and emerging superpowers like China to make his dreams reality. Writer Danielle Sacks meticulously reveals the ugly truth behind McDonough’s most vaunted projects and how he routinely “would cannibalize his own potential” through overpromising, underdelivering, and grasping for control and credit. Although participants in the story feared that bringing McDonough’s failings to light would hurt the movement, the lasting takeaway is to beware false prophets—and celebrate the practitioners doing the work.
“The Lost Steve Jobs Tapes” by Brent Schlender (2012)
Steve Jobs passed away in October 2011, after a long fight against cancer. His death inspired writer Brent Schlender, who covered Jobs and Apple for the Wall Street Journal and Fortune for 25 years, to rediscover “some three dozen tapes holding recordings of extended interviews–some lasting as long as three hours–that I’d conducted with [Jobs].” The Apple cofounder’s biography had been written just before his death, but that story missed what Schlender heard on those tapes, particularly in the period between 1985 and 1996 when Jobs was away from Apple: He became a much better manager; transformed his bullheadedness into grit; and improved his negotiation and partnership skills. As Schlender and Jobs’s contemporaneous conversations illuminate (and which Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, Fast Company‘s executive editor at the time, later expanded into the best-selling book, Becoming Steve Jobs), Apple’s unparalleled run of success was actually forged by what he learned and how he worked on himself in his so-called wilderness years.
“An Oral History of Apple Design” by Max Chafkin (2013)
Working at Apple has always been a secretive affair. People don’t talk about what they do while they work there, and they don’t talk about it afterwards, either. Like the CIA. Or the mafia. On its face, then, the effort to tell the story of how design had informed and transformed the maker of the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad appeared to be doomed from the start. Yet thanks to the dogged efforts of Max Chafkin (along with Austin Carr, Skylar Bergl, and Mark Wilson), everyone from the guy who hired design chief Jonathan Ive (Robert Brunner) to key executives and consultants over the years to two of the four people who at that time had ever left Ive’s employ in his studio within Apple spoke on the record about how they approached design at Apple. The collective effort paints a three-decade-long picture of how a culture (and cult) of design came to be at the consumer electronics giant, revealing why companies which have aspired to be the “Apple of X” have a much harder task than they ever realized.
“The Visible Man” by J.J. McCorvey (2014)
In 2014, after years of pressure from civil rights leaders and others, tech companies finally started to share their employee diversity statistics. Not surprisingly, they were dreadful, particularly for Black people, who typically made up just 1% or 2% of the workforce at name-brand tech giants, exposing the lie that Silicon Valley’s elite spread that they preside over a color-blind meritocracy. That’s why all eyes—and pressure—were on Tristan Walker, a 30 year-old first-time startup CEO and a Black man. Walker’s journey to that vaunted but uncomfortable position as the tech world’s highest-profile Black founder and how he handled it is deftly chronicled by writer J.J. McCorvey, who along the way assesses whether Black culture can influence tech in the same way it has every other aspect of popular culture. McCorvey’s deep access to Walker, his wife, Amoy, and Walker’s powerful network reveal both the magnetic founder who can upstage celebrities at a Valley party and the quiet introvert who is happy to recede into the background for awhile at his own birthday celebration, where the white gaze of expectation isn’t invited.
“Pixel & Dimed On (Not) Getting By in the Gig Economy” by Sarah Kessler (2014)
The definitive precursor to critical reporting of tech-enabled gig work, writer Sarah Kessler explodes every propaganda-fueled myth of the new class of labor created by the so-called sharing economy when she challenges herself to make $10.10 an hour (based on a proposed hike to the federal minimum wage at the time). The month-long experiment—inspired by Barbara Ehrenreich’s pioneering work chronicling the precarity of service workers—plays out as a tragicomic descent into Dante’s On Demand Inferno. Kessler, a young urban dweller, finds herself without the tools to take higher-value jobs such as ride-hailing or room rentals and is constantly at the mercy of both the platforms who definitely dictate whether and how she works and the often cruel, parsimonious people hiring her. This funny, affecting bit of participatory journalism inoculates the reader from the industry’s outlier success stories and its promulgation of the idea that what its workers want most of all is flexibility. (This feature led to Kessler’s 2018 book Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work.)
“Malala Strikes Back” by Karen Valby (2015)
This inspiring portrait of the fearless Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman who at 15 years old was shot in the head by members of the Taliban, showcases how the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner in history was building a sustainable platform for her activism. Malala, then 18 and still in high school, had dedicated herself to fight on behalf of the tens of millions of girls around the world who are deprived of an education, whether because of discrimination, poverty, or strife. Writer Karen Valby captures the quiet authority that allows her to confront world leaders as well as her giving spirit that finds her using her time away from school to talk to girls like her and give them the same platform that she enjoys. Valby simultaneously profiles the nascent Malala Fund, building schools for girls using a distinctive localized model that empowers on-the-ground activists rather than a Western-style NGO, which might mean well but can often botch how best to help.
“This House Costs Just $20,000—But It’s Nicer Than Yours” by Adele Peters (2016)
“How do you design a home that someone living below the poverty line can afford, but that anyone would want–while also providing a living wage for the local construction team that builds it?” On the occasion of the rollout of the first two houses in Auburn University’s Rural Studio’s 20K Home project, writer Adele Peters deconstructs the litany of maddening problems that come with trying to answer those two questions. The house, which actually costs just $14,000, upends the norms in zoning, mortgages, building codes, and new construction, exposing all the ways in which society creates roadblocks for poor people to live in dignity. This story is Fast Company‘s most highly trafficked piece since its publication almost five years ago, only further revealing society’s demand for cheap, beautiful shelter—and everything preventing it from being a reality.
“Chipotle Eats Itself” by Austin Carr (2016)
How an innovator leads its way out of a crisis. That was the initial motivating idea to pursue a story about Chipotle in late 2015, after the burrito chain suffered an embarrassing E. coli outbreak. But as writer Austin Carr began to investigate, he uncovered more and more systemic rot inside Chipotle, which was not bouncing back from its food-safety crisis. What had been the most successful and influential restaurant concept of a generation had become a pariah and a punchline. Why? From an insular senior leadership team to draconian workplace procedures to sacrifices made in the name of sustaining growth that revealed Chipotle’s claims to be better than typical fast food a marketing mirage, Carr weaves an epic, shocking story of a company which took a punch and turned out to have a glass jaw. In the wake of this feature’s publication, Chipotle’s stock dropped and soon after one of its co-CEOs was fired and the other one soon replaced.
“Superagents Patrick Whitesell And Ari Emanuel Are Building The Future Of Hollywood“ by Nicole LaPorte (2016)
As most of Hollywood pretended that the digital disruption wrought by Netflix and other tech players entering their industry wouldn’t require it to radically rethink its business models and ways of operating, the town’s leading talent agency was very busy transforming itself for this new world. WME-IMG (now Endeavor), led by Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell, had aggressively acquired everything from UFC to the Frieze Art Fair and was taking the bold move to produce, package, and sell shows internationally. It was a long way from merely signing movie stars, getting them a $20 million payday, and collecting 10%. Writer Nicole LaPorte pulls off the coup of profiling Whitesell and Emanuel—agents historically have eschewed press, so as not to steal focus from their clients—and explaining both the logic and practice of Hollywood’s boldest (and at the time, only) bid to control its destiny. LaPorte presaged the fault lines that could humble Endeavor, from the writers’ backlash at the agencies’ conflicts of interest in packaging, to its ill-timed 2019 IPO attempt, to its overreliance on live events, which the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered. But Emanuel’s indomitable spirit shines through as well. As he says, “You know what failing is? Not doing it. Not that I did it and failed.”
As Big Tech grew in its might, internet startups achieved unicorn status (a billion-dollar valuation) in record time and volume, and Donald Trump became president and exhibited the ability to rattle every aspect of business, the optimism and occasional euphoria of the Obama era that characterized business and innovation began to curdle in some corners. While Fast Company continued to try to cover the sectors of the economy where innovation produced excitement, under the leadership of editor-in-chief Stephanie Mehta starting in the spring of 2018, the publication took a more jaundiced view of power in tune with the times, yet still consistent with the original editors’ commitment to challenge pretenders.
“The War To Sell You A Mattress Is An Internet Nightmare” by David Zax (2017)
“I know a guy who can give you a free mattress.” So begins a dizzying ride into the dual, interlocking subcultures of online mattress companies and the websites which review them for affiliate revenue when customers follow a link and make a purchase. The story features surprising relationships between startup CEOs and the people who review their products, deals, side deals, betrayals, a blizzard of lawsuits, and enough turns to make for a month’s worth of sleepless nights. As writer David Zax guides readers through his wild exploration into the boom in online mattress startups and their win-at-all-costs marketing battle, it’s hard not to recall their cutesy-poo, era-defining branding. It takes a tough founder to sell a soft bed.
“Hilarious and Heartbreaking Lessons from 3,000 Coming-Out Stories” by Fast Company staff (2017)
After marriage equality became legal in 2015 with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights focused on the office. These unvarnished, anonymous perspectives—garnered in partnership with the public-radio station WNYC—bring into sharp relief the way in which people who identify as LGBTQ+ have had less rights and suffer indignities large and small at every type of workplace. This article was part of a larger package, Out at Work, produced exclusively for digital, and part of our commitment to covering issues relating to gender, identity, diversity, equity, and inclusion, particularly via our Work/Life channel. With these searing voices as the jumping-off point, Out at Work brought to life such stories as that of Malaysia Walker, who became a trans rights activist at the outset of the Trump administration after 15 years in the retail beauty industry (“Somebody Has To Fight For The Civil Rights Of Trans People. Why Not Me?“) and Donald Ham, who convinced Wrigley to add domestic partner benefits (“I Asked My Employer To Add Domestic Partner Benefits, And They Did“). In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia that gay and transgender workers are protected by the Civil Rights Act and could not be fired for who they are. It was another landmark win for LGBTQ rights, but as the first-person stories here so achingly chronicle, the fight is far from over.
“The War On What’s Real” by Mark Wilson (2018)
The world of AI-powered audio and video manipulation, aka deepfakes, has become a source of both amusement (think, all the internet de-aging efforts of Robert DeNiro in The Irishman that are superior to what’s in the movie) and terror (any number of 2020 election ads). Before deepfakes were ingrained into our life almost everyday, writer Mark Wilson took readers on a journey into the past, present, and future of the technology that has indeed been an assault on reality. As the reader explores Hollywood and movie magic, Silicon Valley and the image-editing wizards at Adobe, and the free-to-use internet tools unleashed by anonymous Reddit provocateurs, Wilson delves into the technical and ethical boundaries—and the lack thereof—surrounding deepfakes. “Talk about fake news,” says Ed Ulbrich, the man who Benjamin Buttoned Brad Pitt. “You really can’t believe your eyes, and you can’t believe your ears . . . it subverts media.”
“Stop buying crap, and companies will stop making crap” by Elizabeth Segran (2018)
In this powerful essay, writer Elizabeth Segran takes the peg of the shuttering of Ivanka Trump’s clothing brand to forge an argument that consumers can influence outcomes even in a multi-trillion-dollar industry like fashion. “We have the power to kill off brands and force the industry to do better,” she writes, considering both the environmental and human toll of disposable fashion. Beyond the death of the Ivanka brand, Segran makes her case showing how even major players such as H&M have had to start to move toward more durable products in response to customers voting with their wallets. And new brands have emerged explicitly to speak to this newly conscious consumer. There may not ever be true ethical consumption under capitalism, but after this story, an industry’s misdeeds do not excuse apathy. We can always do better.
“The most powerful person in Silicon Valley” by Katrina Brooker (2019)
When someone says he has a 300-year plan, and he invests tens of billions of dollars—in two years—to accelerate his goals, well, you’d do well to figure out who the heck this guy is and just what underpins his philosophy. While the tech world mostly either swooned at Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son’s grandiose bets and bravura style (his purchase of the semiconductor maker Arm played out like a scene from a Bond film) or quietly complained about the way in which his SoftBank Vision Fund was warping the entire world of investing in private companies, writer Katrina Brooker sought to deconstruct the method behind the madness. Son appears alternately as an Oz-like figure who besots founders with dreams of a future filled with success beyond their wildest dreams and as a savvy, albeit reckless gambler with an almost childlike sense of the transformative power of technology. The story wrestles with the idea of whether one person—no matter how well-intentioned they are—should have the ability to influence the future of artificial intelligence and tech, especially as he sought to remake transportation, real estate, commerce, and other aspects of everyday life. The Vision Fund has receded as an object of fear and fascination, but if Son’s 40-year career has any enduring lesson, it’s that we’re still in the early days of his 300-year plan.
“Meet the woman behind Amazon’s explosive growth“ by Harry McCracken (2019)
Every Amazon worker controversy—and there are no shortage of them—ultimately rolls up to its HR chief. In this telling profile of that person, Amazon’s senior VP of human resources Beth Galetti, writer Harry McCracken uses Galetti’s job, which during reporting involved hiring an average of 337 people a day, as a lens into how the tech conglomerate approaches both hiring and people management like an engineering problem to be solved. In fact, Galetti is an engineer who had never worked in HR before working at Amazon, and the story explores exactly how she builds products to assist Amazon in dealing with the company growing its headcount six times what it was when Galetti joined six years earlier. The way in which her work enables Amazon to keep tabs on the pulse of its workforce is at turns impressive and troubling, and this rare portrait of an Amazon exec who’s not Jeff Bezos depicts precisely how the Amazon founder’s well-honed management dictates get translated into action on an everyday basis.
“Sex, lies, and video games: Inside Roblox’s war on porn” by Burt Helm (2020)
The open-ended gaming platform Roblox (and its spiritual kin, Fortnite and Minecraft) have captivated not only kids—the company says half of all Americans 16 and under are users—but also investors and futurists who believe that Roblox’s digital realm represents the metaverse in which we’ll all soon live and play. As writer Burt Helm meticulously delineates in this major investigation, that may well be a problem when it comes to keeping those children safe. Exploring the phenomenon of “condo games,” where Roblox’s blocky avatars gather in a virtual space to engage in adult talk and sometimes simulate sexual acts via their avatars, Helm shows how Roblox vigorously tries to police its platform shutting these games down as quickly as it discovers them. But he also reveals how the company’s enforcement powers end at Roblox’s borders; what happens on Discord—the private chat servers that are a popular accompaniment to digital games–or other social media exists outside of Roblox’s reach. The feature, brimming with the nihilistic point of view of the teens making these games and participating in Roblox’s virtual economy, is a chilling reminder that digital life presents many of the same dangers as real life, and no platform, no matter how well intentioned, is immune from bad actors weaponizing its tools.
“Scott Galloway’s pivot to stardom” by Ainsley Harris (2020)
This rollicking profile of Galloway—serial entrepreneur, business school professor, unlikely digital media star—crystallizes the aspirations and angst of the voluminous pundit. Writer Ainsley Harris seeks to discern exactly who “Prof G” is beyond the highly manicured version of his life and career that he references frequently during his two podcasts, YouTube show, and online seminars presented by Section 4, his new online education startup. As we learn his ambition to be the foremost business thinker of this era and how he finally amassed a fortune (though perhaps not as much as he still desires), the skills, personality, and life lessons that animate “The Dawg,” as Galloway has nicknamed himself, emerge. The good professor has had a wild ride through the past three decades of change in business, with his recent turn as a media figure with a large following of mostly twenty-something men being the most surprising twist of all. But will any of it make him happy?