It’s harder than I thought to write about progress. The kind of question that stops you from making any progress in answering it. But the the challenge from The Guggenheim Museum — part of Tino Sehgal’s new exhibit — gave me a chance to write about an inspiring yet unsettling visit, months ago, from a man I feel has made more progress (on the important stuff) than anyone else I know: Dean Kamen.
So here’s what I wrote and here’s a link to statements by other contributors like New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.
I’m paid to have ideas that effect positive change, drive social innovation, reinvent the way media works, and figure out how great content and smart commerce drive each other. Am I making any progress? Sure. But there’s progress and then there’s, well, progress.
It was a Thursday afternoon, and inventor Dean Kamen had just addressed the United Nations on his progress in improving life as we know it. With more than 400 patents and counting, Dean’s inventions have changed the way we live—from the first insulin pump to the modern wheelchair to the Segway. His latest genius is a robotic arm for war veterans. Progress? You might say.
Here he was, sitting on the couch in my office, wondering why I wanted to meet with him. I wasn’t sure, I admitted. “It’s just that you’re, like, Dean Kamen.” Then I asked, “Are you our generation’s Ben Franklin . . . or are you our Thomas Edison?” Dean sighed like you would when someone’s wasting your time, then asked me why my business—entertainment—has so catastrophically regressed. He wanted to know why I’ve done so little to use the power of media for positive change.
I asked Dean why, after all he’s accomplished, he still gets up and goes to work every morning. “Because human beings are locked in a never-ending battle between technology and catastrophe,” he said. “And you know which side I’m on.”
Then he went home to his laboratory in Maine. And I noticed the pitch he left on my desk—he wanted me to promote one of his projects on TV.