by Anthony Scarmozzino ‘24
Each year, Time Magazine selects an individual who “most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year, for better or for worse.” This person is known as the Time Person of the Year.
Past recipients of this honor include political leaders such as U.S. President Barack Obama, religious figures such as Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II, and even social activists such as climate change advocate Greta Thunberg.
This year’s Time Person of the Year is Elon Musk. While he has not unified countries or served as a Vicar of Christ, Musk’s leadership has set a precedent for humanity’s future—both on our planet and beyond.
Born in South Africa in 1971 to a rich mining family, Musk first moved to the U.S. in his early twenties to attend the University of Pennsylvania.
In 2002 he established the space technology company SpaceX, and later became an investor in the electric vehicle organization, Tesla, which he presently runs as CEO. A serial entrepreneur, he is also involved in other ventures with companies such as Neuralink, the Boring Company, and SolarCity.
As a result of these endeavors, today Musk is able to toss satellites into orbit and harness the sun; he drives a car of his own creation that uses no gas and hardly needs a driver; and, with a flick of his finger, the stock market can plummet or soar.
2021 in particular was quite an eventful year for Musk. He signed multi-billion-dollar contracts with NASA. His appearance on Saturday Night Live, while not the hallmark of his year, serves to demonstrate his broader cultural impact on the world. And with over 66 million followers on Twitter, Musk epitomizes how information spreads in the digital era.
This past November, for example, Musk entered into a very public feud with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden over his support for a billionaire’s tax. Wyden, along with a few other senators, had proposed a tax on “unrealized gains,” or stock gains that have yet to be sold.
In retaliation, Musk created a Twitter poll for his followers: Should he sell 10% of his total shares in Tesla to show he is not avoiding taxes?
After three and a half million votes, it was decided that this was a sound business decision. Within a week Musk sold about $6.9 billion dollars of Tesla shares, dropping Tesla’s market value to dip below $1 trillion. As a result, Musk’s volatile personality has become a key aspect of his public persona.
Perhaps most significantly, however, Musk’s SpaceX has paved the way for a new era in outer space. Space, which was once the realm of only the world’s largest powers, is now a playground for some of society’s richest private companies.
Musk has made his optimism about space travel very clear as, in his Time interview, he stated, “I’ll be surprised if we’re not landing on Mars within five years.”
Alongside other billionaires such as Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, Musk has turned his gaze upward. But Musk also sees space as a means of improving terrestrial life—most notably, through his work on Starlink.
Starlink is a large group of satellites that provides internet access around the globe and, in the process, can play a significant role in bridging the global digital divide. Musk’s work with SpaceX and Starlink exemplify his ambitions to advance humanity both terrestrial and intergalactically.
Musk is an archetype of the times: ambitious, intelligent, and decidedly controversial. He embodies the modern-day, Silicon Valley vision of the American Dream. From his Twitter account to his leadership at SpaceX and Tesla, Musk’s work offers a glimpse into humanity’s future.
It is for this reason that he is the recipient of the prestigious Time Person of the Year.