Valley Voice
The attention economy of the Silicon Valley

PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX: Elon Musk is the enfant terrible of the Silicon Valley. Right before Easter he comes up with a special surprise – and influences the stock market rates via Twitter easily.
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It was not even 10am when Elon Musk decided to delight the public with an early Easter egg. He disclosed on Twitter: “Major new Tesla product line -- not a car -- will be unveiled at our Hawthorne Design Studio on Thurs 8pm, April 30.”

Within ten minutes his cryptic words were retweeted by his nearly two million followers. Everybody wondered what Musk, founder of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX, would pull out of the hat this time.

Although the 43-years old didn’t give a hint about what his new product will look like, speculations went wild. Is Musk going to present an innovative battery to enter the space of home automation? Is it about a new way to store energy with the use of solar panels?

Musk can move markets with just one tweet. In February he speculated about the end of Tesla’s “range anxiety”. The expression describes electric car owners fear to not make it from A to B for running out of battery. The market answered promptly. Tesla shares rose about $7 to close at round about $195. This time, shortly after his second announcement, Tesla stock, which was down that day, immediately jumped about more three percent.

The tweet also spread over to every website and blog. On Twitter someone started the hashtag #TeslaNewProductGuesses, and people puzzle in a sometimes serious, sometimes not too serious way what Musk’s invention would look like - from hoverboards to space elevators.

Thing is, Musk knows how to trigger Silicon Valley’s attention economy better than anybody else. His audience from all over the web responds to the sensations he creates with fascination and wonder, it follows the innovative ideas he juggles, always willing to break out in enthusiastic applause, like he was a magician in a circus. Every word the entrepreneur utters is worth a headline, be it on a website and in a newspaper. Musk sells.

Of course the guy is a genius. Musk did what nobody thought was possible. He disrupted the billion dollar car industry. He was hard-headed enough to refuse selling Tesla to Apple. CEO Tim Cook, who’s also about to enter the automobile sector now, obviously didn’t offer enough. Society needs stars as much as it needs to dream of traveling to Mars, because that drives innovation.

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Some people think Musk might be the greatest visionary of our times. Others compare him to the super-hero Iron Man. I believe all of that has some reason and it’s good to be enthusiastic about technology – as long as we don’t give up a healthy scepticism. Let’s start with this: Nobody is a super-hero.

Es gibt auch eine deutsche Version dieser Kolumne.

Immer Dienstags schreibt Britta Weddeling, Korrespondentin für die Themen Internet und Netzwirtschaft des Handelsblatts im Silicon Valley, über die neusten Trends und kleinen Kuriositäten im Tal der Nerds.

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