O'Reilly logo

WTF?: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us by Tim O'Reilly

Stay ahead with the world's most comprehensive technology and business learning platform.

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required


FOR STARTERS, I’D LIKE TO THANK HOLLIS HEIMBOUCH, MY EDITOR and publisher, for taking a chance on an unusual combination of memoir, business book, and polemic. Your enthusiasm for it has driven me to express ideas that have sometimes surprised even me. Most of all, I thank you for giving me the chance to reach an audience very different than the one I usually touch. A book is a dialogue with its readers, and finding the right readers is as important as finding the right author. As Michael Lewis once said, “You never know what book you wrote till you find out what book people read.” I am eager to hear from the readers you find for me. Thanks also to your marvelous team, including Stephanie Hitchcock, Cindy Achar, Nikki Baldauf, Thomas Pitoniak, Rachel Elinsky, and Penny Makras.

John Brockman, thanks for pushing me since 1993 to write a book that I didn’t publish myself, and to you and Max Brockman for finding such a great home for the project.

Nick Hanauer, thanks for that 2012 TED University talk that got me thinking more deeply about the problems of technology and the economy. Thanks also to Zoë Baird, Howard Schultz, and my colleagues in the Markle Rework America initiative, through which I developed much of my exposure to others coming to grips with those problems. James Manyika, you in particular have been a guiding spirit. I’d also like to thank all of the speakers and participants in my Next:Economy Summit, through which I have explored not just the problems but solutions to the problems we face.

Bill Janeway, Hal Varian, and Peter Norvig—your willingness to read multiple drafts and to take the time to educate me about areas where my knowledge wasn’t up to par has made this book so much stronger than it would have been otherwise. Hal and Bill, you’ve given me a master class in economics. If the student was not up to the level of his teachers, that is no fault of yours. Benedict Evans, Margaret Levi, Laura Tyson, James Manyika, and Kevin Kelly—you also saved me from some egregious errors and omissions, and your challenges to my thinking clarified it. Jay Schaefer, Mike Loukides, and Laurent Haug, your close reading and comments strengthened both my ideas and my writing. Sunil Paul, Logan Green, Kim Rachmeler, Matt Cutts, Danny Sullivan, and Dave Guarino, you filled in critical details and context for key moments in this history. Satya Nadella, Reid Hoffman, Jeff Immelt, Peter Schwartz, Peter Bloom, Andy McAfee, Erik Brynjolfsson, David Autor, Larry Katz, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Sebastian Thrun, Yann LeCun, Joaquin Quiñonero Candela, Mike George, Rana Foroohar, Robin Chase, David Rolf, Andy Stern, Natalie Foster, Betsy Masiello, Jonathan Hall, Lior Ron, Paul Buchheit, Sam Altman, Esther Kaplan, Carrie Gleason, Zeynep Ton, Mikey Dickerson, Wael Ghonim, Tim Hwang, Henry Farrell, Amy Sellars, Mike McCloskey, Hank Green, Brandon Stanton, Jack Conte, Limor Fried, Phil Torrone, Seth Sternberg, Palak Shah, Keller Rinaudo, Stephane Kasriel, Bryan Johnson, Patrick Collison, Roy Bahat, Paddy Cosgrave, Steven Levy, Lauren Smiley, Bess Hochstein, Nat Torkington, Clay Shirky, Lawrence Wilkinson, Jessi Hempel, Mark Burgess, Carl Page, Maggie Shiels, Adam Davidson, and Winnie King, you also gave me the gift of your time and insight during the research and writing that led up to this book.

I’d also like to thank the people who taught me much of what I’ve shared in this book. As the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “What I do and what I dream include thee, as the wine must taste of its own grapes.”

From my father and mother, Sean and Anne O’Reilly, I learned to think of good fortune as something to be shared. My father used to borrow so he could meet his “charitable obligations”; after his death, my mother demonstrated that a small amount of money well circulated could go far in building shared prosperity among our family. She loaned me money at a critical time in my company’s history, with the only requirement that I pass it on to others when the crisis had passed.

From my former father-in-law, Jack Feldmann, I learned to love business, and to see it as an opportunity for creativity as great as any in art or literature. My ex-wife, Christina Isobel, taught me that business must always be infused with the values we want in the world; it must not operate by rules of its own. What I made of O’Reilly Media was deeply shaped by your rootedness in the human rather than the machine. My daughters, Arwen and Meara, my stepdaughter, Clementine, and my grandchildren, Huxley and Bronte, remind me daily why it matters that we hand off a better world to those who follow us.

Jen Pahlka, you are my partner in life and thought. This book is the culmination of a journey that began in that moment after I ended my 2008 talk “Why I Love Hackers” by reciting Rilke’s poem about struggling with angels greater than ourselves, and you came up to me with shining eyes and told me, “I need a talk like that for my conference, except for entrepreneurs.” Since then, you have taken things that for me were only ideas, and made them real in the world. You are a perfect exemplar and inspiration for the advice that formed the core of the talk I developed for you: “Work on stuff that matters.” Your reading and comments on the book made it better in the same way that your thoughtful nudges make me better and our life together a constant exploration of what is possible when people work together in a perfect team.

My colleagues at O’Reilly Media, Maker Media, and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, most notably Dale Dougherty, Laura Baldwin, Brian Erwin, Mike Loukides, Edie Freedman, Sara Winge, Gina Blaber, Roger Magoulas, Mark Jacobsen, and Bryce Roberts, but really, all of you who’ve been part of it over the years, helped to build something remarkable, with an impact far larger than I ever dreamed when I started in 1978. You are my second family. You inspire me and are a testament to the fact that a corporation too is a human augmentation, enabling us to do things that we could never accomplish on our own.

Over my years in the technology industry, I’d like to single out as mentors and sources of inspiration, directly or indirectly, Stewart Brand, Dennis Ritchie, Ken Thompson, Brian Kernighan, Bill Joy, Bob Scheifler, Larry Wall, Vint Cerf, Jon Postel, Tim Berners-Lee, Linus Torvalds, Brian Behlendorf, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt, Pierre Omidyar, Ev Williams, Mark Zuckerberg, Saul Griffith, and Bill Janeway. I have drawn my map by studying the world you have helped to create.

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, interactive tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required