NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- When I was at SXSW (that's short for South by Southwest for the uncool and uninitiated), I saw Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla Motors ( TSLA) and about 14 other companies, speak.There was a buzz in the air before his speech. The media and other SXSW attendees came off like nervous teenage girls waiting to catch a glimpse of One Direction on a hotel balcony. It disgusted me. We packed the house for a guy who made a complete fool of himself with his comments about parenting, yet no more than 100 people showed up to see the CEO of Livestrong talk about how his non-profit is dealing with the Lance Armstrong scandal that, unfortunately and inappropriately, hurts efforts to support people impacted by cancer. That's how we set our priorities on the micro level when we choose which conference presentations we will attend and, on the macro level, when we idolize somebody like Musk, who, at the end of the day, packs more bravado and bark than he does bite.
When we step back from the stuff that matters -- helping people navigate the systems and emotions that come part and parcel with a cancer diagnosis -- we're left with cats such as Musk competing for our attention. And it floors me he gets so much of it. This guy is pursuing the things that interest him. In and of itself, there's nothing wrong with that. Musk is dogged in pursuit of his goals. He does amazing things with really interesting companies, however, beyond PayPal, how has he really done anything to affect the daily lives of large numbers of people? How will he ever?
If a bunch of rich dudes in Beverly Hills or Silicon Valley use solar power and drive Tesla Roadsters or Model S sedans and Musk realizes his life's dream of landing on Mars, how do any of us -- this collective we call society -- benefit at all? We'll gawk. We'll be entertained. We'll look to Musk for tips on how to be rich, successful and well-liked, but how will Musk make the world a better or different place?