17. Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs
for reinventing reading.
CEO, Amazon | Seattle
CEO, Apple | Cupertino, Calif.
Amazon's Kindle, the e-reader that Jeff Bezos's online retail juggernaut has sold since 2007, is not particularly arresting as far as electronic fetish objects go, a monochromatic plastic slab with all the charisma of a graphing calculator. But on the strength of the gadget's popularity, Bezos believes, his company will be selling more e-books than paperbacks by sometime next year. "It stuns me," Bezos told USA Today in July. "People forget that Kindle is only 33 months old."
As e-readers go global, it is an open question whether the future of reading belongs to the calculatedly distraction-free Kindle or its most formidable competition, the touch-screen-operated, hypernetworked iPad that Steve Jobs's Apple debuted to much fanfare this year. But with their promised ease of moving digitized words regardless of national borders, either device is sure to be transformative. Think of what a few Kindles could mean for a school in sub-Saharan Africa, where an entire classroom's worth of students often have to share a single textbook -- or for the corners of the world where ink-and-paper books are still considered dangerous technology. In countries such as Egypt, where even One Thousand and One Nights is regularly banned from brick-and-mortar bookstores, will the Kindle be a crucial breakthrough for free speech? Or will the digital fingerprints left by e-browsers simply give government censors one more surveillance tool? For now, it's a story without an ending.
Bezos: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images; Jobs: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images