Why Facebook Is The Future Of The Internet & Personal Relationships

Being Mark Zuckerberg on Saturday Night Live

Imagine you woke up as Mark Zuckerberg. The Middle East is revolting daily thanks, in part, to a website you cobbled together in your dorm room. Drunk. Time Magazine named you Person of the Year two months ago. Goldman Sachs cut your company a half billion dollar check last month. And the movie about you may well win the Oscar for best picture later this month. You are 26 years old and worth $15 billion.

In spite of the spoils, you live a more or less monastic life. You zip up the hoodie, walk out of the modest home you rent month to month, and cruise to work in the Accura TSX, your lone indulgence. It’s a one minute drive. The office is fratty. Everyone is a “dude”. Many wear flip-flops. And there are unlimited Lucky Charms. You don’t have your own office so you plop down wherever and code on and off for the next 16 hours. When people don’t interrupt you.

Mark Zuckerberg Coding

Fame is starting to become a problem for Mark Zuckerberg. He is the toast of the tech world. The heir apparent to Bill Gates. And he has begrudgingly accepted the recognition in his own awkward way. The Social Network and paparazzi glitz have pushed him out from the dim coding room into the spotlight. The movie cast Zuckerberg as a robot and a thief, but Aaron Sorkin humanized him to many in his generation. He is still a nerd with a mean streak who probably lifted the idea. But he took his shot. And Facebook wouldn’t become Facebook if he hadn’t. The Winklevosses, meanwhile, are destined to a life of smirking schadenfreude from others. Their fate and starchy last name smack of a Greenwich old boys club that for once didn’t get its way.

Celebrity is lifting the veil off the Web 2.0 recluse, finally putting a face to the mysterious coding wunderkind. What we see is a geeky twenty-something who always dresses in hoodies, loves Jay-Z, and just so happens to be the youngest self-made billionaire in human history.

Problem is Zuckerberg isn’t so good with the stardom. He sweats profusely on stage during speeches. Talk to him in private and he’ll probably tune you out with one of his patented “Yeah, yeah”s and gaze off into the distance. He would much rather be playing board games with his girlfriend back in Palo Alto or watching West Wing reruns. But there he is opening Saturday Night Live with his two most famous impersonators:

Zuckerberg was a nervous wreck. But he waited out the show. He thanked Lorne Michaels and then boarded the next flight back home. Back at it.

*******

You know those moments when you see a friend at a restaurant by chance? Or biking on the street some evening at just that moment? It’s called serendipity, and Zuckerberg is obsessed by the concept. Because he doesn’t believe those random meetings are all that random at all. He believes they happen all the time. We just don’t notice.

But on the Internet, you can. And so Mark Zuckerberg is on a quest. He’s on a mission to give the entire Internet a Like button. He envisions a friendlier, more recognizable cyberspace with your friends’ footsteps everywhere. Google and Bing sift through data and make their own recommendations within nanoseconds. But they missed the point, Zuckerberg insists. You really only care about what your friends care about. It doesn’t matter to you if a million people enjoyed that Bud Light Super Bowl commercial. It does if five of your friends did.

Zuckerberg textured the world with a vision and non-confrontational etiquette all his own. Facebook is blue and white because he is red-green color blind. You don’t refuse someone’s friendship request. That would be cruel. You Ignore it instead, and it sort of fades away. True, users can scrawl vulgar comments, but they can be scrubbed away immediately. And you can only Like in the Facebook world, although this has led to a few awkward moments:

Awkward Facebook Conversation

The truth is it wasn’t supposed to be this way. The genesis for Facebook was to compare girls to barnyard animals. It was at its core a site for Ivy Leaguers to keep tabs on who was dating whom. But Facebook grew up with Mark Zuckerberg as both loosened up.

Facebook moved beyond the stodgy Ivy Leagues, dropped the .edu email addresses, and accepted everyone. Its founder mellowed out, too. If there’s an endearing part about Mark Zuckerberg, it’s that he genuinely does not care about money. Microsoft offered him a $1 million for a primitive Pandora-type music program he built in high school. But no, Zuckerberg opted to give it away for free. Just because. Yahoo wrote a $1 billion check for Facebook a few years ago. Zuckerberg turned them down flat.

He gifted the New Jersey school system $100 million not because he ever attended school there but because he had a nice, long chat with the New Jersey governor about it (and perhaps because The Social Network hit theaters the following week). Zuckerberg has also signed on with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to give away half of his wealth to charity during his lifetime.

*******

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg Photo

Bill Gates was in trouble. He hadn’t gone to class all semester. He hadn’t really gone to any class all semester, for that matter. So he hunkered down in the Harvard library during reading week and breezed through everything in one sustained study burst.

Two decades later, Mark Zuckerberg was screwed. It was this class “Art in the Time of Augustus.” He meant to get around to it during reading week, but there was that Facebook prototype. Now the final was tomorrow and he hadn’t done a thing. So he pieced together a website, pasted all the paintings, and emailed the class something like: Hey guys, thought this might help. Everyone can share their comments on the paintings. Thirty minutes later Zuckerberg had his study guide.

Both passed. Not that it mattered. They dropped out of Harvard the following semester. But how the two respectively got out of their jam was telling of their future success. Bill Gates knew he could succeed through his own willpower and intellect. Mark Zuckerberg, yeah, he probably could have too, but what was the point? He could just as easily get help from others.

Bill Gates amassed his fortune by bringing the personal computer to a desk near you. He built Windows, the clean platform for the computer. But Gates whiffed on the Internet. He failed to see the social element. Hotmail and Bing have become a punch-line. Mark Zuckerberg amassed his by bringing us to the Internet. He built Facebook, the clean platform for the Internet.

Zuckerberg was not the savviest coder. Facebook was not the first online social playground. But thanks to his psychologist mother, Zuckerberg grasped the nexus of relationships and technology better than anyone before him. He created a manicured, virtual Quad where you are the real online you.

Facebook itself is a rosy-cheeked intersection of voyeurism and narcissism. We peek into our friends’ lives and photo albums. And we assume they care about ours. Facebook is our collective fridge door to post birthday reminders and what’s for dinner. It’s our constantly-updating reminder that our friends and families care. The hook of Facebook is not so much that we like “Glee” or videos of Christina Aguilera flubbing the National Anthem. It’s that our friends like that we like them.

It is simply ironic—or perhaps appropriate—that it took a pale coder in a hoodie to realize it.

*******

                       

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