Status: Time’s Man Of The Year

Lev Grossman in Time:

Almost seven years ago, in February 2004, when Zuckerberg was a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard, he started a Web service from his dorm. It was called Thefacebook.com, and it was billed as “an online directory that connects people through social networks at colleges.” This year, Facebook — now minus the the — added its 550 millionth member. One out of every dozen people on the planet has a Facebook account. They speak 75 languages and collectively lavish more than 700 billion minutes on Facebook every month. Last month the site accounted for 1 out of 4 American page views. Its membership is currently growing at a rate of about 700,000 people a day. (See a Zuckerberg family photo album.)

What just happened? In less than seven years, Zuckerberg wired together a twelfth of humanity into a single network, thereby creating a social entity almost twice as large as the U.S. If Facebook were a country it would be the third largest, behind only China and India. It started out as a lark, a diversion, but it has turned into something real, something that has changed the way human beings relate to one another on a species-wide scale. We are now running our social lives through a for-profit network that, on paper at least, has made Zuckerberg a billionaire six times over.

Facebook has merged with the social fabric of American life, and not just American but human life: nearly half of all Americans have a Facebook account, but 70% of Facebook users live outside the U.S. It’s a permanent fact of our global social reality. We have entered the Facebook age, and Mark Zuckerberg is the man who brought us here.

Mark Joyella at Mediaite:

The announcement was made live this morning on NBC’s TODAY by TIME managing editor Richard Stengel.

When it came right down to it, as Stengel told Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira, it was Zuckerberg’s social networking site Facebook (perhaps you’ve heard of it?) that was the deciding factor:

“It’s something that is transforming the way we live our lives every day. It’s social engineering, changing the way we relate to each other.”

Zuckerberg’s also the subject of an Oscar-buzzy film, The Social Network, which portrays the Facebook mogul as a geekily shy CEO. As Stengel put it:

“He’s very affable, he’s in the moment, he’s quick-witted,” Stengel said, but “he has this thing when he gets on camera” and becomes suddenly shy.

Also-rans in the Person of the Year competition were WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, those Chilean miners, and members of the Tea Party.

Sam Biddle at Gizmodo:

Congrats, Zuckerberg! You’ve officially made the list—up there on TIME’s cover issue hall of fame alongside Churchill, some popes, and Hitler. But unlike the awards of their pre-internet era, the selection couldn’t mean less today. POTY, you’re obsolete.Let’s not mistake the irrelevance of TIME’s pick for the irrelevance of Facebook, or even Zuckerberg, in the history of technology. They’ve both changed almost all of our lives, even if only in the most superficial of ways. Some of us use Facebook to talk with wonderful people whose friendship might have otherwise shriveled up and died had it not been for a way to trade photos and messages. Some of us use it as a way of remembering what we did last night. Some of us just use it as another way of being vain (Ugh, do my cheekbones look good in this new profile picture? Is my music section obscure enough?). But putting its merits aside, anything as ubiquitous as Facebook is important qua its ubiquity—as is Zuckerberg. But Zuckerberg’s importance is something for historians to pick over sometime in the near future. The accomplishment that TIME beams over—that Zuckerberg “wired together a twelfth of humanity into a single network, thereby creating a social entity almost twice as large as the U.S.”—has taken seven years. It’s an incredible feat, but it isn’t 2010’s feat. So why shine a glossy mag spotlight on him for this one, particular year? I want to ask you—what did Mark Zuckerberg do this year that he hadn’t done before?

Oversee some marginal redesigns?

Get caught in privacy imbroglios?

Find himself portrayed pretty well by Jesse Eisenberg?

How was this Zuckerberg’s year? It wasn’t. For a roundup of entities that actually made 2010 the strange contortion of good and awful it was, you can look, ironically, at TIME’s “Runners Up” list: The Tea Party. Hamid Karzai. Julian Assange. The Chilean Miners.

Well, maybe not so much the Chilean Miners.

But to think that Assange—a man whose actions in less than one year have shocked governments around the world, sent the US State Department scrambling with its face beet-red, put INTERPOL on a controversial manhunt, and triggered internationally coordinated hacker retribution—was overlooked, is asinine. Assange’s determination to make information available at any cost is unprecedented in the history of information—and 2010 was the year his cause ignited, whether you consider him villainous or virtuous.

But we don’t need TIME to tell us any of that. Hell, you don’t need me to tell you any of that. Like the cables he leaked, Assange’s story was everywhere, spread online through a diversity of mediums, un-suppressible and undeniable despite the attempts of world governments.

You blogged about it. You GChatted about it. You texted about it. You commented about it here. And, we now know, you tweeted the hell out of it.

Statistical troves like Twitter’s 2010 Year In Review show (and validate) more than TIME can ever hope to in 2010. We don’t need a magazine to tell us what we care about. We know what we care about—because we’ve make it important, not an editorial board.

On Twitter’s list of most-mentioned people, where is Zuckeberg? Nowhere. Instead, we have Tween Internet Baron Justin Bieber (OMGZ!!), Lady Gaga, Nobel Prize-winner Zilda Arns, and, of course, Julian Assange. But no Zuck. Granted, TIME’s Person of the Year isn’t a popularity contest, but if the man had made such an earthquaking difference in the past 365 days, wouldn’t people be talking about him? Or talking about him at least enough to bump top ten Twitter trender Joannie Rochette—a Canadian figure skater?

Ed Morrissey:

Honestly, though, what other real and significant impact has Facebook had?  It has spawned a Hollywood movie, which is probably why Time bothered to notice it after more than six years.  It’s a popular meeting space, and it allows people to reconnect to old friends, as well as waste vast amounts of time with imaginary farms and wannabe virtual Mafia dons.   Facebook is mostly a time suck.  At least Twitter had an impact last year in the attempt by the Iranian people to rebel against the dictatorship in Tehran.

We deal in politics, and so it’s possible that our perspective on the most significant trend or person this year is somewhat skewed.  However, it seems pretty clear that while Facebook allowed a lot of people to play, the Tea Party dismantled Barack Obama’s agenda and took both political parties by surprise.  Even Julian Assange would have been a better choice; while his impact was certainly malicious, he changed the way the world does diplomacy, at least temporarily, and opened a new front in radical transparency.  I have nothing against Zuckerberg, but this is a silly, insubstantial choice.

Juli Weiner at Vanity Fair

Owen Thomas at Social Beat:

For the Person of the Year is an observation, not a celebration. As a young editor a decade ago, I worked at Time magazine and helped on Jeff Bezos’s 1999 Person of the Year profile. Within the Time-Life Building’s corridors, we always discussed the fact that Time’s founder, Henry Luce, defined the annual feature as noting the person who “for better or for worse” had done the most to change the news, even if that message didn’t always resonate in the wider world. Time’s current managing editor, Richard Stengel, dutifully notes that Person of the Year “is not and has never been an honor” and adds that Zuckerberg’s creation is “both indispensable and a little scary.”Zuckerberg himself seems to lack that perspective. “This is a real honor,” he wrote on his Facebook page. The adulatory comments posted on his Facebook wall seem to mirror that naïveté.

Before anyone starts popping champagne corks in Palo Alto, consider the company Zuckerberg has joined: Adolf Hitler. Joseph Stalin. The Ayatollah Khomeini. Richard Nixon. Okay, and Gandhi, JFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr. But still.

Zuckerberg’s not the youngest Person of the Year — that was Charles Lindbergh, the aviator — but he has a long career ahead of him. With more than 500 million users on Facebook, he’s the sovereign of a new nation in cyberspace. Facebook’s corporate structure is designed to keep him in control for years to come. But do we really know how he’ll wield his power? And will it be for better or for worse?

Tim Stevens at Engadget

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