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Manchild of the Year: Mark Zuckerberg Grows Up

4 years ago
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Facebook, the white-on-blue social network, is working through a delayed adolescence (where it is no longer throwing sheep, but it is still posting drunken pictures). Like many teenagers, the friendly Internet platform frequently tries on new designs and styles as it finds its footing.

In a cyber-fueled growth spurt, the behemoth enrollment of Facebook has doubled in the last year and at that rate is headed to a billion users worldwide by next fall. Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg, Time Magazine's 2010 Man of the Year, like the web destination he is credited with inventing (and accused of stealing), is also maturing.
The 26-year-old inventor of the website is barely more than a teenager himself. For those who can't bear to do the math, the thriving CEO graduated from high school in 2002. Like most smart, competitive children of the millennial era, he took the SAT I twice, supplemented by at least three aptitude tests on specific subjects. According to his college admission application, the Phillips Exeter Academy student from Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., also took advanced placement exams in calculus, physics, Latin and English.

Accepted to Harvard (from which he dropped out in 2005), the young smartypants became the inspiration for one of 2010's hit movies, "The Social Network," when (as we know from Aaron Sorkin's vision) he shook up the Cambridge campus with a drunken and insensitive but nonetheless immensely clever prank. In that moment of his sophomore year, circumstances that would widen the lens on his perspective clicked into place.
In the frenzied months that followed, he beat a couple of Olympic-athlete upper classmen to the punch on a concept that would change not just his life but predict a new future for his generation and mine.
Many people over 50 think of social networking as a waste of time (at a time when we have less of it to waste). The truth is, there are many ways the virtual communication of personal newsfeeds and blinking status updates saves enormous effort. In the chronology of my generation, things have speeded up. The first part of our lives was seemingly in black and white and shot on analog film, but this last portion is digital and rendered in pixels.

In this era we never have to wonder whatever happened to anyone. (They are mostly quite well, thanks, and a short query away -- now an avatar image on a laptop screen – but somehow looking and sounding much the same.) Nor do we have to tax our rather jam-packed wits ends with humiliatingly complicated program features. As woefully tech stupid as we think we are, navigating "The Facebook" (its birth certificate name) is easier than dialing a telephone (and, from a utility standpoint, a much more effective means of getting to know our grandchildren).
I warmed to the possibilities of virtual connectedness as soon as I heard of Facebook's properties. A fellow document nerd and information-gatherer friend of mine mentioned the brave new access he had observed in 2005, as his daughter was headed to college a year ahead of my son (who was just then taking his own multiple SATs). My friend was impressed with the social accessibility among and between his budding freshman and seemingly the entire student bodies of a half dozen or so East Coast colleges before she had even moved out of her old bedroom.

At that point Facebook participation was limited to a handful of Ivy League schools, but as the barriers became lower and high school students were joining, in an admittedly helicopter-ish gesture, I encouraged my 12th grade son to join. So focused was I on the possibilities the community building device offered my shy son that I obtained my own ".edu" e-mail suffix and signed up, thinking I could encourage him further by inviting him to be my "friend."
Despite the obvious flaws in my maternal reasoning, I was soon completely addicted to my new cyber toy (my son would not consent to my friendship for months but by then I had virtually acquainted myself with dozens of young co-workers, a handful of early adapter former classmates and several neighbors).
We have lately been introduced to Mark Zuckerberg's short but action-packed history, or at least a cinematic version of it. In the film, his younger self, portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, had an attention span that was short and impatient. Until I had a millennial son of my own I did not know that the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex, necessary for understanding transactions and other tasks related to maturity, does not develop fully until one is in his mid-20s.
For the record, as someone who watched the awkwardly pubescent website change and grow from one that was once cute and engaging, I can't help but notice that, like a late-stage juvenile, the Facebook culture has become slightly self-involved and annoying. I am confident though that the forum will also mature. Its creative creator, the son of two doctors (a psychiatrist and dentist), has lately been making an effort to become an adult who respects social contracts as well as social networking. The youngest member of the billionaire's club recently donated a big chunk of cash to improve the educations of Newark, N.J., public school students, and subsequently pledged an even larger commitment to philanthropy.
The former second year student with an inspired idea to cue college kids about other students' dating status, could not have envisioned his concept as a way for elderly people to see pictures of newborn loved ones (or presumably, one day, update the little ones' concerned but busy parents of our own, er, developmental changes).

But in the next couple decades (perhaps long after Time magazine ceases its weekly publication) as my cohort comes aboard, maybe Zuckerberg will see and enhance the sociological benefits for his oldest consumers. By then, he will probably be a full grown man with teens of his own, and I'm hoping and betting he'll be a good one.

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