Monday, October 18, 2010

"The Accidental Billionaires"

“I'm trying to make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share” Mark Zuckerberg

Today there are over 500 million people connecting and sharing on Facebook. In fact, about one out of every fourteen people in the world has a Facebook account, including the founder of this ubiquitous online world. Mark Zuckerberg turned down an offer of a billion dollars for the company in 2005. “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich chronicles the founding of Facebook, from its Harvard dorm room beginnings to the conclusion of the numerous lawsuits brought against Zuckerberg by fellow students who claim he stole the idea for Facebook from them.

Way back in 2004, programming prodigy Zuckerberg hacked into the school’s computers in a drunken funk after a girl rejected him, pairing photos of female students that he downloaded from a college database known as the facebook. Fellow students were invited to judge the photos of the female students, based on their relative “hotness”. From these less than illustrious beginnings, the idea snowballed and, according to Mezrich, Facebook was born.

Aaron Sorkin (of “West Wing” fame) wrote a screenplay based on Mezrich’s book. “The Social Network”, directed by David Fincher, is showing in theaters now. Sorkin, despite the fact that he had never met Zuckerberg, said of him and his Facebook co-founders: “It’s a group of, in one way or another, socially dysfunctional people who created the world’s great social-networking site.”

Zuckerberg declined to speak with either the author or the scriptwriter and the project went ahead without his collaboration. However, his former best friend and co-founder of Facebook, Eduardo Savarin, did work closely with the author of the book. Savarin brought one of the aforementioned lawsuits against Zuckerberg.

According to numerous reports, Zuck, as he is known to friends, calls the movie “a fiction” and says that he does not intend to see it.

Jesse Eisenberger plays an akward and thoroughly unlikable version of Zuckerberg in the movie, which, it must be said, is no “Citizen Kane” - though the fact that Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster, is ably played by Justin Timberlake is worth a laugh.

After seeing the movie, I watched Zuckerberg speaking about Facebook in a 2009 interview with "Business Insider". He does not come across as the socially inept anti-hero portrayed in either the movie or the book. Considering that he is thought of as the youngest self-made billionaire ever, he seems rather humble and down to earth. But what do I know? Jose Antonio Vargas, on the other hand, should know. He spent days interviewing Zuckerberg for an article in “The New Yorker” titled “The Face of Facebook”. Vargas says that Zuckerberg in real life “emits a strange mixture of shy and cocky.”

What I find most fascinating about this whole saga is that Mark Zuckerberg, at the tender age of 19, created a social world that has become virtually impossible to avoid, and he did it at an age when, we are told, the human brain is not yet fully wired. Numerous studies have shown that although our brains are intellectually up to par at that age, our frontal lobes are not fully connected. This is the very area of the brain that affects social and decision making skills. At 26, Zuckerberg is obviously more mature and more socially wired than he was when he built the site. Yet, ironically, Facebook remains the creation of a “not yet fully wired” 19 year old. So if you’re on FB and anything about it seems, oh, maybe a little juvenile – now you know why. Heck, we can all act like teenagers with the stroke of a key.


  1. Quite the story, and well told. I haven't so far felt deprived by not joining in on Facebook, but perhaps I'm incompletely wired in another way, who knows? (I now have to go look up who Justin Timberlake is . . .) This is a terrific companion post to your earlier one on the subject, "Social Suicide."

  2. It is unbelievable that something as "big" as FB could go from just a drunken idea in 2004, to a huge company by 2010! And that someone would think it would make a good movie idea, without the subject's cooperation.

    Very interesting comment about Zuckerberg founding a social site when he himself was not fully fashioned yet, socially speaking.

    I agree with RA that this is a good complement to "Social Suicide."

  3. Dear Carol-Ann,
    thank you for your interesting article on Facebook and his creator. A few month before I wrote an article for the Berliner Gazette with the title: "Hooked on Facebook?". I am a member and have to say I do have a lot of fun with it - three formerly unknown 'friends' I have even met in person (not a date - just chatting) and it was absolutely fine. With others I e-mail - so, being able to judge by myself what I want to tell and what not, I think it is great. And not as superficial as many think: it depends on the circle of 'friends' one choose. ;-)


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