Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Beating out the Tea Party, Julian Assange, Hamid Karzai and the Chilean miners, Mark Zuckerberg is Time's Person of the Year.
It's a little difficult to disagree with Time—after all, it's a far better choice than 2006's "You" or the year they picked a Planet of the Year (guess who won? Earth!)—but parts of the essay explaining their choice sound like the middle of a college term paper written with minimal information, a couple of Adderall, and a looming deadline.
More than anyone else on the world stage, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is at the center of these changes. Born in 1984, the same year the Macintosh computer was launched, he is both a product of his generation and an architect of it. The social-networking platform he invented is closing in on 600 million users. In a single day, about a billion new pieces of content are posted on Facebook. It is the connective tissue for nearly a tenth of the planet. Facebook is now the third largest country on earth and surely has more information about its citizens than any government does. Zuckerberg, a Harvard dropout, is its T-shirt-wearing head of state.
Evolutionary biologists suggest there is a correlation between the size of the cerebral neocortex and the number of social relationships a primate species can have. Humans have the largest neocortex and the widest social circle — about 150, according to the scientist Robin Dunbar. Dunbar's number — 150 — also happens to mirror the average number of friends people have on Facebook. Because of airplanes and telephones and now social media, human beings touch the lives of vastly more people than did our ancestors, who might have encountered only 150 people in their lifetime. Now the possibility of connection is accelerating at an extraordinary pace. As the great biologist E.O. Wilson says, "We're in uncharted territory."