The Accidental Billionaires
How an asocial loner created the Internet’s greatest social network.
(Page 2 of 2)
“Accidental Billionaires” follows Mark and Eduardo’s excellent adventure from Cambridge, Mass., to Palo Alto, Calif., through piles of pizza boxes and pages of legal challenges, cease-and-desist letters, and clumsy sexual encounters. Zuckerberg refused to talk to Mezrich; perhaps in retribution, the character at the center of “Accidental Billionaires” is not only a mystery, but also a joke. Allegedly a genius, Zuckerberg here only comes to life when he’s talking to Victoria’s Secret models or planning to crash a ritzy party in Silicon Valley. When he sits down at a computer, when his intellectual and creative juices should be flowing, Mezrich’s Zuckerberg retreats behind a mask.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But instead of being enigmatic, he’s simply boring. Mezrich tells us that Zuckerberg often spent 20-hour stints at the computer, but there’s no hint here what all that coding might have accomplished.
And if the computer-science challenges are mysterious, the motivations are as well. If Mezrich is correct, Zuckerberg and Saverin started Facebook not to take over the world or solve any fascinating puzzles in computer science, but to meet women. Here, the world’s youngest self-made billionaire is merely a cardboard wunderkind with too little grace and too much self-regard, the kind of resentful geek who thinks it’s cool to compare women to farm animals. The supreme irony of his story – that a man so socially challenged would create the Internet’s greatest social network – isn’t mined for the energy and gravity it should yield.
The geeks, dreamers, and tycoons who made the Internet what it is are a fascinating, blockbuster-worthy bunch, but the power of the tools and networks they have built demand serious analysis as well.
Many authors are tackling the story with more interesting ideas than Mezrich brings to bear here. The question is, does the work of the Web itself defy historical accounting? In the end, will there be anything but pizza boxes and faces lit by flat screens? With forerunners like Friendster and MySpace, Facebook turned the wilderness of Web 1.0 into a suburban landscape, settled and domesticated; along the way it changed our notions of identity and privacy as well.
Today, Facebook has more than 250 million users; if it were a nation it would trump Indonesia as the fourth-largest in the world. But sheer numbers are hardly the whole story, for Facebook and its ilk may soon render the concept of nationhood itself obsolete and irrelevant. As their role in the Iran election crisis showed, social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are changing the nature of politics, news gathering, and relations within and between societies. The means by which that transformation is taking place are massively distributed and radically ephemeral; whether their substance can be captured archivally and documented by the traditional modes of history remains to be seen.
For his part, Ben Mezrich is too busy snickering about sex and hangovers to wonder what actually went into making this Mark Zuckerberg Production the phenomenon it is today.
Matthew Battles is a freelance writer in Jamaica Plain, Mass. He can occasionally be found on Facebook.