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Face of the Year

Time Magazine’s choice of Person of the Year is meaningless as data, but meaningful as metadata. Picking one person as the most influential in a year is almost always just silly. No one takes it seriously except as a signifier of broader cultural currents.

This year it’s Mark Zuckerberg. That seems to me to be one of the many reasonable choices Time could have made. But I have two meta-comments.

1. I’m glad that Time took MZ over Julian Assange. Facebook is truly influential and important. WikiLeak’s importance is primarily symbolic, and it has been given that symbolic importance mainly by forces that want to use it as justification for killing what they don’t like about the Internet — its openness, its bottom-uppity character, its distrust of extrinsic controls…in other words, all that makes it the Internet.

2. The contrast the Time article draws between MZ and the portrait of him in The Social Network (a movie I did not care for) will, I hope, hurt the movie’s chances at the Oscars. It makes vandalism of Wikipedia’s biographies of living people look bush league.

(Lev Grossman’s cover story about MZ for Time is well worth reading.)

6 Responses to “Face of the Year”

  1. Yes, but this seems a bit harsh, don’t you think? Or am I just a romantic?

    In the 1970s the communes faded away, but the Internet only grew, and that countercultural attitude lingered. The presiding myth of the Internet through the 1980s and 1990s was that when you went online, you could shed your earthly baggage and be whoever you wanted. Your age, your gender, your race, your job, your marriage, where you lived, where you went to school — all that fell away. In effect, the social experiments of the 1960s were restaged online. Log on, tune in, drop out.

    We all know how that ended. When the Web arrived in the early 1990s, it went mainstream. The number of people on the Internet exploded, from 2.6 million in 1990 to 385 million in 2000, and we messed up the scene. The equality and anonymity that made the Internet so liberating in its early days turned out to be disastrously disinhibiting. They made the Internet a haven for pornographers and hatemongers and a free-for-all for scammers, hackers and virus writers.

    Zuckerberg is two generations removed from the 1960s. He has no sentimental feelings about equality and anonymity.

  2. Yes, it’s a bit harsh. But that’s one of the reasons I liked it. I enjoyed the bracing cold water.

  3. I suppose the person who is named as person of the year is never as interesting as the labored discussions that follow the appointment. In fact, I think Time sometimes reminds us that the person named is not necessarily the best, or most popular, but influential, even in ways that are detrimental to the world.

  4. I was able to find and connect with old friends. Thanks.

  5. Though I don’t actually have strong feelings about Assange losing (despite my op-ed), I do feel strongly about Zuckerberg’s win, or at least the tone of the hype surrounding it (by TIME and others): Facebook’s year has been marked by privacy invasions, takedowns of activists, and Zuckerberg spouting Western-centric nonsense about how we’re all supposed to just give up our privacy.

    In that sense, Zuckerberg might fit the POTY bill, but with TIME’s entirely positive piece on him, it doesn’t seem they recognize the negatives at all.

  6. I’ll take a pass on both the movie and the magazine article. But this article (see link that follows) by Richard Stallman about the online protests of financial institutions that collaborated with governmental repression of the Wikileaks sites was really interesting, and I think not orthogonal to the discussion here. Stallman’s insights and accomplishments certainly make him one of my people of the year… or the decade, I guess.

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