Clem Sunter

The many faces of Mark Zuckerberg

2010-11-10 11:25

If Descartes, the great French philosopher, were alive today, he would change his famous mantra "I think therefore I am" to "I click therefore I am". That is the message I took away from a stunning movie I saw last week called The Social Network.

It revealed how powerful a force the internet has become in our lives and how fast a good idea can spread through viral networking. The story is about how Facebook was launched and reveals the many faces of its principal founder, Mark Zuckerberg. He is 26 years old and owns 24% of the website which – with its 500 million users including the Queen of England – is valued at $30bn. That puts his personal wealth at $7.2bn and makes him the youngest billionaire on the planet. Vanity Fair has also placed him top of its 2010 list of the most influential people of the Information Age.

What are the different faces of Mark if you believe the story line of the movie?

1. Awkward loner
The opening sequence of the movie has his girlfriend, Erica, walking out on him in a Harvard bar because he delivers a self-obsessed series of monologues to her. He takes revenge by posting an insulting piece on her across the Harvard net. At the end of the movie, you see him trying to become her friend on the website he has created. The real Mark hotly denies there was a permanent bust-up but one reporter has described him as "distant and disorienting, a strange mixture of shy and cocky".

2. Gifted inventor
In a fit of pique, he sets up a site called Facemash which allows his fellow students to vote on which is the prettiest girl by comparing two photographs displayed on the screen. With 20 000 hits, this immediately crashes the Harvard net and he is summoned to appear before university authorities to explain his activities. To this day, he holds "hackathons" in his company where he challenges employees to come up with and flesh out a great idea in a single night. As he puts it: "Hacking isn't about breaking and entering. It's about being unafraid to break things in order to make them better." One line in the movie is that you do not go to Harvard to get a job afterwards, but to invent a job. Zuckerberg could not have done it better.

3. Persevering entrepreneur
When discussing the intent of the film makers which is to come up with a whole host of reasons as to why he did what he did, Mark retorts: "They just can't wrap their head around the idea that someone might build something because they like building things." In a marvellous scene in the movie where he is sitting across the table from the Winkelvoss twins – both muscular rowers and the exact opposite of Mark - who claim he has stolen their idea, he provides an argument with which I can sympathise. He maintains their allegation is equivalent to him designing a new chair and someone accusing him of stealing the general concept of a chair. Nevertheless, he did settle with them.

4. Sharp operator
The film makes out that his roommate, Eduardo Saverin, with whom he co-founded Facebook, was allocated shares in the company which were diluted when serious money was invested by a venture capitalist. I would like to know the real story behind the action because I simply cannot believe that Mark would stab his best friend so unashamedly in the back as the movie suggests. Again, he had to settle with Saverin and the latter's name has been restored as co-founder of Facebook.

5. Regular guy
The jacket that Mark wears has to be seen to be believed both in the film and in real life. He looks like a cross between Bob Dylan and Paul Simon when they were young. In the movie he befriends Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster, played excellently by Justin Timberlake. Parker is into the good life with loads of pretty women and plenty of partying. You can see that for Mark the glitz of California (where he moves) gradually wears off and, in the end, Parker is forced to leave Facebook after being arrested for the possession of cocaine. In an open-plan office, Zuckerberg sits beside his work colleagues plugging away at his laptop like all the rest. Outside of the cinema, there is a rumour that he still rents a flat and sleeps on a mattress on the floor.

All in all, I highly recommend that you go and watch the movie and come to your own opinion about this remarkable young man.

Send your comments to Clem

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


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