More Than Just the Man of the Hour

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“For connecting more than half a billion people and mapping the social relations among them; for creating a new system of exchanging information; and for changing how we all live our lives, Mark Elliot Zuckerberg is TIME’s 2010 Person of the Year.”

I had a feeling this might be a bit controversial. Person of the Year – an award reserved for the most influential icon in culture and news for good or for ill in the past year. The fact that Zuckerberg has earned this honor is a given to me, but apparently not for all.

Notwithstanding his being named the youngest person ever inducted to the California Hall of Fame, or his status as the CEO of a company set to reap $2 billion in revenues this year, or the fact that he’s the youngest self-made billionaire with a soft spot for philanthropy, comments posted to the many announcements of his Person of the Year award are lukewarm at best. Whether it’s because Zuckerberg is so young and refuses to rock business casual duds, or because staunch critics continue to ridicule Facebook as a flash-in-the-pan social fad, it seems many eager commentators feel Zuckerberg is undeserving of TIME Magazine’s annual honor.

For some background, the curly-cropped face of Facebook beat out such competitors as the questionably qualified Tea Party movement, the now-jailed Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, and Hamid Karzai, the “need to know name” when it comes to Afghanistan. Zuckerberg even topped 33 of Chile’s most resilient miners to win the award.

But is he worth the rank?

In my opinion, you need only recognize the sheer reach of Facebook to begin to fathom the breadth of its impact. It turns out I’m not alone in this theory. “Facebook is now the third largest country on earth and surely has more information about its citizens than any government does,” says Richard Stengel, editor at Time Magazine. “Zuckerberg, a Harvard dropout, is its T-shirt-wearing head of state.” At nearly 600 million registered Facebook users to date, he’s not kidding.

Beyond Facebook’s size and global reach, Zuckerberg is worth the recognition for what he’s done to reshape the very nature of human connection and interpersonal communication. The Facebook platform has led a social evolution, capitalizing on a time when our understandings of truth, authority and identity are tested daily.  There’s no arguing that the archetypes of personal and professional relationships haven’t been dramatically changed with the advent of this one collective, expansive social network.  For better or for worse, Facebook is at the heart of it all.

In this transformative age, Zuckerberg has been our shepherd; we will not log-on in vain. That may sound extremist, but even Stengel points out that as much as Zuckerberg is a product of this malleable generation, he’s also its engineer, guiding us through unfamiliar terrain to a better, more open world.

Of note, Zuckerberg joins former Person of the Year titlists like Britain’s young Queen Elizabeth and the omnipresent, otherworldly U2 rocker Bono, as well as more nefarious candidates, like 1938 honoree Adolf Hitler. Without question, World War II changed the face of Europe, U2 changed the course of post-Beatlemania rock ‘n roll, and Queen Elizabeth breathed new life into a fading royal empire. Regardless if you feel Zuckerberg personally deserves the nod or not, it’s true – the world as we knew it will never be the same after Zuckerberg’s Facebook revolution.

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