Zuckerberg, Bound

 

THIS PAST WEEK, Time magazine put Facebook on its cover. Subhead: “With nearly 500 million users, Facebook is connecting us in new (and scary) ways.” In October, a feature film about Facebook, written by Aaron Sorkin, based on Ben Mezrich’s critical 2009 book, The Accidental Billionaires, will arrive in theaters. U.S. senators are now scrambling to attach their signatures to letters of concern.

Not long ago, Mr. Kirkpatrick writes, Mr. Zuckerberg took a monthlong trip around the world, alone with a backpack, during which he “made a brief pilgrimage-by dusty local bus-to the ashram high in the Himalayas, where Steve Jobs and Baba Ram Dass, among others, have sought enlightenment.” Back at the Facebook headquarters, according to Mr. Kirkpatrick, Mr. Zuckerberg would often walk around with a leather-bound diary, in which the young executive would scrawl out by hand his big thoughts on Facebook’s global strategy. Mr. Zuckerberg named the diary the “Book of Change” and decorated it with a quote from Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

And what is that change? “Facebook is founded on a radical social premise-that an inevitable enveloping of transparency will overtake modern life,” writes Mr. Kirkpatrick. Inside the company, they call the concept “radical transparency.”

“If we give people control over what they share, they will want to share more,” wrote Mr. Zuckerberg on Monday, May 24, in The Washington Post. “If people share more, the world will become more open and connected. And a world that’s more open and connected is a better world.”

The Facebook Effect doesn’t shy away from Mr. Zuckerberg’s youthful indiscretions, but Mr. Kirkpatrick shows us that ultimately the rise of Facebook is not some simple story about a creepy engineer, but rather a complex tale about engineering creep-that is, the way in which tech geeks and executives are now aggressively applying algorithm-based solutions to areas of human life traditionally ministered by saints and humanists, tribe elders and scholars.

What does it mean for American society that so many adults are now willingly following codes of social behavior prescribed not by their parents but designed by their kids-college-age computer scientists dreaming not only of improving the world and getting rich but also of more efficiently finding coeds and organizing beer pong tournaments?

Friends and followers, beware.

fgillette@observer.com