You know times are changing when a 26-year-old kid is voted Man of the Year by Time magazine. But there he is: Mark Elliot Zuckerberg, the wunderkind who created Facebook and became a billionaire in the process. I am awestruck, and not in a way that makes me any happier.
For all of Zuckerberg’s life, I have been reading sometimes obscure and difficult books, struggling to find my way in the world. I am old enough to be his father; indeed, my oldest child is older than Zuckerberg. I am destined to toil away in obscurity.
“Talent does what it can, genius does what it must,” Goethe once observed. It seems true enough of the madcap intelligence that has harnessed electronic energy to recreate the world. I hardly recognize the planet any longer; things changed all around me and I was too busy trying to keep up to notice. Indeed, how rarely do I look up at all, having joined the race of those who endlessly check a hand-held device for new messages.
Libraries have always been a refuge for me. The comfort of a book-lined room is almost womb-like: every volume is an invitation to be born again. So when my oldest announced he was heading to library school, I was secretly envious.
“How do you like it?” I asked, not long ago.
He told me he was working hard. I recalled the never-ending fatigue of being a student: Exhilaration and fatigue are the twin sentries of the doors of learning.
“What classes are you taking?”
He told me, but I didn’t recognize the topics. I knew better than to expect some humdrum reference to the Dewey decimal system, still a marvel in my mind. But I was not prepared to hear about such things as “Information Architecture.” I am being left behind, a parent’s lot as they watch their children soar to places unimaginable. The pace of change has quickened; each life now bears witness to change so rapid it can only be felt, and rarely described.
But Zuckerberg, well, Zuckerberg’s done so much more than soar. He has created seemingly out of nothing. I admire that.
Although I am not much of a Facebook guy – I started a page but it just seems like one more thing I don’t really have time to do – I write a blog, and I learned this year all about the pros and cons of Twitter, a medium I scorned for its brevity of 140 characters. Yet, I’ve made a few new acquaintances on Twitter. I even read a few books on social networking. I have a web presence, although my comprehension of all this hovers somewhere on the cusp of semi-literacy.
One of Time’s runners up for man of the year was Julian Assange, one of the founders of WikiLeaks. Frankly, I think it makes far more sense to name Zuckerberg: his pioneering of social networking is a Gutenberg-like feat. We now write and read Bibles we produce in our vernacular. Assange is but a Luther, nailing protest notes on the doors of all of our idiosyncratic castles.
I keep meaning to go to a theater and see the movie about Zuckerberg and Facebook, “The Social Network.” I’ve read reviews in newspapers and magazines. But I have little free time, and I am a dedicated reader. I am from a different era than Zuckerberg’s. The printed word in a codex, a bound volume of pages with a spine to hold, this is my information cocktail at the end of the day. I am forever reluctant to lose an evening to some pastime that does not involve the pleasure of beholding words.
Zuckerberg has left me far, far behind. He’s created a brave new world in which I can barely stumble, let along walk. All at once, I feel the weight of years and a realization that mastery is an illusion. New players have emerged on the world’s stage, and I am still struggling to learn the line’s of yesteryear’s scripts.
Norm Pattis is a criminal defense lawyer and civil rights attorney in Bethany. Most days he blogs at www.pattisblog.com.