The education of Mark Zuckerberg

Alexis C Madrigal writes: There’s a story that Mark Zuckerberg has told dozens of times over the years. Shortly after he’d launched Facebook in February 2004, he went to get pizza with Kang-Xing Jin, a coder friend who would become a Facebook executive, at a place around the corner from his dorm.

In one telling, Zuckerberg says he was thinking, “this is great that we have this community that now people can connect within our little school, but clearly one day, someone is going to build this for the world.”

But there was no reason to expect that this kid and his group of friends would be the people who would build this for the world. “It hadn’t even crossed my mind,” he said in 2013. They were technically gifted, but as Zuckerberg tells it, they had basically no resources or experience at a time when there were already massive technology companies trying to create social networks from MySpace to Microsoft, Google to Yahoo.

Looking back, it’s also clear that they had no experience with community building, organizing, sociology, social work, or any other discipline that might have helped them understand the social forces they were unleashing, quantifying, amplifying, and warping. Mark Zuckerberg was just a kid eating pizza after writing some code.

13 years later, he wields unquestioned formal and informal control over a company that is now the battleground for elections as well as home to cultural discourse and basic family relationships.

That’s the crucial background for Mark Zuckerberg’s now-concluded tour of 30 American states, a photo-op-heavy barnstorm that has served, it seems, as a remedial education for Zuckerberg in what it means to be a normal person in America. Time and again, Zuckerberg has marveled at how people’s communities are enriched by their unions, churches, schools, and other civic institutions.

Most recently, for example, this was how he described his major takeaway from his travels at the concluding stop at the University of Kansas. “The thing that struck me everywhere I went—and I have stories from every state that I visited—was how central communities are to people,” he said.

You don’t say!

This level of naïveté sounds unbelievable until you remember that the only two states of adulthood the man has known are Harvard undergraduate and CEO of a company with unending funding and growth. His childhood was financially comfortable and individualistic in the way wealthy childhoods usually are. Where was he supposed to acquire an understanding of the ways that most places—middle-class, working-class, and poor—hold themselves together? [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “The education of Mark Zuckerberg

  1. hquain

    There’s been quite a lot of chatter about Zuckerberg’s possible interest in the Presidency (you know, the one with the capital P). The tour sounds like a standard preliminary, as do the quoted remarks.

    Not clear why this is a surprise.

  2. Paul Woodward

    If he does run for president, I’d rate his chances of getting elected close to those of Lyndon LaRouche. Facebook might be massively popular in terms of usage, but that doesn’t mean it’s trusted.

    A recent Zogby poll gave Zuckerberg 4% while the most popular possible candidate was Michelle Obama.

    Given that “restoring the dignity of the presidency” is bound to be a major issue in the next election, Michelle Obama is an obvious choice. The longer the Obama’s are out of the White House, the more fondly they are remembered — what family is there that has ever better or more graciously represented America?

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