Rockstar of the Century : Facebook !
Posted by horasio on July 29, 2009
Twitter’s Evan Williams, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker (formerly of Napster and Facebook)
Accidental Billionaires covers the remarkable period between the autumn of 2003 when Harvard university undergraduate and programming genius Mark Zuckerberg built the first version of the instantly viral TheFacebook.com social network to the autumn 2005 when Zuckerberg fired Silicon Valley bad-boy Sean Parker, Facebook’s first President. These years are marked by a predictable surfeit of young male sexual and financial lust and betrayal – primarily of fellow Harvard undergraduate Eduardo Saverin, the unfortunate mug who bankrolled Zuckerberg’s initial dream and then ended up with nothing when Facebook headed out west and relocated to Silicon Valley.
But what readers of Accidental Billionaires won’t find in Mezrich’s energetic narrative is much – if anything – about social media. The stunning irony about Facebook is that the world’s most popular social media network – valued at anywhere between 8 and 15 billion dollars and now with close to 200 million members – was founded (and is still run) by an eccentric, anti-social geek who wandered around Harvard in flip-flops and who showed up at a critical meeting with the legendary Silicon Valley venture capitalist Mike Moritz wearing a pair of “brightly coloured pyjamas.”
Described as “socially autistic”, “awkward”, “uncomfortable in his own skin” with a “dead fish handshake” and an extraordinarily “impassive” face, Zuckerberg – who true to his reclusive self, refused to talk with Mezrich for the book – is the great question mark, the Howard Hughes, at the seemingly vacuous centre of The Accidental Billionaires. Indeed, the only time this classic loner truly comes to life, Mezrich argues, is when Zuckerberg is all alone in front of a computer – “that glowing screen front of his face.” So much, then, for the cathartic communitarian promise of social media, with its supposedly magical ability to bring people together and socialise even somebody as clinically awkward and impassive as Mark Zuckerberg.
For all its sometimes slightly adolescent chatter about sex, money and betrayal, The Accidental Billionaire describes a decisive shift in the nature and economics of popular culture. Thirty years ago, obsessive, rebellious, socially dysfunctional geniuses like Mark Zuckerberg aspired to become multi millionaire rock stars; today, that dream has shifted to becoming an Internet billionaire.
As one Silicon Valley entrepreneur who grew up in San Francisco during the psychedelic Sixties said to me recently, “back then all the talented kids sat in their bedrooms strumming their guitars and planning to be in bands. Now they all spend all day and night in the front of computers wanting to found technology start-ups.”
Today, with the dramatic collapse of the traditional music business and the not unconnected rise of the Silicon Valley new media economy, the most illustrious and lucrative opportunities now open to young, Harvard educated counter-cultural elites like Mark Zuckerberg lie in plotting and orchestrating the digital revolution.
Even the language of the start-up and of rock and roll are similar. Back in 2004, on launching Facebook, Zuckerberg gave himself the rock star title of “founder, master and commander and enemy of the state.” Today, Zuckerberg – who runs a multi billion-dollar global company – has sharpened up his counter-cultural act. His current business card simply says: “I’m CEO – Bitch”.
It’s more than coincidental, therefore, that Sean Parker, the Silicon Valley networker who orchestrated Facebook’s first round of Silicon Valley financing, was also the co-founder of Napster, the viral music filesharing service that essentially legalised online theft, thereby almost single-handedly destroyed the old music business.
The Accidental Billionaires is a seductive narrative about the overnight fame – the real-time stream of girls and the silly money and the always-on excitement – that inevitably go with the success of building a viral Internet business. Rather than arcane computer operating systems or programming languages, this is a book that focuses on exclusive San Francisco nightclubs, roast Koala bear dinners (yuck) on board the yachts of wealthy investors and readily available Victoria Secrets’ models.
Not only is Mark Zuckerberg coming to your local bookstore, but he’s also planning to show up on the screen of your local cinema. The Accidental Billionaires is being adapted by Aaron Sorkin, the creator of the “The West Wing” NBC television show and the movie Charlie Wilson’s War – for Hollywood. According to Variety, the movie – provisionally called The Social Network – will be produced by Hollywood insiders Scott Rudin, Michael De Luca, Dana Brunetti and, most notably, Kevin Spacey.
It’s not surprising that the Boston based Mezrich – who also wrote the New York Times best-selling Bringing Down the House about a scheme by MIT mathematicians to bust the Las Vegas casino cartel – has shifted his prodigious talent to Silicon Valley. That’s where both the real money and the real action are these days. Perhaps he’ll follow up with another sizzling story of sex, money and betrayal about Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams and Biz Stone – the founders of Twitter, today’s hot new real-time social network competitor to Facebook.
Last month, the king of pop died in Los Angeles. But the new kings of pop in the early 21st century, the successors to Michael Jackson’s crown, are as likely to be entrepreneurs as artists. Popular culture is being revolutionised by radical new technologies such as Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires is an entertaining and provocative introduction to the cultural consequences of this revolution.