Radical transparency, hacking, and revolution. These were the taglines for the top two contenders for Time Magazine ’s relatively meaningless Person of the Year: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Wikileaking Nordic ” sex symbol ” Julian Assange. While Time eventually settled on Zuck in a snub of Kanye proportions (Assange got the popular vote), it’s almost irrelevant. True, Zuckerberg is currently enjoying the spoils of Silicon Valley superstardom as Julian Assange lives the life of a fugitive, narrowly skirting indefinite detention for rape and sexual assault. But, as the Time profile notes , the two aren’t so different after all.
Zuckerberg and Assange are two sides of the same coin …. While Assange attacks big institutions and governments through involuntary transparency with the goal of disempowering them, Zuckerberg enables individuals to voluntarily share information with the idea of empowering them. Assange sees the world as filled with real and imagined enemies; Zuckerberg sees the world as filled with potential friends. Both have a certain disdain for privacy.
So, basically, Assange is Zuckerberg’s evil twin, and Time might as well have made its 2010 Person of the Year the Male Nerd God.
This is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. The problem is that we’re privileging one set of skills and values at the expense of another of equal worth and import. As young women are beginning to surpass men in education and income, notions of success have shifted away from traditional markers of achievement toward technological prowess and Big Ideas. Venture capitalist Peter Thiel plans to pay enterprising young college students to drop out of school and pursue tech glory and fame. And just look at the popularity of the TED talks, perhaps the greatest exponent of our national idea fetish . There were so few women among the selected speakers that they had to create a separate program just for lady innovators.
As society begins to embrace the profound importance of emotional intelligence and other “female” aptitudes, our cultural icons have become people like Zuckerberg, whom the media depicts as a brooding, maladjusted outsider. In fact, if you’re male and have been the subject of a lengthy magazine profile in the last two years, you’ve probably been described as having some form of low-grade Asperger’s-even when it’s blatantly untrue. At this rate, Time ’s next winner will be an inanimate carbon rod.