Zuckerberg, Facebook and the Y-Generation – By Dr. Jideofor AdibeAmerican Politics, Articles, Columnists, Jideofor Adibe, PhD, NNP Columnists Monday, June 4th, 2012
By Dr. Jideofor Adibe | London, UK | June 4, 2012 - There is something about Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder – or more appropriately the main founder of Facebook – the eponymous social networking website- which I find very fascinating. Zuckerberg is both an affirmation and a negation of the debate in some Western countries on whether college (university) education really matters. An embodiment of the generation Y, a portraiture of Zuckerberg immediately beams a searchlight on the Nigerian youths and the impediments that militate against the emergence of such prodigies in our dear country.
Born on May 14 1984, Mark Elliot Zuckerberg was brought up in Dobbs Ferry, New York, USA, and raised Jewish. His father was a dentist who ran his practice from home while his mother was a psychiatrist. At Ardley High School, Zuckerberg excelled in the classics before transferring to Phillips Exeter Academy where he also won prizes in mathematics, astronomy and physics. In college, he was known for reciting lines from epic poems such as The Iliad. In addition to English he could read and write French, Hebrew, Latin and ancient Greek.
Zuckerberg began using computers and writing software as a child. In the 1990s, his father, noticing that he had a passion for computers, taught him Atari Basic Programming and later hired a developer to tutor him privately. So much was his passion for computers that while still in High school, he took a graduate course in programming at Mercy College near his home. One of the early programmes he built was software he called ‘ZuckNet’ which allowed the computers in their home to communicate with the ones in the part of their home that served as his father’s dental practice. ZuckNet was considered a primitive version of AOL’s Instant Messaging Service, which came out the following year. While still in High school, he also built a music player called Synapse Media Player, which used artificial intelligence to learn the user’s listening habits. AOL tried to buy Synapse and recruit Zuckerberg but he declined the offers and chose to enrol at Harvard University in September 2002.
By the time he began classes at Harvard – in psychology and computer science – he had already achieved a reputation as a programming prodigy. While a freshman he created a programme known Facemash, – just to have fun with his fellow students. The site had books called ‘Face Books’, which included the names and pictures of everyone who lived in the student dorms. Here Zuckerberg would place two pictures or pictures of two males and two females and urged visitors to the site to choose who was “hotter”. Though several students complained that their photos were used without permission, the site proved so popular that students began requesting that the university should develop an internal website that would include similar photos and contact details. It was said that when Zuckerberg learnt of the demand by some students, he decided that if the university would not accede to the students’ request, he would build a site that would be even better than what the university could offer.
Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his Harvard dormitory room on February 4, 2004. Though it started off as just a “Harvard thing”, Zuckerberg later decided, with the help of his roommate Dustin Moskovitz, to spread it to other schools, starting with other Ivy League Universities – Stanford, Dartmouth, Columbia, New York University, Cornell, Pennsylvania, Brown and Yale. Zuckerberg later moved to Palo Alto, California – headquarters to a number of Silicon Valley high-technology companies – with Moskovitz and some friends. There they leased a small house that served as an office. Over the summer, Zuckerberg met Peter Thiel, the German-born American entrepreneur and co-founder of the online payment system Paypal who invested in the company.
Despite the controversies that dogged Facebook’s recent IPO, there are several important lessons from the story of Zuckerberg.
One, Zuckerberg typifies those known in the West as the ‘Generation Y’ (also variously called the Millennial Generation, Millennials, Generation Next, the Net Generation or the Echo Boomers). Though there is no unanimity about when Generation Y starts and ends, most definitions of the concept include at least those born between 1981 and 1989. Members of Generation Y are believed to be incredibly sophisticated and technology- wise, having been born and grown up in the era of Cable TV channels, satellite, the Internet and e-zines. The generation is also more racially diverse and more tolerant of diversities. Though they believe in success and education, it is not exactly in the same way the preceding Generation X did. Though Generation X is often said to be the best educated generation, it is equally said to exude unacceptably high levels of scepticisms with ‘what is in it for me’ attitudes.
What can we say of the Nigerian youths who fall within the age-bracket of the Y Generation? My personal opinion is that while many can use mobile phones better than their elders, they also seem to suffer the sort of existential crisis their elders at home and peers abroad are largely immune from. With most of them being unemployed or under-employed amid generalised insecurity and identity issues in the country, most Nigerians in the age bracket of the Generation Y are still at the level of struggling to ‘liberate their stomachs’, and therefore are unable to manifest the traits that produce the likes of Mark Zuckerberg.
Two, Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard without earning a degree, has through his Facebook impacted on the world more than most people with a chain of degrees. By joining the seemingly endless list of people who have ‘changed the world’ without a college (university) degree, Zuckerberg immediately re-opens the debate about the value of college (university) education. The list of people who ‘changed’ the world without formal qualifications include: Bill Gates of Microsoft (who dropped out of Harvard); Amadeo Peter Giannini, founder of Bank of America (dropped out of high school); Andrew Carnegie, famous industrialist and philanthropist and one of the first mega-billionaires in the US (dropped out of primary school); George Eastman, founder of Kodak (dropped out of high school); Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motors (did not attend college), John D Rockefeller, billionaire founder of Standard Oil (dropped out of high school just two months to graduation), Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers (dropped out of College) Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s (dropped out of high school), Walt Disney, founder of the Walt Disney (dropped out of high school), Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic and more (dropped out of high school), Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple (did not complete college) and Simon Cowell, TV producer and music judge of American Idol, the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent (dropped of out of High school).
The point of the above is not to encourage people to drop out of school but a statement that we all have different talents and not everyone may be cut out for university education. This will help temper the current situation in Nigeria where people believe that they need degrees – even though they could more meaningfully have used the time in trying to discover or polishing their God-given talents. If Zuckerberg had been a Nigerian, he would most likely have been derided for dropping out of school, banks and potential investors will stick it to his face that he couldn’t even complete a University education and his parents would have done ‘whatever it takes’ to make sure he gets a degree or even a master’s degree, preferably in prestige disciplines like law and medicine, even if his talents and aptitude lie somewhere else. I have come across many postgraduate students I honestly believe have no business ‘wasting’ their time in something that they are obviously not cut out for. Yet, such students believe they will ‘somehow’ pass. To find out one’s true talent is often a tough undertaking and many never manage to do so before returning to their maker. Zuckerberg was given a good foundation, including private education. That quality education was the foundation of his genius. But he was also allowed to be himself – as Bill Gates- was when he realized the University had become a waste of his time.
Three, how would Nigerians of Zuckerberg’s age have handled the prodigy’s initial successes, including offers to buy out his Synapse Media Player by AOL? My suspicion is that most Nigerians would have sold the company and used the money to take titles or run for political offices. Zuckerberg held on to his dream. Today Zuckerberg is the largest individual shareholder in Facebook Inc, with 28.4 percent of the ordinary shares and 56.9 percent of the voting power. His personal wealth is estimated at more than $19.1 billion, making him one of the world’s youngest billionaires and one of the 30 richest people on Earth. In 2010 Zuckerberg was named as Time magazine’s Person of the Year, in 2011 he was also named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
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