Millennial young adults are the first generation to come of age when their personal self-portraits in some digital form were a matter of semi-public record.
Particularly public – even when he wished it weren’t – has been the life story (so far) of Facebook's high profile founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Through aptitude, chutzpah and, some allege, misappropriation in 2004, the clever child — born in 1984 — created a forum where potentially, every single person on the planet will have the ability to look at the baby pictures of someone they just met.
The social impact of social networks, Facebook being the most prominent, is still unfolding. But Zuckerberg’s early adapter cohort of post 9/11 youngsters were the most profoundly affected by its universal reach.
For my generation of geezers born during the baby boom, the phenomenon of instant access to hundreds or even thousands of personal narratives of our so-called “friends” is an entertaining add-on to a lifetime of socializing in three dimensions. But for the generation now hitting their 30’s, each one has his own widely accessible "timeline."
The people Zuckerberg grew up with are facing their share of social and economic challenges, but how to virtually network will not be one of them.
When Facebook’s Initial Public Offering is issued on Wall Street this week, Zuckerberg will become the youngest CEO in history of a powerful publicly traded corporation on the stock exchange. The transaction will incidentally make him a billionaire several times over. (cue Justin Timberlake: “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars.”) That’s quite an accomplishment for someone whose chronological timeline suggests his pre-frontal cortex would only recently have finished growing. As he matures into a 30-something, and then 40-something, adult, Zuckerberg – who may or may not start to dress up a little -- will inevitably begin a new phase in his personal development.
I know he’s going to be busy with all the new responsibilities he will have to his many stockholders but I hope he uses his power and influence to also affect a few of the seemingly intractable problems his generation will be facing. Environmental degradation, global warming, and overpopulation, are all pressing matters the newly grown-up Generation Y adults will need to address, and then there are the more immediate issues of how to afford homes or work through the highest debt in history a large portion of them have acquired just getting through college.
Thankfully, the 28-year-old Zuckerberg has plenty of time. He only graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 2002. (He may have been too busy to attend, but this month his class had its 10-year high school reunion.)
I hope he has as much of an impact during his second decade as he did in the first.
Bonnie Goldstein has been on Facebook since August 2006.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post said Mark Zuckerberg was born in 1986. The error has been updated.