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The Zuckerberg children were much given to pranks: on New Year's Eve 1999 their parents were worried about the Y2K bug, so that night Mark and Randi waited till the stroke of midnight, then shut off the power. They were also great undertakers of projects. One year, over winter vacation, they decided to film a complete Star Wars parody called The Star Wars Sill-ogy. "We took our job very seriously," Randi says. "Every morning we'd wake up and have production meetings. Mark's voice hadn't changed yet, so he played Luke Skywalker with a really high, squeaky voice, and then my little sister, who I think was 2, we stuck her in a garbage can as R2D2 and had her walk around."
It will not amaze you to learn that Mark had a Star Warsthemed bar mitzvah, or that he was a precocious computer programmer, beginning on a Quantex 486DX running Windows 3.1. When he was 12, he created a network for the family home that he called ZuckNet; this was at a time when home networks didn't come in a box. (He clarifies, out of both modesty and a compulsion for accuracy, that they brought in a professional to do the wiring.) He also wrote computer games: a version of Monopoly set at his middle school and a version of Risk based on the Roman Empire.
Zuckerberg went to a local high school and then to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where he showed an aptitude for two incongruously old-fashioned pursuits: ancient languages and fencing. He also co-wrote with a classmate a music-recommendation program called Synapse that both AOL and Microsoft tried to buy for around a million dollars. But Zuckerberg would have had to drop out of school to develop it. He decided to go to Harvard instead.
Zuckerberg's life at Harvard and afterward was the subject of a movie released in October called The Social Network, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher. The Social Network is a rich, dramatic portrait of a furious, socially handicapped genius who spits corrosive monologues in a monotone to hide his inner pain. This character bears almost no resemblance to the actual Mark Zuckerberg. The reality is much more complicated.
He's not a physically imposing presence: maybe 5 ft. 8 in. (173 cm), with a Roman nose, a bantam-rooster chest and a close-fitting cap of curly brown hair. He dresses like a frat boy, in T-shirts and jeans, though his fingernails are fastidiously neat. His most notable physical feature is his chin, which he holds at a slightly elevated angle. In the movie, this played as him looking down his nose at you, but in real life it's more like he's standing on his tiptoes, trying to see over something.
Zuckerberg has often possibly always been described as remote and socially awkward, but that's not quite right. True: holding a conversation with him can be challenging. He approaches conversation as a way of exchanging data as rapidly and efficiently as possible, rather than as a recreational activity undertaken for its own sake. He is formidably quick and talks rapidly and precisely, and if he has no data to transmit, he abruptly falls silent. ("I usually don't like things that are too much about me" was how he began our first interview.) He cannot be relied on to throw the ball back or give you encouraging facial cues. His default expression is a direct and slightly wide-eyed stare that makes you wonder if you've got a spider on your forehead.
Most alarmingly, if your signal-to-noise ratio drops below a critical threshold, Zuckerberg will turn his head and look off to one side as if he's hearing noises offstage, presenting you with his Roman-emperor profile. "If you're not making compelling points, he kind of just tunes out," Bosworth says. "He's not trying to be rude. He's just like, 'O.K., you're not the best use of this time anymore.' He's going to find a better use of his time, even if you're sitting right there."
In spite of all that and this is what generally gets left out Zuckerberg is a warm presence, not a cold one. He has a quick smile and doesn't shy away from eye contact. He thinks fast and talks fast, but he wants you to keep up. He exudes not anger or social anxiety but a weird calm. When you talk to his co-workers, they're so adamant in their avowals of affection for him and in their insistence that you not misconstrue his oddness that you get the impression it's not just because they want to keep their jobs. People really like him.
The Zuckerberg of the movie is a simple creature of clear motivations: he uses his outsize gifts as a programmer to acquire girls, money and party invitations. This is a fiction. In reality, Zuckerberg already had the girl: Priscilla Chan, who is now a third-year med student at University of California, San Francisco. They met at Harvard seven years ago, before he started Facebook. Now they live together in Palo Alto.
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