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As for money, his indifference to it is almost pathological. His lifestyle is modest by most standards but monastic for someone whose personal fortune was estimated by Forbes at $6.9 billion, a number that puts him ahead of his Palo Alto neighbor (and fellow college dropout) Steve Jobs. Zuckerberg lives near his office in a house that he rents. He works constantly; his only current hobby is studying Chinese. He drives a black Acura TSX, which for a billionaire is the automotive equivalent of a hair shirt. For Thanksgiving break, he took his family to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. He bought a wand at Ollivander's.
One of the interests Zuckerberg lists on his Facebook page is "Eliminating Desire." "I just want to focus on what we're doing," Zuckerberg says. "When I put it in my profile, that's what I was focused on. I think it's probably Buddhist? To me it's just I don't know, I think it would be very easy to get distracted and get caught up in short-term things or material things that don't matter. The phrase is actually 'Eliminating desire for all that doesn't really matter.' "
This would all be so much dorm-room philosophizing if it weren't for the fact that Zuckerberg is a billionaire at an age when most people are vigorously maximizing their desires, and also for the fact that he appears to be making good on it. In July, Zuckerberg went to a conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he was seated at a dinner with Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J. It must have been an interesting dinner, because in September, Zuckerberg announced that he would put up $100 million of his personal Facebook equity to help the Newark school system. He isn't even from Newark.
Zuckerberg has a personal connection to the teaching profession Chan taught grade school after Harvard but more than that, he finds the state of education in the U.S. mathematically inelegant. "It just strikes me as this huge issue that teaching isn't respected or compensated in our society for the economic value that it's actually probably producing for society," he says. On Dec. 9, as part of a campaign organized by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, he pledged to give away at least half his wealth over the course of his lifetime.
When The Social Network came out, Zuckerberg rented out a bunch of movie theaters and took the whole company to see it. Afterward they all went out for appletinis, his signature drink in the movie. He'd never had one before. "I found it funny what details they focused on getting right," he says. "I think I owned every single T-shirt that they had me wearing. But the biggest thing that thematically they missed is the concept that you would have to want to do something date someone or get into some final club in order to be motivated to do something like this. It just like completely misses the actual motivation for what we're doing, which is, we think it's an awesome thing to do."
The reality is that Zuckerberg isn't alienated, and he isn't a loner. He's the opposite. He's spent his whole life in tight, supportive, intensely connected social environments: first in the bosom of the Zuckerberg family, then in the dorms at Harvard and now at Facebook, where his best friends are his staff, there are no offices and work is awesome. Zuckerberg loves being around people. He didn't build Facebook so he could have a social life like the rest of us. He built it because he wanted the rest of us to have his.
Facebook is the realization of a dream. but it's also the death of a dream, one that began in the late 1960s. That's when the architecture of the Internet was first laid out, and it's a period piece. The Internet is designed the way it is to accommodate any number of practical considerations, but it's also an expression of 1960s counterculture. No single computer runs the network. No one is in charge. It's a paradise of equality and anonymity, an electronic commune.
In the 1970s the communes faded away, but the Internet only grew, and that countercultural attitude lingered. The presiding myth of the Internet through the 1980s and 1990s was that when you went online, you could shed your earthly baggage and be whoever you wanted. Your age, your gender, your race, your job, your marriage, where you lived, where you went to school all that fell away. In effect, the social experiments of the 1960s were restaged online. Log on, tune in, drop out.
We all know how that ended. When the Web arrived in the early 1990s, it went mainstream. The number of people on the Internet exploded, from 2.6 million in 1990 to 385 million in 2000, and we messed up the scene. The equality and anonymity that made the Internet so liberating in its early days turned out to be disastrously disinhibiting. They made the Internet a haven for pornographers and hatemongers and a free-for-all for scammers, hackers and virus writers.
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