Cop-out

Time magazine has named Facebook creator and CEO Mark Zuckerberg as the Person of the Year for ‘changing how we all live our lives in ways that are innovative and even optimistic.’ At 26, Zuckerberg is the youngest winner since Charles Lindbergh, who at 25 became Time’s first person of the year in 1927 after he flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean. There is no doubt that Facebook has radically transformed how we communicate with each other or make friends. How Facebook has changed the concept of community is indeed remarkable. So popular is Zuckerberg’s creation — there are doubts whether he is indeed Facebook’s father — that if Facebook were a country it would be the third largest, after China and India. Facebook and privacy issues did indeed dominate the news for several months. But whether he influenced the events of 2010 more than anyone else is debatable.

That a parallel poll of readers’ choice for Person of the Year threw up Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, speaks volumes for the kind of politics behind such awards. A trip down memory lane provides an understanding into why Time’s panel of judges chose Zuckerberg over Assange. Back in 1979, ‘Time’ chose Ayotollah Khomeini as its Person of the Year. The choice was unpopular in the US. It has since treaded carefully, avoiding choosing people who are controversial at home. Thus in 2001, it steered clear of Osama bin Laden, opting instead for New York mayor Rudolf Giuliani.

Time’s panel of judges has never hesitated to be unconventional. Past choices include ‘Generation 25 and under,’ ‘the computer’, even ‘You,’ the millions of anonymous content contributors to websites like Wikipedia and YouTube. It is a pity therefore that it copped out when it came to recognising the way Assange’s WikiLeaks became the most important issue of the year, albeit over a few months only. It has shaken up relations between countries and stirred global debate on issues like free speech, security, transparency. But Assange is someone that America’s powerful — in the world of politics, business, etc — fear. And hate. Zuckerberg’s choice is not a bad one but it is a bit late and irrelevant. 2010 will be remembered not for the Zuckerberg effect but for Assange’s tsunami-like impact on global politics. ‘Time’ magazine’s choice is a cop-out.

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