Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wait — year of the nice guy?

   Time Magazine's nod to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is one of the most deliciously odd "Person of the Year" choices in its history.

   Not because Zuckerberg isn't consequential. As one whose network links 550 million people, he is consequential beyond imagining. What's so odd about the choice is that he seems like a genuinely nice guy. And, let's face it, 2010 will sign off as one of the meanest years in memory.

    After all, Time's runner-up was the Tea Party, one of the most rabid popular movements of our time. In this case we speak not of the rabidity that comes with rabid fans or rabid stamp collectors. We speak of the snarling, foamy kind, the "call animal control" kind.

    This was the year of vicious commercials, from campaign assaults by anonymous moneyed sources to the meanest product pitches ever. (The doctor tells a wide receiver his knee is mush; but, hey, it cost nothing to drop him from his fantasy team on his smart phone. Har.)

    How much meaner could it be? The No. 1 Republican in the U.S. Senate has set as his No. 1 legislative goal: "for President Obama to be a one-term president."

    Who would have thought that Obama would turn the other cheek and bargain with the GOP on tax cuts and unemployment aid, signing the bill with that senator, Mitch McConnell, over his shoulder? The fact is that despite the vitriol swelling around him, Obama has showed himself to be one of the nicest presidents we've known. Too nice? The "first female president" — in Kathleen Parker's nicely sexist jab.

   Don't look now, but Obama's numbers have surged for playing conciliator. Two new polls show that against major GOP contestants to take his job, at the moment, it's no contest.

     Still, 2010 the year of the nice guy?

     Time's Lev Gross came prepared to profile the Zuckerberg who is portrayed as petty and conniving in the movie, "The Social Network." He found someone who, though the movie took great liberties, rented several theaters so employees at Facebook could see it.

     This is a man who, though he's made billions, took his family to the Universal Orlando Harry Potter attraction and bought himself an Ollivander wand. And a Slurpee?

     OK, this is also a young man — 26, for gosh sakes — who truly plows his field with the silver blade of altruism. He recently donated $100 million to Newark, N.J., schools.

     His only real criticism of the movie is that it portrays cynicism, and not "the actual motivation for what we're doing, which is, we think it's an awesome thing to do."


     Maybe it's not so odd that Time recognize someone like this. We turn the page to a new decade — The Teens? — from a decade whose name we dare not designate. We spent 10 years spinning our wheels in ideological dust and debris, much of it in a sand storm of our making.

     I look at Zuckerberg and I see post-ideological America. No, not someone who has shed social concerns, but one who is focused mostly on the doable, and on doable things that matter.

    Zuckerberg is the anti-Mitch McConnell: not interested in making things a little more impossible, but one probing what's possible.

    Zuckerberg is driven not by what's best for the GDP, as most of America's public policies have been for a generation, but what's best. Period.

    Sure, Facebook, as with the Internet itself, has superficial dimensions, as does the cult of self-infatuation and distraction that surrounds so much of what is offered as an advance of the digital age.

    But let's face it. The devices and networks that array themselves are the horizon to which the world is turning, and you might as well look to what a new day delivers. I say it's delivering power back to those who believe you can change the world not by being calculating and vicious, but by being smart and nice.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.  

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