No Surprise that Zuckerberg is TIME’s Person of the Year 2010

Just take a look at the numbers:

  • 2004 – 1 million
  • 2005 – 5.5 million
  • 2006 – 12 million
  • 2007 – 50 million
  • 2008 – 150 million
  • 2009 – 350 million
  • 2010 – 550 million, nearly 600 million

These are the numbers of Facebook users at the end of each year.

It wasn’t any one year of growth in particular that made Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg the Person of the Year 2010. If not for the political and economic concerns and recession in the previous years, Zuckerberg might have received the title sooner. (Last year, for example, the Person of the Year was Ben Bernanke.)

Perhaps there’s something magical about the number of 500 million users, which Facebook passed in July 2010. But if anything, 2009 was the year of social networking. In 2009, the more-than-doubling jump from 150 million to 350 million meant that the number of Facebook users had surpassed the population of the United States.

When I compiled the Legacy of 2009 post last year, the only coherent trends I could find were tech trends, specifically those with social networking. Some quotes, all from 2009:

  • Doug Gross: “This [2009] was the year that online social media exploded.”
  • John D. Sutter: “Engineers didn’t make huge improvements to technology in 2009. The year’s big tech names — Twitter, Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon — all existed before January. Instead, this is the year technology changed us.” (emphasis added)
  • Sutter, again: “We could have done any of these things in 2008. But we embraced in unprecedented numbers a digital-centered life in 2009.”
  • Pete Cashmore: “One factor that’s dramatically different at the end of this decade versus the beginning: Ubiquitous connectivity.”

It seems that Sutter’s point about technology changing us strikes an even stronger chord in 2010 than in 2009. If 2009 was the beginning of a new society of mass social networks, then 2010 was the year in which we began to really surround our lives with them.

TIME this year is honoring not only a person, but a technology. And not just one technology, but many. Cyberspace in 2010 is a lot different than it was in 2000. In the meantime were the rise of blogging (and later, micro-blogging), Web 2.0, mass file-sharing, Youtube, and of course social networking sites. In the last 10 years, the only other Person of the Year relating to technology is Bill Gates, who shared the title with his wife and the U2 singer Bono in 2005. They were all recognized, however, not for technology, but for philanthropic virtues. (Not that philanthropy is unimportant.)

It is about time that TIME looked around and noticed, “Oh, society has changed!” By naming Mark Zuckerberg as the Person of the Year, TIME has honored not only one person in one year, but also, through him, the vastly consequential online technologies of the decade.

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