Time magazine has chosen Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old founder of Facebook, as its Person of the Year, a title given to an individual who has "for better or for worse...done the most to influence the events of the year."
In a year fraught with political turmoil and sweeping actions involving lightning-rod individuals, Zuckerberg was an unexpected choice. A popular vote among Time readers, for instance, revealed that their pick was Julian Assange, the controversial founder of WikiLeaks. National politicians, international threats, and the leaders of hot-button political movements were also up for consideration.
But it's Zuckerberg who received 2010's recognition, in a testament to the rising power of a new generation of Silicon Valley innovation and how much the ways in which we communicate have been dramatically changed by the Web and digital media.
"The way we connect with one another and with the institutions in our lives is evolving. There is an erosion of trust in authority, a decentralizing of power and at the same time, perhaps, a greater faith in one another. Our sense of identity is more variable, while our sense of privacy is expanding. What was once considered intimate is now shared among millions with a keystroke," Time editor Richard Stengel wrote in an editorial explaining the magazine's choice. "More than anyone else on the world stage, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is at the center of these changes."
This year, Facebook dominated many a technology headline as the company reached 500 million users around the world, made an extensive set of upgrades to its social-networking product that pushed it further into every corner of our online lives, and became a sensation in Hollywood with the release of "The Social Network," an acclaimed film about Facebook's origins that paints an insidious and in some ways fictionalized version of Zuckerberg. Jesse Eisenberg, the actor who played Zuckerberg on screen, was nominated Tuesday for a Golden Globe award for Best Actor (one of five nominations for the film overall), and there is a strong chance that "Social Network" will pick up a handful of Academy Award nominations as well.
In 2007, in what was then a rare public appearance, Zuckerberg said that "once every hundred years, media changes," and implied that Facebook was at the vanguard of a fresh hundred-year change. Zuckerberg was promptly derided for saying something that was at best reflective of youthful cluelessness and at worst a sign of blossoming hubris.
Maybe his math was off and the 100-year estimate wasn't quite accurate, but three years later it's clear that Facebook has, in fact, been at the center of electrifying change in the way that we communicate with the people around us and share information. And if Zuckerberg's relentlessly hands-on approach with Facebook--which seems to have grown even closer and more obvious over the years--is any sign, this could not have happened without the young, flip-flops-clad CEO.
This post was last updated at 6:00 a.m. PT.