Meet the second-youngest individual ever to be named Time magazine’s Person of the Year: Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of the omnipresent social-networking site Facebook.
“It’s something that is transforming the way we live our lives every day,” Time Managing Editor Richard Stengel said as he announced the magazine’s 2010 selection live on TODAY Wednesday. “It’s social engineering, changing the way we relate to each other.”
If you regularly use a computer and interact even minimally with Facebook, you may feel as though you already know the 26-year-old Zuckerberg. And maybe you’ve seen the acclaimed movie “The Social Network,” which portrays Zuckerberg as socially stunted, calculating and arrogant. But Stengel told TODAY’s Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira that there’s more to the multibillionaire CEO.
“He’s very affable, he’s in the moment, he’s quick-witted,” Stengel said, but “he has this thing when he gets on camera” and becomes suddenly shy.
Stengel said Zuckerberg stands out for accomplishing something that’s never been done before: connecting millions of people and mapping the social relations among them.
“This year they passed 500 million users — one in 10 people on the planet,” Stengel said.
“He’s our second-youngest Person of the Year,” Stengel added; only Charles Lindbergh, named the magazine’s very first Man of the Year back in 1927 when he was 25, was younger. “He’s deeply affected by it.”
In his in-depth profile of Facebook’s co-founder, Time’s Lev Grossman writes that “Zuckerberg is a warm presence, not a cold one. He has a quick smile and doesn’t shy away from eye contact. He thinks fast and talks fast, but he wants you to keep up. He exudes not anger or social anxiety but a weird calm. When you talk to his co-workers, they’re so adamant in their avowals of affection for him and their insistence that you not misconstrue his oddness that you get the impression it’s not just because they want to keep their jobs. People really like him.”
What about Chilean miners? Tea Party?
The decision to name Zuckerberg Person of the Year followed weeks of debate and discussion among Time editors and staff members. Here are others Time considered:
The magazine’s No. 2 runner-up after Zuckerberg was the Tea Party, a loose affiliation of American citizens united by their dislike of big government.
No. 3: Julian Assange, whose WikiLeaks organization has shared reams of sensitive diplomatic cables with the world. Referring to a poll of Time readers as to who should have been chosen, Stengel told Lauer and Vieira: “Assange won our poll by a great margin — but of course, Lady Gaga was No. 2. We take all that into account.”
No. 4: Hamid Karzai, the elected leader of the volatile nation of Afghanistan.
No. 5: The Chilean miners, who were trapped half a mile underground for more than two months. Stengel told Lauer and Vieira that “we have photographs of every Chilean miner” in their issue.
Another contender was Steve Jobs, the Apple Inc. co-founder and chief executive who in 2010 launched the iPad, which quickly became the gadget of the year. Apple also surpassed Microsoft as the most highly valued technology company this year.
Thousands of TODAY viewers voted on their picks for Person of the Year and made decidedly different decisions.
Viewers’ top choice was the Chilean miners, who garnered 44 percent of the vote; the second pick was the Tea Party, which got 20 percent. Of viewers who participated, 19 percent voted for Zuckerberg.
In the end, Time’s decision rested on Zuckerberg’s — and Facebook’s — incredible reach over human beings “on a species-wide scale.”
The numbers are staggering: Nearly one out of every 10 people on the planet uses Facebook, and the site handles 1.7 billion interactions a minute. Almost 1 million new people sign up for Facebook every single day.
Stengel said Zuckerberg is “creating a new system of exchanging information that has become both indispensable and sometimes a little frightening” — and it’s changing our lives “in ways that are innovative and even optimistic.”
Zuckerberg is the magazine’s second-youngest choice, after Lindbergh; the third-youngest was Queen Elizabeth back in 1952.
Age-wise, Zuckerberg beat out Britain’s queen by two weeks; she also was 26 when the magazine profiled her. Interestingly, Queen Elizabeth just joined Facebook last month.
Zuckerberg in his own words
In a series of interviews, Zuckerberg spoke at length with Time about his life, his upbringing and his company.
“I think the next five years are going to be about building out this social platform,” he told the magazine.
“It’s about the idea that most applications are going to become social, and most industries are going to be rethought in a way where social design and doing things with your friends is at the core of how these things work,” he added.
Zuckerberg has big plans to expand the social model, not just on the Web, but everywhere: In your car, on your TV, on your mobile device. Everywhere you look, you’ll be able to see your friends’ recommendations and preferences.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, spoke with Time about a future where technologies are built around people.
“It’s a shift from the wisdom of crowds to the wisdom of friends,” Sandberg said. “It doesn’t matter if a hundred thousand people like X. If the three people closest to you like Y, you want to see Y.”
As for his portrayal in “The Social Network,” Zuckerberg took it in stride.
“I found it funny what details they focused on getting right. I think I owned every single T-shirt that they had me wearing,” he told Time. “But the biggest thing that thematically they missed is ... the actual motivation for what we’re doing, which is, we think it’s an awesome thing to do.”
The Dec. 27 Person of the Year issue of Time goes on sale on Friday. It's available now at .