New Yorker's Zuckerberg Profile Is Stupefyingly Boring

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When The New Yorker profiles someone, you expect to really get something from it. Take the piece on energy innovator Saul Griffith's from earlier this year. Brilliant work on a fascinating character. Griffith's thinking and personality lead you to new understanding about technology and energy.

But that's not the case with this week's Mark Zuckerberg profile. It's 6,000 words of stuff that's not surprising, barely interesting, and leave us knowing little more about Facebook or Zuckerberg than we did before.

If this is what passes for the interesting bits ("Zuckerberg lists 'Ender's Game' as one of his favorite books") in a deep profile of someone, you know there's not much there. But I'm not sure that's Jose Antonio Vargas' fault.

Zuckerberg is a boring guy who seems to suck the life out of any writing about him. Whatever percentage of evil he has brewing inside has long been channeled away from his persona. No one gets anything to stick to him. At best we find he's something of an insolent teenager. We assume he's bent on dominating the Internet, and no profile has ever found otherwise.

The most damaging snippets -- the 19-year old Zuckerberg's IMs -- were revealed long ago by Silicon Alley Insider. We learn little about Facebook as a company or Zuck's leadership within it beyond that he's kind of a tough guy to work with.

The two most interesting tidbits -- one personal, one professional -- are left hanging. The personal one comes when he arrived at his house with the New Yorker writer and his girlfriend is there studying. "Surprised, Zuckerberg approached her and rubbed her right shoulder. "I didn't know you were going to be here," he said. She touched his right hand and smiled," Jose Antonio Vargas wrote. It's a nice moment -- tender verging on maudlin -- but then it's over. We hear a little more about the two of them, but that's nearly it.


A similar lack of meat characterizes Vargas' discussion of the question-and-answer site Quora, which was founded by two early Facebook engineers. (Full disclosure: one of them is an old friend.) Facebook launched a near knock-off called Questions in July. While Vargas hints that perhaps Facebook Questions had a more personal motivation ("
To many people, the move seemed a vindictive attack on friends and former employees."), he goes no farther.

Perhaps the shocker is that Zuckerberg has built a company with 500 million users in what for many are the most tumultuous years of life without doing anything truly noteworthy (good or bad) aside from singlemindedly building the company.

And that's the problem: a story about the blocking-and-tackling of corporate life is perhaps the only thing more boring than the blocking-and-tackling of corporate life.
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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