I had the incredible opportunity to see Mark Zuckerberg interact with Senator Orrin Hatch yesterday morning at the BYU Marriott Center. During the discussion, both fielded questions posed by students and others through BYU's Facebook page. More importantly during the discussion, I was able to see a side to Zuckerberg that others sometimes don't care to admit exists.
The Mark Zuckerberg I saw yesterday was kind, intelligent, personable, and passionate about technology and its social application. He was not the arrogant misfit many want to believe created Facebook, nor was he uninterested in the ideas of others. Quite the contrary, he conversed comfortably and genuinely with the Senator, even probing him for his opinions regarding technology and the future of technology-related governmental policy.
Ironically, Zuckerberg appeared more comfortable in front of the 10,000+ crowd than did Senator Hatch. When Zuckerberg asked what the government could do to help budding entrepreneurs, the Senator fumbled in his seat and awkwardly muttered about how he preferred to encourage innovation rather than restrict the Internet as “some in big business” might promote. Senator Hatch then spoke about Napster and his relations with Sean Parker, but for some reason failed to mention how his administration has fought against Napster, similar technologies, and nearly everything for which they have stood. Senator Hatch's INDUCE Act and his more recent COICA Act, for example, appear to combat copyright infringement on the surface, but would likely induce drastic consequences for many Internet-related technologies. Luckily, the savvy Marriot Center crowd saw right through the Senator's attempts at deflecting attention away from the chasm that exists between his politics and the ideals of openness and sharing for which Zuckerberg and Parker have firmly stood.
“The thing people are most interested in is what's going on with the people they care about,” he said, reminding me of conversations I’ve recently had about openness and potential ways to improve OER distribution. Ultimately, “what we're doing with Facebook is as much psychology and sociology as they are technology.” Too right, too true.
I guess in the end, it was Zuckerberg’s focus on the purposes behind Facebook that impressed me most. It was his attention to empathy (he discussed it twice during the hour) and how he hopes that Facebook will help people to better learn to care for and connect with one another. While he’s claimed in the past to be “trying to make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share,” I honestly believe him now. Not because I’ve now seen him in person, but because of the conviction and heart with which he taught those in attendance today.