Archive for August, 2010


Facebook movie highlights the weakness of Internet Billionaires

While watching the “Other Guys” the other night I saw the first trailer for the new moview “The Social Network” which comes out this fall. The movie, directed by “Fight Club” director David Fincher, and starring Jessie Eisenberg chronicles the rise of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, and the legal challenges that ensued when he became the youngest billionaire in history.

I can’t say I know much about the movie or really care at this point about the creator of Facebook, but this movie caught my attention for another reason. While watching the trailer I was reminded of another movie about computer geeks that became billionaire’s, the unheralded “Pirates of Silicon Valley” which chronicled the rivalry between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in the 1980’s. What is fascinating about all these individuals to me, and perhaps it speaks to a current problem in America is that so little was accomplished to amass such wealth.

Let me say at the outset that I am a capitalist through and through. I don’t resent or regret anyone having more money than me. I realize that their are athletes who make a billion dollars for swinging a golf club or slamming a basketball, while their are teachers and doctors who can barely pay their bills. I am okay with this, because this is how capitalism works.¬†It may be true that Tiger Woods entire fortune is based on a dumb skill set, but it is also true that he is the only one in the world who can do what he does. That is why he makes so much money, not because society values him more.

But the problem with Internet Billionaire’s in my opinion is that very little genuine skill or ingenuity goes into the creation of their wealth. It is not that I don’t think Facebook is a useful tool or that people shouldn’t be on it, but I have to say the creation of it hasn’t changed the world in any fundamental way, certainly not any way for the better.

In the old days entrepeneurs made large fortunes because they did stuff people needed them to do. Think Edison and the light bulb, Franklin, Edison, and electricity. Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone, Carnegie and cheap steel. Henry Ford and mass production. All of these men and their inventions changed the world for the better. Furthermore these were not easy things to create. There were hundreds of inventors working on the light bulb at the same time Thomas Edison was, but he was the only one talented enough, and patient enough to see it through, and he believed in the concept of it when no one else did.

I can’t say it took a giant leap of faith for Zuckerberg to create a web page where people could chat with one another. I mean IM text has been around since the Internet started and posting pictures became simple once cameras went digital in the late nineties. His concept may have been a solid one, but it is hardly ground-breaking or requring of hard work to pull off. Anyone with adequate software can create some web page. The only difference between the good ones and the lousy ones is how many hits you get, and is this the best way to know the effectivenss of a product?

You see it is not hard to realize why so many people have sued Zuckerberg, just as so many people sued the guy who created Napster, and the creator of Myspace¬†and so many other Internet billionaire’s. Because when you boil down their inventions, they are little more than an idea masquerading as a product.

A good friend of mine is always telling me that I should cut him in on the sales of one of my novels (assuming I ever actually sold one) because he sometimes gives me ideas that help me to write them out. My response has always been the same; Ideas aren’t worth anything. It is the work that is valuable. A brilliant idea for a novel is far worse than a bad novel that was actually written. But in the world of internet billionaire’s this isn’t the case. The idea is about ninety percent of the work, the actual work is the other ten percent. And who can say where an idea came from? Who knows if Zuckerberg didn’t steal the idea for Facebook? Who knows what gets said between friends, and if one friend tries to turn that idea into money, who can stop them when the only tangible proof is the idea itself.

The internet billionaire’s are the perfect match for a country that produces nothing but image anymore. It is shameful that a few geeks with software can control the wealth of nations because they know how to type HTML code, but ultimately it doesn’t matter because wealth produced in this way leads to nothing but excess anyway.

I don’t hate the rich, and I don’t hate people with ideas, we need people with good ideas if we are going to turn this country around. But someday we will look back on the entrepeneurs of our time and wonder just what did they produce? What assets did their wealth and ingenuity give to the world. Did the richest among us leave anything of value, anything real and tangible in their wake?

I think it is safe to say history will remember the Carnegie’s, the Edison’s, and the Ford’s for all time. The Zuckerberg’s, the Cuban’s, and the Gate’s? Not so much. But hey, at least I can be internet friends with someone from Zimbabwe, and that’s got to be worth something, right…


Jack B.