Time magazine’s “Person of the Year 2010” is out and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is your winner. Given that Facebook has been popular on college campuses for nearing a decade, Time may be a little behind the times on this one. Overall, I’m left with the feeling that the award has more to do with the movie The Social Network, which came out this year, than the website, which launched in 2004.
Nevertheless, Zuckerberg has arguably done more than anyone to change the way people interact. With nearly 600 million users Facebook has become, in Time’s words, “the connective tissue for nearly a tenth of the planet.” More people are also spending more time on Facebook. In June 2009, Nielson estimated that the average U.S. user spent about 9.3 minutes per day on Facebook. By January 2010, that had jumped that jumped to nearly 14 minutes per day. Now, almost one year later, it is undoubtedly higher still.
Facebook is a powerful driver of social interaction, but it has also become an influential tool in politics. From issue advocacy, to campaigns, to elected officials, Facebook is quickly joining mail, and even email, as an indispensable method of getting out your message. [See a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]
So bravo Mark Zuckerberg, you have truly changed the way elections and politics are being conducted. That said, I thought it would be interesting to focus solely on politics and come up with my own “People of the Year” list.
Time Winner: Mark Zuckerberg
My Winner: Jack Dorsey
Who?!? Dorsey is the little known (at least until David Fincher directs a scandalous biopic about him) creator of Twitter. Twitter, more recently than Facebook, has revolutionized the way people digest their political information. You would be hard-pressed to find a politician or pundit without a Twitter account. And why not? Twitter is a way to provide up-to-the-second information in a town where being to first to get out the message is enough to tilt the debate in your favor.
Of course, it is also a place where we are limited to 140 characters or less. A restriction that can lead to some wonderfully entertaining mishaps from our favorite political personalities. Take this tweet from @SarahPalinUSA:
"Refudiate," "misunderestimate," "wee-wee'd up." English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!
That’s right, Twitter is not only about disseminating information, it’s also expanding our vocabulary!
Time Runner Up: The Tea Party
My Runner Up: The Tea Party
Ok, so I have to agree with Time here. The Tea Party was a revolutionary political force that had a tremendous impact on the recent elections. It arose out of a very clear need. Republicans had seemingly drifted from their platform of small government, fiscal conservativism, and individual responsibility. Democrats were obviously not the answer, having just passed an $800 billion stimulus package and a government-centric healthcare reform. With no outlet, the collective angst of the masses collated into a powerful political force--the Tea Party. [See our editorial cartoons on the Tea Party.]
Sure the tri-cornered hats may have been a little much, but hearkening back to the vision of the Founders was a much-needed exercise for some conservatives who had gone astray. Their power became evident in the recent elections where their fundraising ability coupled with a powerful grassroots structure won them some significant electoral clout. Although there were some miscues along the way (*cough* Christine O’Donnell *cough*) their small government message was a key force in winning the majority for Republicans.
Time Runner Up: Julian Assange
My Runner Up: Sen. Tom Coburn
Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, has made it his life’s work to uncover government secrets in the name of free-speech and transparency. Senator Coburn has done much the same thing, albeit without threatening the lives and integrity of those working in our intelligence system. Where Assange reveals top-secret information, Coburn reveals the deep-seeded spending secrets of Washington. [See 5 things we didn't learn from WikiLeaks.]
Coburn, along with Sen. John McCain, spearheaded an information campaign to highlight wasteful government projects contained in the stimulus. In doing so, he made us question whether spending over half a million dollars to replace the windows in a closed visitor center at Mount St. Helens was really the best use of our money. He didn’t stop there. As a former physician, he diagnosed the problems in the Democrats’ healthcare reform bill and offered his own prescription for how to solve our healthcare maladies without running up an enormous bill. Finally, and most recently, he led the charge to shed some light on the earmarking process that had become a dirty little spending secret for members of both parties. Not a bad year for “Dr. No.” [Read more about healthcare reform.]
Time Runner Up: The Chilean Miners
My Runner Up: Rep. Paul Ryan
The Chilean Miners spent an incredible 69 days underground after being trapped by a cave-in at the San Jose copper-gold mine in Chile. Ryan isn’t facing the same life-threatening ordeal, but is nevertheless spending a lot of time underground, doing his best to dig America out of its enormous deficit hole. In a recent debate with David Brooks, Ryan warned that,
“Should the government fail to reform entitlements, those very programs will collapse under their own weight and bury the next generation under a crushing debt.” [Read more about government spending.]
Unafraid to tackle controversial issues and unabashedly honest about his own party’s failings, Ryan has proven himself to be the leading voice on the threat posed by our government’s spending habits. Through his plan to erase the deficit, a Roadmap for America’s Future, and his placement on President Obama’s deficit commission, Ryan has a chance to reform Washington’s spending before America finds itself trapped under a debt it can’t pay off.
Each of these people is changing the way Washington works. Whether it be improving how we get our political information, shedding light on some of the uglier aspects of Washington, or drawing attention to the big problems we face, each of these people has had a hand in guiding the direction of our country. The question going forward is, are we headed the right way?