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Posted at 9:30 AM ET, 12/ 6/2010

Who's the most important twenty-something in the world?

By Ezra Klein

Last night, 60 Minutes had a two-part interview with Mark Zuckerberg that's worth watching. It includes an appearance from the real-life Winklevoss twins, who are very large and who very much need to move past what did or didn't happen between them and Zuckerberg in college.

But it got me thinking: Zuckerberg is the most important twenty-something in the world, right? When I tested this on Twitter, Kim-Jong Eun also got mentioned. Unlike Zuckerberg, he's likely to control nuclear weapons before he's 30. That puts him in the running. LeBron James also got some nods, but I think that confuses rich and famous with important. James isn't really changing how millions of people in the world go about their daily lives.

Any other contenders?

By Ezra Klein  | December 6, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
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Prince William

Posted by: pemlewis | December 6, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Jon Favreau?

Posted by: yankervitch | December 6, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

bristol palin

a living example of rich white republicans and their values

Posted by: newagent99 | December 6, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Zuckerberg is pretty unimportant. What he's done is important but it not like his future decisions will be that notable. Facebook UI changes are near meaningless.

Posted by: endaround | December 6, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

If Mark Zuckerberg is thought to be the most important twenty-something in the world, your generation is in serious trouble. I watched that interview (well, the first half: it was so underwhelming we switched to watch Tender Is the Night, on Turner). The earth-shattering change in how we relate to one another with the "new" Facebook is that we can now have an orderly list of icons to announce we "like" Lady GaGa? Seriously? Asking your friends will be more useful than Google? I've got news: your so-called friends may not be all that smart about a vast majority of googleable information.

Who, then, is the most important twenty-something in the world? Probably someone you've never heard of yet: a graduate student working in a lab who is actually finding a breakthrough cure for cancer; an artist who is shaping the way we see the world in ways we can't yet imagine; a physicist whose theory will change our very understanding of the way the universe operates. Facebook? Five years from now, I predict everyone will have left it for something else.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | December 6, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

I more or less agree with JJenkins2. We can't be sure who the most important twenty-something in the world is. Who knew of Albert Einstein or Alexander Flemming in 1904?

Posted by: justin84 | December 6, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

if something were to happen to Zuckerberg, facebook would go on largely uninterrupted, so not sure he's really all that important. His idea was, but something similar would have happened regardless.

I don't think any individual is really that important, but Kim Jong Eun seems more so than anyone else under 30.

Posted by: rt72 | December 6, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

JJenkins2, I think it's fair to qualify that "most important 20-something" probably include long term success. Zuckerberg is among the most important 20-something because he's important *right now*. He has made a product and a company what have had a huge impact on how people interact and live their day to day lives. Will Facebook be as relevent five years from now? I'm tempted to say no, but at the same time, the shelf life of social networking sites before Facebook was measured in months. Facebook is not only maintaining its relevence with no new competition of note, it's still spreading. Hell, last months I became Facebook friends with my high school Spanish teacher.

Zuckerberg is important because he and his company are doing things that are changing the way the world works right now. These sorts of titles can be fleeting though, if something better comes along.

Posted by: MosBen | December 6, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Zuckerberg is huge. He changed the way people communicate. While in his 20s. That's fundamental to how people like and pretty hard to beat.

Are we comparing people who are important during their 20s? Or, are we comparing people who are in their 20s now, but who may become important later?

Posted by: ideallydc | December 6, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I basically agree with JJenkins2. I'm not as confident that Facebook will be meaningless in five years, but otherwise, JJenkins2 is correct. The vast majority of the important developments by 20-somethings haven't yet been made or fully come to fruition. That is important to realize as much for the good of the 20-somethings as for the rest of us. Generally, great things take time, and a 20-something who is currently in grad school is absolutely in the running for eventually being the most important.
If you limit your question to who under-30 has already done the most to influence the world, then Mr. Zuckerberg is a shoo-in. Just not sure that's as interesting a question or title. Time will tell how much of an enduring influence FB winds up having.
It kind of reminds me of a Solid Gold episode (told you I wasn't in the running) where the host talked about how Men at Work was certain to be around for a long time because their first album had four Top 10 hits. They, of course, never had another successful album in the U.S.
What's Mr. Zuckerberg's second album going to look like?

Posted by: phillycooke | December 6, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure if this is silly or not, but what about Reggie Love? If Obama is the most important man in the world right now, Reggie Love may be the one of the people he relies upon and trusts the most.

Posted by: madjoy | December 6, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Ogyen Trinley Dorje

Posted by: Mazzi455 | December 6, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Mos Ben: I simply disagree that Facebook is particularly important, in anything more than a "pop" and temporary way. I disagree that it has fundamentally changed the way people lead their lives. It has simply changed the speed with which contacts are established, though not necessarily the depth. It is the equivalent of the infamous unwanted "Christmas letter" sent out each year to people mostly uninterested in hearing what you did during the past twelve months or in viewing pictures of your vacation or children. Now you get the Christmas letter every day, and you get to hear what they ate for lunch five minutes ago, or that their kid made its first poopy in the potty.

Becoming "friends" with your high school Spanish teacher isn't revolutionary. If you had been interested in communicating with your teacher, it would have been possible to find him or her well before the advent of Facebook and write an email or make a phone call. It would even have been possible before the Internet: my second-grade teacher called me out of the blue during my junior year in college, simply to find out how I was. That was in 1971. Communication with friends was always possible. Now one can do so simultaneously ... and capriciously. This is a change of scope and scale: it ain't the equivalent of Copernicus or Picasso.

Other aspects of the Internet have been important over the years. They have fundamentally changed the way I am able to do my work.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | December 6, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Adrian Lamo

Posted by: Mazzi455 | December 6, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Isn't Ezra Klein conspicuously missing from the list?

Posted by: gr128 | December 6, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

I know who the least important 20 something in the world is!

Posted by: 54465446 | December 6, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

I don't think whether or not Facebook is a fad is relevant to the influence that Mark Zuckerberg has had and will have. That's like comparing it to the Backstreet Boys. Facebook is the biggest and most influential force in the social networking and social media approach to viewing the web. That you can't seem to get away from these terms when talking anymore is evidence of Facebook's and Zuckerberg's impact. While you can argue they're trivial or trivialize information, it's hard to argue that they haven't had a large impact on how people communicate (particularly younger people - who with a little time will be most people) and how information is disseminated. That products like MySpace and Friendster preceded Facebook, doesn't change the fact that Facebook really introduced this concept to the mass market. Five hundred million users is huge. Of course some fraction of those are heavy users and a fraction barely ever log on and there's lot in between but it's still a lot of people and it's worldwide. Twitter has exploded as a medium too and that's a derivative of Facebook. Lots of other social networking tools are derivative of Facebook too. If Facebook fades away as a fad, the kinds of communication and sharing it promotes will not. The new things that replace Facebook will build off of Facebook. And that's a big influence. I'm not a big user of facebook or social media in general but it's hard to ignore its impact.

A comparison could be made to Netscape. Netscape was the first popular world wide web browser I can think of. It was the best at the time and popularized the idea of visiting websites and looking for information on the web. It was crushed by Microsoft and there are lots of other browsers now but I think it's indisputable that Netscape had a big influence on the development of the web and Facebook is and will be the same way even if it ceases to exist in the future.

Posted by: keatnik | December 6, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

JJenkins2, and print wasn't that revolutionary because people already had words. Come on! Yeah, I could have been in touch with my spanish teacher before now, but was I? Nope. And while I don't follow the vast majority of people on my friends list, I absolutely follow, and keep up with, many many more people than I would have without Facebook.

And maybe your only use for Facebook is finding out when your friends' kids have defacated, but that's a fairly limited use of Facebook. And Facebook has, what, half a billion users. How can you not consider that a Big Deal? Is there a chance it will all collapse and we'll move on to something bigger and better in five years? Sure, but Facebook has the best chance of any social networking site to hold on because it's already do so for a particularly long time and they probably have something like a critical mass of people necessary to continue growing on inertia alone. And, of course, they'll keep expanding its functionality.

Posted by: MosBen | December 6, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Gaga has a bigger effect on the world than Zuckerberg - not more important than what he's already created, but more important than whatever changes he will make to Facebook in the future.

Posted by: michaelh81 | December 6, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Remarkably, the real life Winkelvoss twins are almost as attractive as the guy who played them in the movie.

Posted by: randrewm | December 6, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

There was a book that came out in the late '80s/early '90s called, I think, The 100, that listed the 100 most influential people in history. One of the criteria was that, had this person's contribution not been made, it would have been years until it came to fruition; no one else was prepared to make it.

So Einstein ranked very high, while, if I recall, the Wright brothers were a bit lower, as flight was considered "inevitable" at the time.

In that light, I deem Facebook completely superfluous to history. Social networking has been the dominant startup meme, and interface simplicity has been the key. If Zuckerberg didn't do it, there absolutely would have been another Facebook (and, of course, there were), and it would have been just as dominant.

Posted by: dpurp | December 6, 2010 8:45 PM | Report abuse

Uh, I don't really have an opinion on this except to say: phillycooke FTW!!! (come on, Solid Gold?! Made. Of. Win.)

Posted by: ajw_93 | December 7, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

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