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When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was named Time’s Person of the Year, the magazine was in fact reviving a decades-long theme it appropriately recognised way back in 1982. It was that year when Time named not a person, but the personal computer as a precedent-setting “Machine of the Year.”
“The ‘information revolution’ that futurists have long predicted has arrived, bringing with it the promise of dramatic changes in the way people live and work … perhaps even in the way they think,” said the 1982 cover story. “America will never be the same.”
Since that time, ironically, only two people from Silicon Valley have been chosen to grace the venerable year-end cover as person of the year: Zuckerberg and Intel’s Andy Grove in 1997. Indeed Zuckerberg, Grove, and the PC are inextricably linked. All three have made a mark and truly influenced the way people live, work and play.
Zuckerberg, 26, launched Facebook in 2004 and some estimate that his thriving social networking site is worth $35 billion. In under seven years, according to Time, Facebook has connected a twelfth of humanity into a single network, creating a social entity that would be the third largest country in the world, behind only China and India.
When Time named Grove “Man of the Year,” the story began by pointing out that the “digital revolution” was officially born inside Bell Labs in 1947 when what would later be called a transistor first switched on and off. Fifty years later, microprocessors from Grove’s company packed with millions of fast–switching transistors had become the “dynamo of the new economy.”
In 1997, Time said that this new “digital economy” had several features: It was global, networked, based on information, decentralised power, rewarded openness and specialised to meet particular needs. The high-tech industry, which accounted for less than 10 percent of America’s growth in 1990, made up about 30 percent in 1997.
Today, in many respects, it is the legacy of Grove’s vision of billions of connected PCs that serves as the foundation for companies such as Facebook that are truly connecting the world in new and different ways.
And as Grove told Time back in 1997:
“Technology is not inherently good or evil. It is only a tool for reflecting our values.” Decades and billions of PCs and connected conversations later, Zuckerberg talks about using technology “to make the world a more open place.”
Other quotes from Time’s “Machine of the Year” issue in 1982 and “Man of the Year” issue in 1997:
“The most visible aspect of the computer revolution, the video game, is its least significant. But even if the buzz and clang of the arcades are largely a teen-age fad, doomed to go the way of Rubik’s Cube and the Hula Hoop, it is nonetheless a remarkable phenomenon.” – Time, 1982 Machine of the Year issue
“Marvin Minsky, one of M.I.T.’s computer experts, believes the key significance of the personal computer is not the establishment of an intellectual ruling class, as some fear, but rather a kind of democratisation the new technology. Says he, “The desktop revolution has brought the tools that only professionals have had into the hands of the public. God knows what will happen now.” – Time, 1982 Machine of the Year issue
“Andy thinks faster than most people, certainly than me.” – Arthur Rock, an early investor in Intel in 1968, 1997 Time Man of the Year issue
“I’m not sure I could get a job here (at Intel) today.” – Gordon Moore, Intel co-founder, 1997 Time Man of the Year issue.