More Awesome Than Money

We can and should find meaning in our life’s work. But we’ll remain empty if that’s the only place we expect to find it.

Dan Grippi.

Rafi Sofaer.

Ilya Zhitomirskiy.

Max Salzberg.

None of these men have the name recognition of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, or Tumblr’s David Karp. But in 2011 while enrolled at New York University, these four men conceived Diaspora, a social network and reaction to Facebook’s lack of concern for privacy.

More Awesome Than Money: Four Boys and Their Heroic Quest to Save Your Privacy from Facebook (Viking, 2014, ISBN 978-0670025602) was written by Jim Dwyer, who was a fly on the wall from nearly the very beginning of the project. Diaspora’s creation had many twists and turns, including the downward spiral of depression and suicide of one of its founders, Ilya Zhitomirskiy.

More Awesome than Money book coverMr. Dwyer’s storytelling reminded me of Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine, which I had read in high school and was required to read again during a third-year computer architecture course in college. Perhaps More Awesome Than Money should be required reading for today’s computer science students, eager to create the next Instagram or Snapchat.

The book challenged my thinking on social media, privacy, the Wikileaks controversy, and even enterprise software vendors’ rush to accumulate corporate data in the cloud. It brought back memories of my own participation in a pre-dot-com-bomb startup adventure. And it reminded me that while we can and should find meaning in our life’s work, we’ll remain empty if that’s the only place we expect to find it.

Christine Rosen summarizes the lesson of Diaspora, now an open source project, better than I can. She writes in her review published in the Wall Street Journal:

The tragedy of Diaspora isn’t that its creators failed to create a new and better Facebook. It’s that a young man who hoped to build a better online social network had a real one so weak that he apparently was able to hide his downward spiral into suicidal depression.

I am a bit disappointed but not surprised that I was unable to find book reviews on the tech web sites that I follow regularly. After all, those sites exist to glorify the tech startup culture and overlook its excesses. But I have linked to book reviews from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post so you can read other opinions about the book. I was lucky to be the first person to borrow a copy from my local library and I hope you’ll be able to read this important story.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I borrowed a copy of this book from a public library and did not receive it free from its publisher. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Benjamin Joseph Marks

Please welcome Benjamin Joseph Marks, who entered the world at 11:23 PM on Friday, January 15, 2010.  He weighed 7 lbs. 5 oz. (3.327 kg) and 20 inches (51 cm).  He and his mom are doing well and came home to meet my two daughters today (Sunday).

My two daughters were born in 2001 and 2003 and many things have changed since then.  The largest change for this dad was how the Internet has enabled social networking.  This time, I was in the labor and delivery room equipped with an Apple iPhone and its Facebook app.  I assumed that my Blackberry-toting father-in-law in the waiting room would appreciate the updates.  But my wife and I have extended family all over the United States.   They would also be interested in updates and photos.  But what really surprised me was how many of our Facebook friends stayed glued to their computers on Friday night, refreshing my wife’s Facebook wall for the latest updates and photos.  We certainly wouldn’t have wanted dozens of people in the labor and delivery room, but through Facebook they were able to participate in a special event for our family.  The end result was that people in different time zones (and even different countries) were able to experience what was happening in near real-time.

Despite these technological advances, I was thrilled to be there personally.  As a traveling IT consultant, my greatest fear was that I would miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime moment.  But on Friday night, I watched my son emerge from the watery depths of the womb, cut his umbilical cord, and held him in my arms.  The folks at Apple are geniuses, but I don’t expect those capabilities as iPhone features any time soon.

Kind regards,