Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On

Back in early November the Times ran the obit of a 22 year old student who was one semester short of graduation from the N.Y.U’s Courant Institute (“Ilya Zhitomirskiy Dies at 22; Co-Founded Social Network,” NYT, 11/15/11). Along with two other students, he’d propounded a revolutionary social networking idea called Diaspora* which had in turn produced a site, “Mr. Zhitomirskiy, an impish self-syled radical, unicyclist and competitive ballroom dancers, was a member of the  nascent liberation technology movement which views the  conglomeration of personal information by large corporate and government bodies as a threat to civil liberties and human rights,” the Times obit went on to say. Mr. Zhitomirskiy’s parents had immigrated to the States in 2000 according to the Times and both his father and grandfather were mathematicians. So his brilliance had a pedigree, but in many way Zhitomirskiy’s life resembles a supernova one of those burning stars which emit a brilliance blast of light before imploding. It also resembles that of a great youthful poetic genius like Rimbaud. The  German sociologist Max Weber distinguished between a sect and a church. A sect depends on charisma. By the time the sect has become a church the charisma has become routine and institutionalized. The Times reported that suicide was the suspected cause of death and it’s not surprising since utopia (by definition “that which doesn’t exist”) was what this impassioned young man was plainly after—in this case a world where social networks were not lucrative business enterprises. To say that Zhitomirskiy was going against the tide was an understatement.  Prospero's famous quote from Act IV of The Tempest might have been applied  to Zhitomirskiy.  He was “such stuff as dreams are made on…” The front page of today's Times business section has the following headline, "The Facebook Resisters," with the subtitle, "While the Site Has Surged, Some Are Content to Sit Out."

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