Marshall McLuhan famously said, "The medium is the message," suggesting that the way we get information is the information. That notion seems even more to the point today, as the space where the information is supplied becomes the message. A new Facebook feature even marks a user's location. We're frequently reminded that the digital age encourages transparency, but the reality is that there are merely more ways to see not very much. When the messenger wears no clothes, who can tell?
Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake), the co-founder of Napster in the movie, observes that a million dollars is no longer cool. "You know what's cool?" he asks. "A billion dollars." He doesn't say how the billion should be spent.
So it was a remarkable moment on "Oprah" when the real-life Mark Zuckerberg announced that he would give $100 million to the failing schools of Newark to "make a difference." His timing could have been self-serving -- to counteract the negative portrait of him in the movie -- but his motive seems to have matured. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is trying to change the education system in Newark by pushing parents to find better schools for their kids.
Newark charter schools now require children to win the lottery, literally, if they want to attend a school of their choice. As in most other cities, there are simply not enough spaces in charter schools for all those who want one. Christie recalls meeting a mom whose son won a coveted spot through the lottery who told him that the charter school would make the difference between her son "going to college or going to jail."
If the 26-year-old billionaire has learned something about charity in the transition from the callow Harvard dropout he was, then he may have moved from wading deep in the digital shallows to finding new depths of possibility. Like the devil, the dork is in the details. By building on Facebook to become a philanthropist, he's appealing to our better angels. You could call it "the new cool."