Of all the images of the Jewish New Year, the video on Facebook of Mark Zuckerberg blowing the shofar is the one that for some reason I just can't shake.
I've been thinking about it in conjunction with the very long profile of Zuckerberg by Evan Osnos recently published by the New Yorker. Osnos frames Zuckerberg's challenge as a moral or religious one: "Facebook has as many adherents as Christianity...I found Zuckerberg straining, not always coherently, to grasp problems for which he was plainly unprepared. These are not technical puzzles to be cracked in the middle of the night but some of the subtlest aspects of human affairs, including the meaning of truth, the limits of free speech, and the origins of violence. Zuckerberg is now at the center of a full-fledged debate about the moral character of Silicon Valley and the conscience of its leaders."
Osnos quotes a Facebook employee as paraphrasing Zuckerberg's internal message, in 2011, as "We believe in the religion of growth." The New Yorker article concludes that Zuckerberg "succeeded, long ago, in making Facebook great. The challenge before him now is to make it good."
Why is Zuckerberg — one of the richest people in the world, who heads one of America's most valuable companies, and who faces intense public and regulatory pressure — being so public about celebrating the Jewish New Year? Some possibilities:
He could be signaling that in facing this moral challenge or debate, he won't just be making things up for himself as he goes along, but he'll be guided by a tradition that is thousands of years old and that many believe was divinely inspired.
He could be signaling that he's participating in the annual Jewish tradition of looking back on the mistakes of the previous year, acknowledging them, and figuring out how to do better in the year ahead. That's a tradition characterized by both hopefulness and humility.
He could be personally exemplifying one of the preferences that has enabled the creation of his fortune — prioritizing public sharing above personal privacy.
He could be trying to please his customers, at least some of whom seem to want him and his company to take responsibility for and moderate some of the consequences of his creation.
If you have your own ideas, feel free to share them using the comments function.