Mark Zuckerberg's Dad Uses Computers and Everything

The Atlantic
Mark Zuckerberg's Dad Uses Computers and Everything
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Mark Zuckerberg's Dad Uses Computers and Everything

Today, the Los Angeles Times profiles Edward Zuckerberg, dentist and father of Mark "Facebook" Zuckerberg. It's not the first time media attention has been lavished on Edward, who runs his dental practice out of Dobbs Ferry, New York, but it's one of the more complete accounts of the man to appear. What do we learn from the LA Times write-up?

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Edward Zuckerberg Is Totally Wired. The piece, by Nathaniel Popper, makes it clear that the elder Zuckerberg's office is stuffed with technology. Some of it seems remarkably forward-thinking--patients in the examination rooms can watch streaming TV on flatscreen monitors, or listen to one of the office iPods. Other "advances," like "delivering appointment reminders by email and marketing with Facebook," seem kind of... well, standard.

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But Edward clearly has something invested in his identity as a tech guy. On his Web site, he's referred to as "Dr. Z, aka Inspector Gadget." And he's okay with trying to take a little credit for Mark's status as a mega-entrepreneur. In February, he said in a radio interview that his kids "all grew up around the office and were all exposed to computers ... There are advantages to being exposed to computers early on. That certainly enriched Mark's interest in technology."

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Here, he tells Popper that he bought a computer for each of his four children, and that he gave Mark programming lessons on an Atari 800. "A key word here is 'vision,'" says Edward. "We're all exposed to a lot of things, but how many can see where things are heading?"

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He'd Rather Not Talk About His Son. Popper writes that Edward "grows visibly uncomfortable" when asked about Mark. (Mark also wouldn't comment about his father.) "If I wanted to put a poster of my son on the cover of Time magazine somewhere in the waiting room, I guess I could," Edward says. "But I just choose not to."

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Edward didn't always try to play down his famous offspring. In February, Time obtained a form letter that Edward would send to new residents of Dobbs Ferry. ("One of the decisions you will be faced with after the move will be the selection of a new Family Dentist.") In the letter, Edward talks about how tech-savvy he is, and then offers the context-free claim that "indeed, I am literally the Father of Facebook!" He doesn't explain what this means--not a word about Mark. It's just on to talking about the awesome drills he uses.

Time wrote that this aside "comes off like one of those hilarious e-mails with wild claims of being the deposed king of Nigeria who just needs a little money to get back on his feet." As Popper writes in the LA Times, this may explain the elder Zuckerberg's "restraint" today.

He's Really Just a Normal Guy. Popper notes that Edward "still works a full schedule" and that "when he needs a computer, he often uses a communal office machine perched on a cramped desk alongside a photo of [assistant Rosa] Cavalluzzi's son and a pink-and-white guinea pig Beanie Baby." According to the piece, Edward "has tenaciously clung to the same life he had before Facebook garnered half a billion users."

"I guess I've lost some of my identity," he says. "I've always been the dentist, and now I'm the father of the Facebook guy." (Edward, if it makes you feel any better, Facebook has enabled the thefts of lots of identities, not just yours.)

All this unexplained attention for Mark's father, though, does make us wonder: are we going to hear about Zuckerberg, mère, anytime soon? Or is she, for reasons equally unexplained, less important? Perhaps the press feels less comfortable hounding someone's mom.

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