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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Field Notes: Tech Titans Choose Small or Secretive Ceremonies

Tech Titans Choose Small or Secretive Ceremonies

Michael Buckner/Getty Images//Noah Kalina/Facebook, via Associated Press/Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Clockwise from above left, Sean Parker and Alexandra Lenas, who will marry next week in what is said to be an extravagant event; Mark Zuckerberg and his college sweetheart, Priscilla Chan, in the backyard of their home in Palo Alto, Calif., where they were wed; and Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki had a casual wedding on an island in the Bahamas.

It's not easy being a billionaire nerd. Just ask Sean Parker. When details recently leaked about the Napster/Facebook/Spotify mogul's lavish plans to marry the singer Alexandra Lenas next weekend at a resort in Big Sur, Calif., many mistakenly jumped to the conclusion that Mr. Parker, 33, would host a medieval-themed event. A big, fat geek wedding, if you will.

It didn't help that he had sent out engraved save-the-date rocks and hired Ngila Dickson, the Oscar-winning costume designer of “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy, to outfit the couple's more than 250 guests with custom attire. There will be fake ruins and faux waterfalls built especially for the wedding that seem suspiciously like a Tolkien backdrop, too.

Mr. Parker, whose net worth is estimated to hover around $2 billion, and who has a daughter with Ms. Lenas, quickly took to Facebook and Twitter to set the record straight. “This is not a theme wedding and there will be nothing ‘medieval' about it,” he announced. “Ngila Dickson created a series of outfits that are based on modern suits and dresses with some elements of Victorian flair.”

What he did not address, however, was the cost of the affair, reportedly about $9 million. It is being overseen by the celebrity event designer Preston Bailey, who also orchestrated Donald Trump's 2005 wedding. Considering that Mr. Parker has committed to spending $350,000 on a temporary dance floor, it is easy to see how things might add up.

Even if Mr. Parker's budget is a million or two less, it's a huge expenditure, even by Hollywood standards. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, for instance, were reported to have spent an estimated $2 million when they married outside Rome in 2006. And in Silicon Valley, ostentatious displays tend to draw more scorn than awe.

Alexia Tsotsis, an editor of the San Francisco-based industry Web site TechCrunch, said: “Outliers like Parker serve as a warning for the rest of the group. Everyone here just wants to give off the aura that they're working hard.”

That may explain why tech titans typically go small or secretive when marrying. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Larry Ellison of Oracle were both married in low-key backyard ceremonies. (Granted, the backyard of Mr. Ellison's 45-acre Japanese-style estate with a waterfall in Woodside, Calif., is hardly your typical lawn, and the 2003 marriage, which ended in divorce, was his fourth.)

Chris Hughes, another Facebook founder, also chose a small backyard ceremony at his home in Garrison, N.Y., when he married the political activist Sean Eldridge last July; afterward, they celebrated with a couple of hundred more guests at a party at Cipriani Wall Street with a big band.

If they prefer a destination wedding, like Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, or even Bill Gates, their choice is usually a lush private island with enough security to thwart interlopers by air or sea.

According to Alice Marwick, an assistant professor at Fordham University and the author of “Status Update: Celebrity and Attention in Web 2.0,” “the culture of modern technology has a very idealistic underpinning to it.”

She added, “There's a sense that you're doing something good for the world, and that doesn't go hand in hand with flashy weddings or buying a Prada backpack.”

Clearly, Mr. Zuckerberg wasn't swayed by any traditional trappings. Last May, when he married his college sweetheart, Priscilla Chan, in the backyard of their home in Palo Alto, Calif., guests dined on simple Mexican fare and sushi catered by local restaurants. Instead of splurging on a fancy multitiered wedding cake, the couple served cute chocolate mice (about $3.50 each) from an artisan chocolatier.

Some speculated that the simple affair was a strategic business decision: Just 24 hours before the wedding, the then-28-year-old immortalized in “The Social Network” saw his net worth skyrocket to an estimated $19 billion after the frenzied initial public offering of Facebook.

With just a touch of irony, some media outlets called out the billionaire for his frugality. TMZ posted an item about Ms. Chan's ruby ring that a jeweler had estimated to cost around $25,000, and sneered, “If Mark Zuckerberg's new wife was expecting a massive diamond on her wedding ring ... she was sorely disappointed.” The New York Post simply referred to the event as “Mark's cheap nups.”

A version of this article appeared in print on May 26, 2013, on page ST15 of the New York edition with the headline: Tech Titans Choose Small or Secretive Ceremonies.