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The Social Network

October 2, 2010

The Social Network

I’ll level with you: I am not a fan of Facebook. I’d check the little “Not A Fan” link, but I don’t have an account in the first place. I remember when it first showed up; I was still a grad student — not at Harvard but at The Other Place down the post road a ways — when it was opened to students at other Ivy League schools, and I got a bad feeling even then. Suffice it to say I didn’t originally pan on seeing this movie. In fact, I even had a Sunday Sample panning the song from the trailer.

There’s been a lot of electrons spilled in trying to defend my Facebook-free lifestyle to people who seem to take offense that I haven’t drunk their Kool-Aid-of-choice. A whole sub-debate centers on distinguishing Facebook from Twitter, which I’ve obviously embraced. And one argument that I haven’t really considered until now is that Facebook pretends to be real, and Twitter doesn’t. Not that Twitter is entirely up-front about its curated status, but it doesn’t claim to be more than the detritus it is.

The great appeal of online interactions is the sheer lack of restrictions. You can be pretty much whomever you want to be if you out the effort into cultivating that persona. But Facebook takes that cultivated persona and ties it to seemingly-solid facts — this person attended this school and works this job and lives in this neighborhood — that lend a Facebook account an air of authenticity that a World of Warcraft avatar will never have. Reality online is the stories we tell each other

And what, after all, is a deposition but the stories the plaintiff and defendant tell each other? Fincher weaves together a coherent narrative from the stories of Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer), and Mark Zuckerberg himself (Jesse Eisenberg) as they and their lawyers negotiate settlements of thte lawsuits that beset Facebook around the time it broke a million members. But what really happened? It’s left to the audience to figure out for themselves what they believe.

So what do I believe? I believe that Erika Albright has it right in the opening scene.

I believe Mark Zuckerberg is a nerd who’s never played the social game very well. I don’t really mean it as a criticism, since it applies to me as well. See Paul Graham’s essay for more about how this sort of thing arises. I believe he holds those who do play it well in contempt, which isn’t exactly uncommon in nerds; you get fed a lot of pablum like “they make fun of you because they’re jealous of how smart you are” and eventually you start to believe that you really are better than everyone else and isn’t it so frustrating that all of these cretins don’t appreciate that fact? I believe that he’s an asshole who insists on doing exactly what he wants, and who puts the blame for things that go wrong squarely on someone else’s shoulders.

I believe he created Facebook with the cynical motive that if he couldn’t win the game itself, he could turn a profit on the fact that the game was being played in the first place. Maybe he didn’t think of it in terms of money, but he wanted to reap the popularity and admiration from it. And as he started to get that admiration, he wasn’t in any way prepared to reconsider.

I don’t believe he stole the Winklevoss twins’ idea, because I don’t think he has a moral sense developed enough to consider attribution meaningful. He saw an idea and he used it. The notion that someone else might deserve recognition never even entered his head. He even started the whole ball rolling with a stunning disregard of privacy and IP rights, and I don’t believe he even recognizes their existence either. I don’t believe, projecting forward, that he has any real concern for his users’ privacy either.

And I believe that I’d really like to see the Rashōmon-inspired movie Aaron Sorkin spoke of on the Colbert Report earlier this week. It sounded a lot more interesting than the way the film was actually structured.

Worth it: not really. It looks nice and there are worse ways to spend a couple hours. But there are much better ones, too. Read the original book The Accidental Billionaires instead. Unlike Fight Club, Fincher hasn’t really improved on the source material.
Bechdel test: fail.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Hunt permalink
    October 3, 2010 06:40

    “I believe that he’s an asshole who insists on doing exactly what he wants, and who puts the blame for things that go wrong squarely on someone else’s shoulders.”

    This was all played out a long, long time ago, in a place far, far away. Well, in Silicon Valley, at least.

    Zuckerberg is a latter-day Steve Jobs, or probably more exactly, a latter-day Bill Gates. They were both irate and petulant, and played out juvenile angst in the corporate boardroom. It’s really no triumph of nerddom to make a seasoned exec with a wife and children to support jump to your every whim — just because you’re the prima donna, who might shower them with riches. Unfortunately, it seems to be a scenario that’s going to be played out over and over again, like “Groundhog Day,” until someone gets it right.

    I grew up in Silicon Valley (My HS physics teacher actually bought an Apple II from Steve Jobs himself.) In capitalist corporate America, the immature child prodigy will always be deferred to, since in the back of every seasoned professional’s mind, their own talents are fraudulent, and they are always on the lookout for “the one,” whose mythical innate talents eclipse all others. How exactly this all got started is totally beyond me, but now it seems we have to live with it.

    • October 3, 2010 09:04

      This is true, but Steve Jobs hasn’t spilled the personal information of everyone with an iPod a dozen times.


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