Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Social Network

Last night we finally got around to watching The Social Network and I was enthralled from the start, not because it's a great story and a good movie (which it is, both) but because it all happened just seven years ago - internet aeons, but the day before yesterday for me.

I remember first registering for Facebook, probably in 2006 when The Blue Cabin was coming out, and thinking, 'For the moment, I'll concentrate on MySpace because I'm a little old, at 49, to be a Facebooker'. Now, less than five years later, there is no 'typical' Facebooker, and look what happened to MySpace. How things have changed. Unless you're positively averse to social networking, you're going to join the half-billion others who have a Facebook account, it's as simple as that.

I haven't read the book on which the movie is based, Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires, so I don't know how closely the movie mirrors reality - Mark Zuckerberg called it 'a work of fiction' - but I kept wondering, What was it that was so unique about Facebook? You do have to say (as long as Zuckerberg isn't listening) that the concept is similar to MySpace. The answer may be in two lines of dialogue from Aaron Sorkin's screenplay. In one, Zuckerberg is describing how his idea will work, and says, 'You have to know the people on the site to get past your own page'; a comment expanded on later by his friend/enemy Eduardo: 'People had the ability to invite - or NOT to invite - their friends to join. In a world where social structure is everything, that was THE thing.' There you have it.

If there is a central message in The Social Network, I reckon it's the irony that you can have hundreds, even thousands of 'friends' - and no friends. Zuckerberg, the youngest billionaire in history and the facilitator of numberless virtual relationships, is portrayed as socially awkward to the point of downright loneliness. In the final scene, he sits alone at night in front of his computer. Facebook is open and he types the name of the only person who has meant anything to him personally, his ex-girlfriend Erica, who ended their relationship with these words (or similar): 'You're going to go through life thinking girls don't like you because you're a nerd. I'm here to tell you it's not that. It's because you're an asshole.' On Erica's Facebook profile, Zuckerberg hovers his mouse over 'Send a Message' and 'Add as a friend'. He goes for 'Add as a friend', and waits. Hits 'Refresh'. Waits. Hits 'Refresh' again. You sense it's going to be a long night..

It may be facile to posit some kind of connection, but the director, David Fincher, once laid bare his own feelings in a way which suggests he might have empathised. After the death of his father, he said, 'When you lose someone who helped form you in lots of ways, who is your 'true north', you lose the barometer of your life. You're no longer trying to please someone, or you're no longer reacting against something. In many ways, you're truly alone.'
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