My thoughts on The Social Network

So that Facebook movie everyone’s been going on about – yeah, it’s pretty fucking fantastic. The music is great. The pacing is excellent, at the start particularly so. Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly cast as the neurotic genius, and Justin Timberlake is a fantastically smug and insecure friendship wrecker. Aaron Sorkin’s pared-back way with words makes the movie seem as though there is absolutely no trimming left un-shaved. It’s altogether a very lean film. Very fit.

Yep, I have no complaints about the movie whatsoever. It’s great! But you know how all those people said it was a “missed opportunity”? Well, okay so maybe only Lawrence Lessig said that – but it seemed like the critical consensus at release was that it didn’t really go into detail about the revolution that Facebook has inspired, which is true. But it also spectacularly misses the point about that revolution.

You don’t need to explain what Facebook has done, least of all to anyone that would be reading your review online. And why? Because there is already a better than ONE IN THREE chance said person using the internet to read your damned comments about The Social Network uses Facebook already. The ubiquity of the Facebook revolution (whatever that means) is probably more powerful and more potent than the actual content of its transformation.

According to Google’s numbers there are about 1.5billion internet users in the world (as of 2008). As of today-ish there are 500million Facebook users. One in three. One in three internet users has a Facebook account and is (probably) intimately acquainted with the site and at least a few of the major services it provides. Status. Photos. Comments. Friends.

Lawrence Lessig, et al. – your comments are officially irrelevant: everybody already uses it.

As a short aside, the movie would be as dull as shit if it actually was more about the changes to society’s concept of privacy; sharing; over-sharing; friends and friendship; networking; and a million other ideas all subtly touched by the gently caressing software hand of Mark Zuckerberg and co. Yes, those changes are all really interesting things and they all really happen and have greatly been affected – but in no way would beating people over the head with the implications of those things constitute a good film! We already know that stuff, so it’s neither new nor interesting.

So as a history of the founding of Facebook, it adds something to the picture of the site. We now know a little bit more (albeit, through the distorting lens of Hollywood) about how, and perhaps even more importantly why, the site came into being. And the fact that the why is pretty much like any boring, reasonable, real-life story is also fascinating.

I was reading the other day about creative writing, American university MFA programs and whether they stamp out creativity. One of the questions the article asks is ‘What about other forms or writing, like the personal essay?’ Well, the personal essay of which this is (somewhat loosely – okay very loosely) an example is the perfect vehicle for explaining all those shocking and amazing and terrifying things Lessig talks about in his review-type piece.

Someone out there, or more likely tens of someone’s out there, are writing blog posts, magazine articles and personal essays explaining the highlighting the profound changes that Facebook is out there actively affecting in the world right now. I’m contributing what small insights I can provide. The Social Network is not for that.

The Social Network is an ordinary story about relatively ordinary people. Boy gets hurt by a girl. Boy creates horrible website. Boy becomes billionaire. The steps between each moment are made ever so slightly more visible; more real. The myth of the genius-neurotic who has that one idea that changes the world cannot survive the film The Social Network. Yes, so-called ‘genius’ is one part of it but it’s not the whole story. If that’s where the story ended it would not have been a very long film. Genius isn’t enough to get Facebook to 500 million users, and nor just pure tenacity – as demonstrated by the characters of the oddly named Rowers. They proved that – by refusing to give up, they still never ended up getting control of Facebook , nor I imagine did they go on to create or invent an even better idea.

There was a scene early on in the film where Zuckerberg and his friend and CFO Eduardo Saverin come out of a lecture Bill Gates was giving at Harvard. They’re stopped by three guys outside who want to congratulate them on ‘the cool job’ they did on Facebook. It struck me at the time just how identical they were to Zuckerberg’s cohort. Same clothes. Same manner of speaking. Clearly just as bright, or they wouldn’t have been at Harvard.

Yet someone invented Facbook, but it wasn’t them. Why is that? The Social Network shows us a sliver of the practicality behind that why.