500 MILLION “FRIENDS”
The irony is that a site that’s entire purpose is the development and maintenance of relationships was founded by those with such profoundly limited relationship skills. Zuckerberg was not necessarily wrong to move forward with his project sans what he considered “dead weight,” but there were a multitude of ways he could have handled the development of Facebook that may have avoided two costly lawsuits – and most certainly would have saved his relationship with the man he had once considered his best friend (Saverin).
Along with a sense of entitlement, the film depicts a longing for a sense of excellence, as defined by external accolades and markers of “success.” The opening of the film depicts a Zuckerberg more focused on entry into an exclusive club than the actual relationship at hand. Of course, that tendency to focus on “proving himself” to some unseen audience plays throughout the film. The desire to impress is inherent in the structure of Facebook. How many of us know someone, or one’s, who somehow feel that the number of “friends” they have on Facebook is an acceptable barometer of their worth and value?
The film not-so-subtly points out the irony that the character of Mark Zuckerberg has 500 million virtual friends, but the man himself has few to none in reality. I say “character” because there is no way to know the status of the actual Mark Zuckerberg’s relationships. It is impossible to say if any of the characterizations of the real-life people involved in the founding of Facebook are “real” or “true.” Most likely there is a bit of truth and a lot of conjecture. In any event, Zuckerberg acts as an archetype in the film in many ways – an archetype who highlights a general tendency to focus on the superficial rather than the substantive; a tenancy reflected in the focus on what we believe should be an achievable lifestyle, rather than what is real for us at the time.
“I WISH I WAS SPECIAL”
For many, our basic life needs being met is no longer good enough. Some people dream of extravagance, some of being famous for fame’s sake, other dream of Harvard-style clubs because “they’re exclusive, and fun, and lead to a better life.”
The angst of the song “Creep” in the trailer represents this notion perfectly, lamenting: “I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul.” The song is saying those words with irony, but for a couple of generations, the assumption has been that some outrageous idea of what is essentially impossible (like having both a perfect body and soul) is not only possible, but to be expected.
WHAT DO WE WANT? WHAT DO WE NEED?
In many ways, we are in a maturation process as a nation, mired in a time when we must look at our desires and see what is realistically achievable as goals within those desires. We must redefine and solidify our values. In some ways, The Social Network tells the story of a time just before we were collectively forced to confront our dangerously irresponsible relationship with money, and in a sense represents a corrupted and out of touch value system. Not in the blatant way that Wall Street 2 does, but rather in the film’s thematic undertones, character depictions, and in the almost comical nature of the source material.
Because Facebook is a really strange service when you think about it: it doesn’t really fill a need, just a very recent social desire. It speaks to the idea presented in the film of “inventing a job” rather than finding one – a silly notion, perhaps, but millions of investment dollars later, that notion starts to seem as serious as a heart attack. More money was invested in Facebook and MySpace than was discussed as an appropriate investment in alternative energy companies in Wall Street 2. It’s true that this is fiction vs. reality, but the frightening part is that the reality is far more bizarre. Over a span of five years, well over a billion dollars was invested in 2 websites where friends can post pictures of their Saturday night vs. what was a huge venture capital investment of 1.9 billion invested in 180 different clean energy companies in 2010.
Clearly that is a grossly oversimplified snapshot. Still, it is somewhat safe to say that social networking is cleaning up. Green technology has not yet necessarily shown a large return on investment, then again, neither have most Internet ventures. The question is, where is our focus as a culture? What is it that we value and why? Short term pleasure infusion, or long term, sustainable results. In business, something has value if we collectively agree that it does. Do we care about other people, or do we care what other people think of us?
One “real” point that Wall Street 2 brought up is how few Americans are actually making anything at their job – creating products, inventing and engineering, what have you. We have an economy based on ephemeral “goods and services.” We have seen a total collapse of our ability to compete in industries where we were once the global leaders. Things are so rapidly changing and so often perplexing; one cannot tell if we are witnessing the digital version of the industrial revolution or (if you’ll forgive the foray into hyperbole) the total collapse of life as we imagined we knew it. If we are in a revolution, then it needs to be tempered with reason, and more than just the Harvard kids need to get up to speed and onboard.
In terms of Facebook, what was once a desire is now felt as a “need,” and it does not seem like the website or the company is going anywhere…at least for the moment. Whether Facebook is around for another ten months, or the next ten years, the success of Facebook and the lives depicted in The Social Network are, again, the exception; the fantasy that many imagine as a likely reality. Whereas, conversely, the attitudes, values and characteristics of the people depicted in the film are in many ways, the rule.
The Social Network may not be a generation-defining film, but it certainly does accurately reflect several defining aspects of our generation.
Be sure to read our review of The Social Network and we encourage you to leave a comment below.
Sources: The New York Times and Princeton University Press