“See, this is why there needs to be a ‘Dislike’ button.”
It’s not much of a stretch. Since its creation only six years ago, Facebook has integrated itself into our daily lives so well it’s hard to imagine a world without it.
What does somewhat stretch plausibility and/or good taste is the infamous Facebook movie itself, “The Social Network.” It details Facebook’s early years, following Zuckerberg’s rise from insignificant Harvard sophomore to billionaire CEO.
I got a chance to see an early showing of the film (which opens nationwide Friday), and eagerly jumped at it, despite my earlier “dislike” of the idea. I’d heard rumors that it had actually turned out to be a pretty good movie, but walking in, I was pretty sure I knew the story. Typical antihero narrative: boy makes a billion-dollar website, people start suing, feelings get hurt, angry statuses get posted, etc., etc.
That’s not what “The Social Network” is about.
Yeah, literally, this is a story about Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to the top. It’s a portrayal of a man-child who just wants to achieve greatness and ends up making some bad choices and losing all of his friends in the process — just as ironic as it sounds.
You can even flip the narrative around, look at it as a denunciation of Zuckerberg, a man who allegedly stole the idea for Facebook from a bunch of wealthy Harvard frat boys, then sold out his best and only friend over a series of minor slights. But that’s not what “The Social Network” is about either.
If you want to understand what “The Social Network” is really about, all you need is the first scene and the last scene.
In the first, Zuckerberg and his girlfriend are in a dingy bar in Massachusetts. Zuckerberg is clearly a head or two above her intellectually, and he knows it, rubbing her inability to keep up with him in her face until she gets pissed, breaks up with him and leaves — an act, the movie implies, that starts Zuckerberg on the path to creating Facebook.
In the last scene, Zuckerberg has finished giving his deposition in the civil case his former best friend has filed against him. He sits, alone in a conference room, on his laptop. On Facebook. On his ex-girlfriend’s Facebook page. Refreshing the page again and again to see if she has accepted his friend request. Trying to reconnect.
“The Social Network” is a movie about us.
It is a story about our desire to connect with others in a world that divides us with walls of blue and white pixels. Like Zuckerberg, we believe Facebook facilitates interaction, allowing us to connect with more people on a deeper level than we ever could in the real world.
But every Facebook user knows that’s not the case. When I use Facebook, I don’t feel connected. I feel detached, a disembodied digital being floating around getting glimpses of other peoples’ lives, out of context and meaningless.
The “social network” of the film’s title is not Facebook at all. It’s the real, living social network we and Zuckerberg reject, the friends, family and lovers we ignore in exchange for their digital doubles.
As hard as Zuckerberg tries, he can never connect with the people he really wants to — his classmates, girls, his best friend — because he’s building himself into the center of a world where connections are as shallow as a pixel on a screen.
I’m not out to start a revolution, telling you all to shut down your Facebooks and live in the real world, freed from the thrall of technology. That’s no longer possible. Like Zuckerberg, there is no going back for us — we can’t go back to the days when you were allowed to love something and not just “Like” it, or when the question “What’s on your mind?” was a serious one, not just a call to write the wittiest thing off the top of your head.
But what I am saying — and what “The Social Network” is saying — is that we can’t let Facebook define how we interact with each other. Because I don’t want to wake up one day and realize I’ve spent my life making friend requests when I could have been making friends.
How’s that for a status update?