Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Social Network

There has been tremendous buzz lately about the new movie The Social Network that was just released. The movie is of course about the founding and early days of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg and others who were a part of the company in the beginning have said that the movie is a fictionalized account of how the website and company were actually started – that the beginning of Facebook was Zuckerberg and his cofounders sitting in a room coding, programming, and geeking out.

But whether or not that is the case is of no consequence. And even though the movie pulls a lot of its information from actual depositions of the ensuing lawsuits that followed, it wouldn’t even matter if the beginning of Facebook was Zuckerberg sitting in Sunday school writing letters to Jesus. It doesn’t matter if Facebook was just a dorm room project started to meet girls in a really auspicious beginning. What the movie captures and showcases is our new reality, the way we view our world. In essence, The Social Network is the movie we as a culture need it to be.

While the movie may have set out to capture the before, what it has actually captured is the after, our now, our present reality. The zeitgeist of the Facebook moment. If Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Foursquare, and others are on the left side of the equation, what lies on the other side of the = sign might as well be infinity. This movie is far greater than the sum of its parts.

When Facebook started, it seemed we had all gotten over the hype of a website changing everything… again. Few would have imagined that the creation of another new website would have the effect that it did, and those that did, well, they have a lot of money now.

What Facebook has done is speed up the process. It has taken the rate at which we consume information and increased it a million fold. It has created the possibility for connection with every person we meet in our lives. It has turned strangers into “friends” and friends into voyeurs. It has taken our (previously unknown to ourselves) siloed lives and turned them into a web of connectivity that is nearly inescapable.

What is most interesting is that for as Facebook as evolved, in 6 years, as large as it has grown, as fast as it has expanded, it is still grounded in a collegiate mentality. Whether you are 16 or 60 you are doing the exact same thing - you are cultivating your personality, adding friends, keeping your eyes on what everybody else is doing, all from the comfort of your own home, all without moving more than your index finger, all without even opening your mouth.

Facebook quickly became the pacesetter in an industry that is all about connectivity. How many different aspects of our lives can we share with each other and how fast we can do it? We understand the benefits. We are reuniting with people we had otherwise forgotten about, and staying connected to people we might not otherwise have a chance to. The drawbacks? Well, they are different for everybody.

It’s all very Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind. Don’t want to know what’s going on with your ex boyfriend? Defriend him. Don’t particularly like how you looked at that holiday party? Untag yourself, it’s like you were never there. More than any time in the history of the planet we have the ability to cultivate the kind of life we appear to have, and the life we choose to remember.
I know this is nothing new, and I’m not saying anything earth shattering, but I think that’s just the point. The arrival of Facebook didn’t instantly change the way we live our lives the way 9/11 did, it has done it almost surreptitiously, working its way into every corner of your behavior. Kind of like the difference between making a sharp left turn and veering just slightly off course can both take you way off your path.

This is our new reality. Not just dramatically different, epically so. Whereas every mistake, mishap, missed connection, and messed up relationship became reassigned to the bowels of our memories, fleeing from our present with a tremendous ephemerality, now our history is incredibly tied to our present. We define ourselves by it.

It is unlike any other innovation of media we have seen. It is unignorable. Trust me, I tried. Whether or not you choose to be you are a part of it, you are. In the background of a picture you didn’t now you were in, acknowledged as a relative, or otherwise.

Even though Facebook may not have had a cutthroat beginning with back stabbings, parties with coke and booze, that kind of a lifestyle could exist for it now. Social media isn’t just a thing or a trend, it is an industry, a cash crop capable of being grown in the most unlikely of locations.

Silicon valley isn’t so much a location anymore as it is a mentality, a spirit, and an energy that has spread across the country creating a tech industry in New York that was previously nonexistent. There is a line in the social network where Justin Timberlake’s character says to Jesse Eisenberg’s

This is our time.

And he couldn’t be more right. This is our time, to create, to share, to ignore and to cultivate as we see fit.

Facebook may indeed have been just a couple of guys from Harvard coding through the night in the same clothes they wore yesterday, but the film conveys the significance and gravitas that we as a culture, hell, we as a species, have attached to it. It is the single most significant change to the way we as human beings interact with each other and ourselves.

It is not unfair to say that the future of Facebook and the future of our lives are now inextricably linked. And just like the Social Network may not necessarily be a perfect representation of what actually happened, neither are our lives.

Not anymore.


PMA said...

You have part of my attention - you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.

Carolyn said...

Have you seen Catfish? Its the ultimate facebook alternative reality.

Krysten @ After 'I Do' said...

I totally want to see this movie. It just sounds interesting. And I love how you compared Facebook to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Never thought about it that way but SO true!

Nancy said...

This post was so captivating and well-written it almost made me want to join Facebook. But alas, it's not for everyone. I may be an unwitting part of some picture, surely discussed at some point, but I don't want to be found by every old boyfriend, colleague, or friend long gone. I don't want to know all the details of everyone's life, and I really don't want them to know mine. In fact, I'm feeling a little too exposed at times with just a blog. But I will grant that it is very powerful, and if used for good could actually make a difference in the world. The instantaneous exchange of information is incredible. Who would have thought, just six years ago, that this would be possible?

I can't wait to see the movie.

Caroline B said...

I totally agree with Nancy, I find the idea of Facebook a bit worrying - at least with a blog I can only show the world what I want it to see. I expect at some point I will be dragged kicking & screaming into the modern world, but not just yet.
A very well written piece though, certainly gave me food for thought.

Anonymous said...

It's kind of an excellent thing in the way that it creates extreme ease to stay in touch with people all around the globe...

...but sometimes I just want an actual paper letter, you know?

Very on point about the Eternal Sunshine comparison, never thought of that.

Jenny DB said...

Loved the Eternal Sunshine comparison. Well thought out post. Thanks! :-)

I do plan on seeing the movie, it will be some college deja vu for me in a way that other "college" movies just can't grasp. The privileged elite schools just have that extra kick of asshole douche in them :-)

Mark said...

Like a distant nebula, postings on Facebook remain in cyberspace until the next mass extinction, or another billion years, whichever comes first. Too many post things too private for consumption by parents, children etc.–it stays up forever! More importantly, Facebook gives only the illusion of "connectedness", because we think texting the world or each other is a satisfactory substitute for meeting in person. More superficial communication is not what we need as human beings right now. "This is our time", what to cultivate a short attention span? To hone small talk skills? To ridicule "friends" without facing the fallout?

It's All Good said...

so true, and the last line on this post is spot on! Justin Timberlkae is still a terrible actor though, why was this not mentioned?