Monday, March 07, 2011

The Social Network: A Review

So i finally watched "The Social Network" last night and my feeling about the movie was very similar to my feeling about Facebook in general: "Meh"...

It was not a bad movie, but biopics (which let's be honest is what this is) tend to be weaker vessels for good acting in my opinion than original screenplays.

From a technical view, the sound mixing and editing was just bad. I missed a good part of the dialogue due to poor quality: too much sound or too little. The scene with Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) and Zuckerberg sitting in the disco was laughable. I mean i actually laughed because i could not hear a word of what Timerlake was saying. I get that this is how those places really are - but did we have experience it that closely? I thought it was a Saturday Night Live skit because, well WAS Justin Timberlake.)

But from the get-go, the dialogue raced. Maybe that IS how college kids speak but if the audience can't hear the dialogue what is the point? The other problem i had with the movie is the one i have watching English movies - movies with a lot of White/WASPY people confuse me. The Winklevoss twins et al - all looked and sounded alike (and not just because they were identical twins either. ) i had the same problem watching "Out of Africa" though too. I need people to look like real people mostly in order to hold my interest.

As for the subject, it sure portrays Zuckerberg as this semi-reluctant anti-hero. I thought the movie was very good to him and not so much to the Winklevoss' (Winklevi?)or Sean Parker.

The betrayal of the friendship with Savarin is probably the nearest thing to an emotional tone in the movie and the writers suggest as much. They make Zuckerberg appear to feel that he lost something in that transaction.
It was almost portrayed like a bad misunderstanding one has with a good friend and it makes me wonder if they have reconciled now that the stakes for Facebook are pretty well established. As one of the attorney's says toward the end of the movie to Zuckerber, "Your not a bad guy Mark, but you are trying so hard to be one."

Clearly this kids is as likely an aspergers victim as anyone in history, which could explain his inability to relate to people. The movie does not bring this up but after seeing it, and knowing stories of Zuckerberg, it is conceivable.

The "meh" part really comes from the fact that Facebook only moderately interests me. It is the next in line of series of these upstart, culturally pirated concepts that soon become fortune 100 companies. (think Microsoft, Google and now Facebook - )

The ubiquitous Facebook blue is everywhere, we can rest easy knowing that Facebook is now successfully branded. But placed against the context of a global rise in the disparity of wealth between rich and poor, an oncoming climate change problem, and the fact we may be within a generation of the removal of public education in this country, the importance of Facebook sort of pales.

Much has been made of the importance of Facebook in the revolutions sweeping the middle east and north africa, but it is my belief that the media uses "Facebook" as a short hand for all sorts of technical/ social networking tools. e.g., twitter and SMS texting in general. I think the media blurs all of it as "Facebook" (is Facebook on its way to becoming linguistically the equivalent of Xerox or Kleenex in this regard? Has the branding been THAT successful?

There are dozens of other social networking sites but only Facebook can boast half a billion people using it. (Again, against a context of 7 billion people soon to be populating this planet, that is certainly a lot but it is not most nor will it ever be most.

What is interesting if you go up to the Facebook statistics site, is how much the development of Facebook is owed to the open source movement which has gained steam over the last couple of years. The site boasts that "more than 70 translations available on the site / About 70% of Facebook users are outside the United States Over 300,000 users helped translate the site through the translations application "

And that "Entrepreneurs and developers from more than 190 countries build with Facebook Platform. That People on Facebook install 20 million applications every day Every month, more than 250 million people engage with Facebook on external websites Since social plugins launched in April 2010, an average of 10,000 new websites integrate with Facebook every day
More than 2.5 million websites have integrated with Facebook, including over 80 of comScore's U.S. Top 100 websites and over half of comScore's Global Top 100 websites ."

Facebook is NOT an open source project, but clearly it benefitted from the movement's pressure to open property for the common good. In some ways, Facebook has been the beneficiary of this.

Now here is another point: do i really believe these people in Egypt were running back to their laptops and updating statuses? In the streets? Really? No, cell phone technology and the creation of the like-wise ubiquitous "app" has enabled these people to stay in touch in real or near real time. But i would suggest that we have no way of knowing who was using twitter and who was using simple SMS texting during those demonstrations in Egypt or who was actually using Facebook. The media uses the term "Facebook" to denote social networking of which all the afore mentioned tools are part.

It is clear this is much bigger than Mark Zuckerberg. Like any other technology, there is an element of genius, an element of timing and co-inspiration with other technologists having breakthroughs at the same time.

The fact is, had it not been for Facebook, people in Libya, and Egypt would have used texts or other networking tools to coordinate logistics. What the model does do as never before is allow news and ideas to go viral in what could be construed as a global nano-second. That is the power of networks, within nature and without. Swarm theory has long been studied what bees and ants and schools of fish can teach humans in making logistics infinitely more flexible and speedy.

The movie is a solid B or B+ but i think in the attempt to convey the frenetic tenor of the subject matter (it was only 7 years ago, after all!) some clarity and artfulness was lost. And this is the other thing: a biopic on such a revolutionary subject coming out so soon after its inception leaves no space or time for historical perspective. How would this movie have looked, say, if it were made 10 years from now? Perspective always colors the message.

Personally, i don't think we will ever know how much of the personal angst that was portrayed in the movie was true or how much was dramatized. I think the movie makes Zuckerberg look almost innocent if that term could ever be applied to a guy like that. The notion that personal anger and resentment could have been the fuel used in creating something like Facebook is believable, but is it true? And if so, how much is it true? In the same way that the movie implies Zuckerberg did not steal the idea of Facebook from the Winkle-vi, the subtext of this story nearly missed is what constitutes inspiration and what constitutes stealing? Where are the open "commons" to borrow a term from Raj Patel's book, "The Value of Nothing". In a world where more and more "spaces" are being enclosed (i.e., bought, privatized, closed off from the common good) this movie asks the question what is mine and what is yours in the intellectual world - and what is the role of "ours"?

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