I saw The Social Network tonight with my girlfriend, and I tried to go into the movie with a clear head. After the better part of the year watching the trailers, reading the rumours about what was contained in the movie, and hearing about how they were going to portray Mark Zuckerberg in the movie, I went into it feeling a bit skeptical that it would be any good. It is certainly a good movie to watch, with a few small caveats.
I only read one review of this movie before hand, written by Jeff Jarvis (who I have written about before). I was a bit curious to read his thoughts on the movie after how highly regarded he held Mark Zuckerberg in his book (What Would Google Do) and through his discussion on shows like This Week in Google (TWiG). Like me, he does recommend people see it, but points out that not everything is accurate. Troubling for him is how Aaron Sorkin, the writer, treated the movie as fiction, not a documentary. Both Jarvis and Leo Laporte on the latest TWiG pointed out that Zuckerberg had a girlfriend during the time Facebook was created, and it was not a wild party ride for them. They also created some context for his involvement with some of the key players in Facebook’s early years.
Jeff Jarvis’ main criticism of the movie is that it doesn’t explain why Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook.
The movie quickly admits that money doesn’t matter to Zuckerberg. So why did he build Facebook? The Social Network offers no answer, except perhaps that an outsider wanted in, but that doesn’t begin to explain what he has accomplished and why; that’s nothing but simplistic prime-time plotting. The script says nothing about him wanting to connect the world or bring communities elegant organization. It doesn’t care. For this is a movie about tactics, not strategy, about people doing hard things to each other. Elsewhere, that’s just called business.
After watching the movie, I don’t think you need to explain the why behind it, even if there is one. I think one fault of our society is that we believe everything is pre-meditated. We want to believe that someone or a group sit down to plan something out and then carry that plan out to completion. But there are times when people sit around, talk things out, and find ways to do things better than someone else, or want to expend their excess energy on a project that excites them.
At times, those people may strike a chord and come up with something that they fully don’t understand themselves. I think that is what Facebook was at the time of its creation. It was a site like MySpace, Friendster, etc. but cooler. What made it cool was how exclusive it was, but making something exclusive to make it special isn’t a new concept. Clubs have done this throughout history either by creating secret societies or creating the appearance that their club is in high demand through long line-ups outside. There is even a scene in the movie that demonstrates this exclusivity with the club young Zuckerberg wants to join.
Maybe Zuckerberg had a grander vision when he set out, but maybe, just maybe, he was a reckless 19 year old that wanted to create something better and wanted to prove his worth to his peers. Teenagers are always involved in the game of one-up manship and Facebook was Zuckerberg’s version of doing something more. Once Facebook started to soar skywards after the exclusivity was removed, Zuckerberg is left trying to explain what happened and how he achieved success. The credit Zuckerberg deserves most is in how he relied on others to build the network for him, and that he programmed the servers to be robust so they could scale effectively. As he mentions in the movie, if the site is down, the users of that site will start to debate about switching to a different site altogether.
The Social Network is definitely a compelling movie with some good moments in there for geeks and non-geeks alike. The first twenty minutes or so is pure geek. I thought maybe the majority of the audience was lost within the dialogue and the fast programming of PHP scripts and wget calls, but after the movie jumps those hurdles, it becomes more entertaining for everyone. It could certainly be a classic for my generation, but it could also become a relic of the past if something comes along and replaces Facebook in the future.
Buy or Rent The Social Network at Amazon.com