The Social Network:
Best illustration so far of displacement from tri dimensional social universe to one-dimensional plane that—paradoxically—allows construction of multi-layered self.
David Fincher’s film is Hollywood at its best. Aaron Sorkin’s (The West Wing) brilliant script slides in different planes replicating the seismic shift that Facebook created by moving the social terrain from reality to a screen, which—paradoxically—allowed for the creation of a richer, multi-layered self. In spite of being set on the rarified environment of the Harvard elite, the story about the creation of Facebook is a simple tale of common human foibles. It helps that the main characters, based on very real people, lend themselves to act as archetypes representing larger truths. The complex dynamics that the film so masterfully explores are interplayed in Sorkin’s script through many levels that take place at the same time. In Fincher and Sorkin’s expert’s hand the birth of Facebook raises to a meticulous play of classic dimensions. However, more than a Greek tragedy the movie is a moral fable.
Even before the credits, the first scene sets the tone of the movie. In a crowded and noisy bar, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is having an argument with his beautiful girlfriend (Rooney Mara). Mark is going on endlessly about the Harvard social clubs that he would like, but cannot belong to:
David vs. Goliath
Temptation comes in the form of the ultimate golden boy(s): Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, or the Winklevoss twins (both interpreted by Armie Hammer). They are Harvard’s ultimate elite. Tey belong to Harvard oldest and most prestigious club, the Porcellian. The club’s motto, Dum vivimus vivamus (while we live, let us live) is Epicurean. The are the finest representation of the ultimate WASP student. They are trying to create a social network that will allow Harvard students (and only Harvard students) to belong and share information. They offer status-craving Zuckerberg to develop the right program and software for them. In a questionable move, Zuckerberg accepts, but goes on to create his own web page with the idea that the Winklevoss’s’ had of a Social Network, but that ends up being much more than they ever suggested it could. Zuckerberg outsmarts them and even the president of Harvard sides with him. They tried to play “by the book” using an honor code that could not operate anymore in democratic world that the internet was creating. In the new social universe created by Facebook, the social markers that placed the twins at the top of the social scale did not work anymore. The game had move to the internet, a dimension that the twins for all their social graces, did not master yet. So, the first part of the film boils down to this: the Winklevosse’s lost the race And nobody feels sorry for them because as self-regarding as the pompous asses are, the race was not really about them. It was about what they represented tradition, continuity, old standards. The race that is displayed literally in a crew competition where the twins participated in England, has a metaphorically echo.
Past vs. Future
Inter playing the many levels of competition that take place at the same time, The Social Network is a three round match in which the Winklvosses lost the first one. The second round came much closer to home. It involves Zuckerberg’s best friend, Harvard classmate and first financial partner, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Again, in the larger metaphorical scale, Savarin represents the old school of making business. As soon as the Facebook goes viral and begins to have followers, he wants to monetize it and begin charging for it. Zuckerberg, without knowing exactly why, opposes the idea. He feels that The facebook (as it was called in its initial stages (circa 2004), was something that was beyond their understanding and that they should wait to see into what it developed before trying to monetize it. According to him, charging for the services would be like interrupting a great party by telling the guests that it would end at 11:00 pm. Savarin’s failure came from not having the imagination or insight needed to foresee the much brighter future that awaited them.
Old school vs. No school
What Zuckerberg only “knows” intuitively is articulated by someone who revolutionized the internet and the music industry: Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). In 1999, Parker — with no academic training, but a high school diploma — co-founded Napster, a free file-sharing service for music. Even lawsuits by various music industry associations eventually shut down the service, Parker had already set the stone for the new possibilities of the web. He was the perfect match for Zuckerberg.
And time proved him right. On July 21, 2010, Zuckerberg reported that the company reached the 500 million-user mark. There are many lessons to be learned from Facebook as they are displayed in the film, a brilliant rendering of the revolution that brought us to the way we live now. For the purposes of our class it can all be reduced to the great question: When and how to Monetize? When asked whether Facebook could earn more income from advertising as a result of its phenomenal growth, he explained:
I guess we could … If you look at how much of our page is taken up with ads compared to the average search query. The average for us is a little less than 10 percent of the pages and the average for search is about 20 percent taken up with ads … That’s the simplest thing we could do. But we aren’t like that. We make enough money. Right, I mean, we are keeping things running; we are growing at the rate we want to.