A Look Back: The Social Network

Hey, remember Friendster? Or MySpace? Me either, but Facebook, the subject of “The Social Network,” is still very much alive and kicking. It might be a never-ending debate whether social media does more harm to society than good, or perhaps not, depending on your generation, but it appears to be here for the long haul. Which means, as humor columnist Dave Barry once put it, that it’s possible for someone in this era to waste more time in an hour than their parent did in an entire day. It means trying to drag one’s attention away from fascinating news (“Does Donald Trump Know How to Shake Hands?”), in order to do far duller stuff like say, write one’s blog. Difficult, but not (yet) impossible.

Originally, I thought Aaron Sorkin’s “The Social Network,” which came out in 2011, was based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich, which it sort of is, except both projects, the book and the script, were written simultaneously. But they both tell the real-life story of how Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, rose from a humble Harvard student (albeit one already known as a programming prodigy) to become the youngest billionaire (currently the fifth richest) in history. Like Sorkin’s “Steve Jobs,” (the one with Michael Fassbender, not Ashton Kutcher), this is a tale of how the smartest person in the room, with help from a few other smart and savvy people, achieved success, but betrayed a friend and ended successful but not satisfied as a human being. In the opening scene that reportedly required 99 takes, Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) presents a tutorial of how not to treat one’s girlfriend (Rooney Mara). He then, after being offensive, proceeds to compound the problem by a) blogging about his discontent and b) setting up a feature on the college site which allows users to rank two pictures of either male or female students on attractiveness. Surprisingly, this does not go over well with the Harvard administration, but as it turns out, the story’s just getting started.

After Rooney dumps him with the warning, “The Internet is written in ink,” Jesse is approached by preppy crew-team twin brothers (both played by Armie Hammer) who want his help with a social networking site. They also bring in Max Minghella, and in an attempt to improve on the idea of a site for Ivy Leaguers, Jesse develops what becomes Facebook, getting Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) to fund it. Later, Napster co-founder (Justin Timberlake in a Mephistopheles role) Sean Parker comes on board, as its success grows. Because this is interwoven with “present day” depositions of Armie and Andrew, we already know that there has been conflict. While Armie attempts to recruit the college president to aid him in an “intellectual property theft” scandal, the president pretty much laughs him (or both hims) out of the room. Andrew’s problem is that he loses shares in the company, thanks to not reading the fine print on his contract. Ultimately, the lawsuits are settled, providing a valuable lesson for me, at least, who previous to watching “The Social Network,” skimmed the fine print on documents.

When the movie came out, I made two predictions that turned out to be wrong. One, that “The Social Network,” would beat out “The King’s Speech” for Best Picture, which did not happen, perhaps because viewers of the first were apparently divided on whether Jesse’s character was a hero or a sociopath. The second was that by this time in history, Facebook would have evolved into something completely different and not even be called Facebook any more. So much for foresight, but it’s just as well.

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