Social Network: Celebrating the New Digitized, Democratized American Dream

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It’s the technical potential of this social network that Zuckerberg recognizes, and it’s a fine line that Fincher walks in portraying Zuckerberg’s inspiration: Is it possible that Zuckerberg is far less important as a “creator” than as a simple programmer – that the WHY here matters a whole lot less than the HOW? Most business icons saw a consumer need and found a way to fill the gap, but in the case of Zuckerberg, he wasn’t so much seeing something that no one else had seen, but found the magic formula to wrap his arms around a phenomenon. Here was a college student who recognized the power of the online social network – and then rushed to channel that into something tangible. Why he started doing it has little relation to what it is now; the mad scientist created something he didn’t fully understand, and The Social Network is the not a creation myth but a case study in trying to comprehend a whole new concept. (More on Techland: Sorry Facebook Movie, No Actual Facebook For You)

Am I making too much out of this? I don’t think so. Fincher, one of my favorite directors, continuously underscores these contrasts, between this new media invention and the old world way of thinking, just as screenwriter Aaron Sorkin slathers the scenes in rapid-fire Millennial-speak, which zips by at blinding speeds. The idea for Facebook doesn’t begin in a corporate conference room, but in a drunken dorm room; it’s made popular not by marketing departments and contracts, but by computer nerds with eager forward clicks. The elitist Winklevoss brothers (Armie Hammer, Josh Pence), who no doubt believe that Facebook was a concept stolen from them, pursue a conventional approach, paying out cash to hire employees and build a business; Zuckerberg, on the other hand, knows that speed is of the essence, and a great idea in the web world is only as good as its functionality and design. He builds a company overnight, line of code by line of code.

And once Facebook starts to take off, these contrasts become even more explicit. As Zuckerberg’s business partner pushes to monetize the whole project, Sean Parker (a scene-stealing, legitimate Oscar candidate Justin Timberlake) tries to convince the two Harvard students that their business is worth more than a few old-school pop-up ads. It’s bigger than cash flow, beyond revenue streams, with a valuation that stems not from immediate profits but from future potential. It’s a whole new sort of equity. Parker and Zuckerberg discuss the bright future of Facebook – in a conversation held at a night club that’s drowned out by the DJ beats. Parker and Zuckerberg pull a prank on a potential investor – and the VC is so amused by the prank that he invests anyway. (More on Techland: Two Minute Video: Quick and Easy Facebook Tricks)

In so many ways, this is the anti-Citizen Kane, anti-Godfather, anti-There Will Be Blood. Almost every other great entrepreneurship tale is about the man behind the action, sporting the vision and the scars that allow genius to reap profits. The Social Network is partly about a very lucky guy at the right place at the right time, shrewd and smart and more than a little awkward. But the real story isn’t him, or his Vision, but about the USERS – the way that the public rose up and made his invention into something of their own. It’s the story of a groundswell, about this unlikely collaboration between a product and its customers, that manages to upend not just the value propositions of a traditional Harvard education, but of the pre-web economy.

This isn’t a movie about Facebook, or any web site. It’s not about Zuckerberg, or all the others who claim he ripped them off. It’s not about security settings or tagged photos. This is about the shifting sands at the dawn of the technological revolution. In the film’s final scene, we see Zuckerberg approach Facebook not as a creator but as a user for the very first time – the scientist, it would seem, now realizing how much he has yet to learn about his creation. In the film’s final moments, Fincher upends the conventional climax, proposing instead the far more intriguing question: Happily ever after, or back to square one?

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