Sunday, April 10, 2011

Thoughts | The Faces of Facebook

I am a "minimal" user of Facebook and did not watch the movie The Social Network until last night; but I have to admit that is one of the few recent movies which made me think...and that does not mean that a thought provoking movie is a "great" film.
According to Wikipedia "Facebook (stylized facebook) is a social networking service and website launched in February 2004, operated and privately owned by Facebook, Inc. As of January 2011, Facebook has more than 600 million active users. Users may create a personal profile, add other users as friends, and exchange messages, including automatic notifications when they update their profile." It is definitely hard to describe a social phenomenon involving over 600 million people and The Social Network is clever enough for not exploring or making a commentary Facebook as a social phenomenon. Too much to say about it and the topic is more material for a documentary than a feature movie.
The main character is Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook and the movies becomes in 2003, when he was attending Harvard. From the very first scene he appears very clumsy, speaking extremely fast and often making unusual eye-contact; even his body seems to be disconnected from the “physical” social context. The camera is often on Mark typing with great speed on his laptop, absorbing him more than the world around. Mark’s social life mainly happens through the world from the screen/window of his laptop; but communication is very seldom personal and one to one, such as with email, text messaging or chats, but it happens through blogging, hacking, and insinuating into Harvard computer network. The social context of Mark is populated by college students circles, fraternities and sororities, something quite scary to watch for somebody like myself, who attended to a large university in an European country during a time when students where still dreaming of making the world a better place —which does not mean that we were actually trying. The movie also portrays the majority of women surrounding Mark —college students as well—as “accessories” without a strong role in the main actions of the boys, often merely their sex objects. With the exception of Erica, the girl with whom Mark has a confrontation in the first scenes and was involuntarily the catalyst in the creation of Facebook. None of the other characters inspire sympathy: self absorbed and privileged, spending their college years either getting high at parties or immersed in their computer world: there is no search for beauty or knowledge, no deep emotion.

Virtual worlds are fascinating and often become shelter from the ugliness of the physical world, so is the beauty of number in the poetry of the code —yes, I have experienced it so many times! But in the characters there is no interest in the fascinating, sometimes dark or even disturbing immersion in imaginary virtual worlds —thinking of the early literature of William Gibson “Neuromancer” (1984) or Neal Stevenson’s “Snow Crash” (1992).

But the movie flows and captivates for almost two hours. Perhaps its most interesting feature is right in presenting the main character as a great example of our culture in its contradictions: an hacker disconnected from a social context becoming the emperor of a social network involving more than 600 million…no to mention his personal wealth estimated to $13.5 billion. And finally my question: the Internet has completely transformed that way we work, we travel, we shop, we read, we study, we make business, but how could have so distorted one of the most important human relationships, friendship?