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The Social Network

. wandereye

As part of research, some members of the UXSears team went to see The Social Network. On my way to work today, I checked in per my routine to the Huffington Post and found their treatise on the movie. While I agree with many of the points made in the article I was shocked to find that the writer and many of the people interviewed seemed to miss the point that the movie was based on the book "The Accidental Billionaires," by Ben Mezrich and was a fictional portrayal; not an actual documentary of the life and times of Mark Zuckerberg. Mark is a reference point used to portray larger themes.

The point of the movie could well have been about the "revolutionary" nature of Facebook and how it changed the way we use the Internet. But it wasn't. And thank life for that. Despite what the Post says, that tact would have been disastrous for many reasons—among them the fact that Facebook was not revolutionary but incremental in changing or evolving the way we interact on the Internet in a "social" context and took advantage of the many failures prior to it's release in ways that the others had missed. Having been with the world wide web since the first browser and well before the first browser, I've never considered the world wide web to be anything but social. From UNIX's "phone" to AOL instant messaging, the internet was always about sharing, was always a communications channel. What Facebook did to the social networking scene many prior to it failed in key ways. Think geocities. Think Friendster. Think Hi5. I can name others like MySpace or YahooGroups. There was a fateful convergence that Zuckerberg was fortunate to coincide with in terms of technology and culture. Much like Jobs and Gates were in the right place at the right time, so was Zuckerberg. If any of the "points" were missed, it was that. 

Sony Pictures is in the entertainment business. Entertainment is sometimes controversial. Fiction is fantasy. And Hollywood, despite what we all think, is not (or rarely is) in the business of truth. It was refreshing to see a well-crafted, well-executed movie that made me think for once. We're all tired of hearing about "social networking" as much as we're tired of the "greenwashing" of the early part of this decade. The score was amazing, the acting over the top and the cinematography breathtaking. I can't say that about many of the thousands of movies that have come out of Hollywood in the last 100 years. The movie was a vehicle for some fundamental human condition messages:

1. Never forget who your real friends are
2. Trust no one in Silicon Valley—especially if they are "angel investors" or "venture capitalists"
3. Drugs and drinking are bad, okay?
4. "Luck is when opportunity meets preparation" — Bob Evans (not the sausage maker but the producer/director)
5. Money will never buy happiness

Social networking as a phenomena would be an easy target and a moving target. It's still evolving as I type this. But like any platform or system, it is a means to an end that empathicaly supplies a conduit to a real human want/need in ways that facilitated human behavior. In my case, social networking has evolved into a form of collaborative scrap booking. It's a place like the "livejournal" we see in one of the opening sequences. Only it's more fun, more interactive and engaging and the content is not supplied from nerds alone but people who would normally not use blogging, platforms, technology, to present themselves to the world. 

If anything, the "rift" between Hollywood and Silicon Valley that is cited in the Post is about a larger view of a small world. Us technologists tend to live in a virtual vacuum of assumptions, sitting too close to our perspective to see that real human beings with real stories, emotions and human wants and needs use our creations in ways we would never have dreamed of. Hence, the last quote that comes to mind, one that the director executed perfectly both visually and literally:

"To define is to kill. To suggest is to create" — Stéphane Mellarmé


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