I finally broke down and saw The Social Network, despite my personal prohibition on ever seeing another movie where the dialogue includes the cheesy line, “This is our time!” The movie is a dramatization of the founding of and eventual lawsuits over Mark Zuckerberg‘s founding of Facebook.
My first thought was that this movie should do for Facebook what Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price did for Wal-Mart in terms of negative publicity. And at the end of the day, that’s probably apt. Anyone who’s seen the movie can easily see the negative impact that Wal-Mart has had on communities and will deplore many of its corporate practices. They might even remember that as they stand in line at the checkout — but they won’t stop shopping at Wal-Mart. So maybe the comparison works. When something has that much momentum, you can change your opinion of it, but you still end up supporting it one way or another.
The movie necessarily contains some over-dramatizations and creative license with some of the facts, but there appears to be enough there to suggest a few conclusions. I did learn a few things, like the fact that Mark Zuckerberg appears to be a real hacker, exercising genuine coding skills and running Linux on his laptop. I also didn’t know about napster co-founder Sean Parker‘s involvement with Facebook. That said, I don’t know if the movie portrayal of his character is at all accurate.
I was most interested in the portrayal of Zuckerberg, though. He has been called a genius, an entrepreneur, a visionary, and other laudable things. From the movie portrayal though, I saw something different. I saw an awkward guy who had a single insight and kept pressing it; an impressionable guy who was swayed by someone with more experience telling him what he wanted to hear. On some level, I appreciated the witty sarcasm he shows in the movie, but not in the way that lends any respect for the in-your-face manner in which it’s delivered.
Perhaps most telling are the scenes the book-end the movie. In the beginning, his girlfriend Erica Albright breaks up with him, advising him,
You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.
At the end, a member of his legal team gives him a different observation: “You’re not an asshole, Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be.” Zuckerberg contemplatively opens up Facebook and sends a friend request to Erica Albright.
The question of whether Zuckerberg is genuinely forward-thinking or not is somewhat moot, given he’s become the world’s youngest billionaire. But it appears to me that he knew a good idea when he saw it, and was able to execute it quickly. He then had an inkling of how big this idea could become, a conviction either fed or confirmed in part by Sean Parker. (Maybe it’s the money, but like Zuckerberg, Parker seems pretty full of himself. Albright to Zuckerberg: “As if every thought that tumbles through your head was so clever it would be a crime for it not to be shared.”) From my perspective, Zuckerberg seems to keep failing to appreciate — or simply ignoring completely — the consequences of his actions. This doesn’t strike me as particularly visionary.
I end up having to recommend the movie in no small part for the docudrama element that opens up some of the controversy surrounding the founding of Facebook, where Zuckerberg is portrayed something along the lines of the socially clueless villain.