The Social Network – aka The Facebook Movie

Above all, The Social Network (2010) is a magnificent work of storytelling.  Especially considering that it’s a story based on boring litigation over the tedious topic of computer programming.  On the other hand, it’s a rare example of cinematic creative nonfiction.  How do you dramatize the truth, especially when all the action is cerebral?  I hate to say this because it might jinx some people from going to the movie, but The Social Network is an incredibly educational movie, especially about the nature of what it means to be an asshole.

The litigation over the creation of Facebook reminds me of the fight over who invented television, but few people will know about that.  Ditto for the radio, and many other major tech inventions of the past we take for granted.  It’s very hard to give exact credit when everyone stands on the shoulders of giants.  Few characters in this film come across as nice, many are assholes, most are viciously aggressive, and we see the very worse sides of greed and sex.

At a naturalistic level The Social Network is about alpha males fighting over intellectual territory while alpha females throw themselves at the perceived winners.  At the class level the story is about old money, old social networks, descendents of WASP wealth fighting Jewish upstarts who out maneuver the class incumbents to climb even higher on the social ladder.  At the economic level The Social Network is about the marketing of an idea as an invention and who really deserves the spoils of business.

The film is bookend by two women who try to enlighten the Mark Zuckerberg character about the specific traits of his asshole personality.  These are two of the three nice people in this film, the third being Eduardo Saverin, the nice guy who is fighting out of his league.  People who get into Harvard are by nature driven by ambition, if not naked aggression, so we need to factor such drives out of the equation to make all things equal.  But a bitch fight over billions is not pretty, so it’s hard to see the positive qualities of the combatants.  I’ve got to say the movie reflects the efficiency of our modern legal system because it took decades to solve the legal battles over television and radio.  And The Social Network does an apparently fantastic job of explaining to the public the complicated legal issues dealing with the foundation of Facebook.

To me, the saddest part of this movie is how poorly young women come across in this film.  For the most part, the females in this story are the prized toys that males win in battles of aggression.  They throw their beautiful bodies at any guy who succeeds, even the social challenged Zuckerberg, they frolic around lesser males who do the sweatshop programming, taking bong hits and acting sexy to spur on their coding success, and they lay on their backs to provide flat bellies for the rich to snort cocaine from.  The strong independent women in this film are savvy lawyers, but the endless hordes of legal teams, male and female, come across as brainy vultures.

Of course, the sex-toy women also reflects badly on the males, because they don’t see women as other than prizes for success.  Zuckerberg is portrayed as driven by envy, jealousy and desire, and the film makes a good case that Facebook exists because Zuckerberg was rejected by Erica Albright, and that he wanted the success of Facebook to give him another chance with her.  It wasn’t about the money, but female approval.

More complex to understand is the exact quality of Zuckerberg’s asshole-ness.  He’s brilliant and aloof, but he’s so lacking in social graces that you have to wonder if he has an autistic background.  Mark tries so hard to be liked while looking down on all others and squashing any attempts of communication with a towering superiority.  But isn’t that how most average folks see super-geeks?

I attended The Social Network on its opening weekend, a Saturday afternoon, and I expected the theater to be packed because of the overwhelming wonderful reviews and great word of mouth, but we sat in a mostly empty room.  Moviegoers might not find the topic of this flick appealing, but director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have created a powerful, riveting and engaging story of our times.  It really shouldn’t be missed.

Finally, because the movie uses real names I must ask how much are the characters in the movie like their real life counterparts?  I’d love to find interviews with all of them where they talk about their portrayals in the film. Actually, someone should make a documentary of that.  Essentially the movie is metafiction, and that’s a fascinating topic by itself.

JWH – 10/3/10

Inventions Wanted: Universal Photo Database

I often wish I had photographs of certain people or places from my past.  I constantly damn myself for not chronicling my life better.  I’ve even wondered if anyone else might have photographed those people and places.  This gave me an idea for a great invention, the Universal Photo Database (UPDB).

I have lots of old photos of my mother and father, and some of my grandparents, with a few of my aunts and uncles and my cousins.  If there was a UPDB, I could submit my pictures to it, along with the names of the people in the photos.  Then if anyone in the world put in a search, for example “George Delany Harris,” my father, they’d find the photos I uploaded.  It’s not likely people would be searching for him, but he was in the Air Force for twenty-four years and maybe old service buddies wondering what happened to their old pal would.  On the other hand, other people might have photos of my dad that I’d like to see.


[Jim Harris (me), Patty Piquet (spelling?), Becky Harris (my sister) and Jody in front of house in Lake Forest subdivision, Hollywood, Florida, Christmas, 1958.]

When I was growing up, we’d often go outside to take the photos to have good light.  Us kids would stand on the sidewalk in front of the house, often grouped in gangs of friends.  Photos for the UPDB could also be tagged by location, such as Maine Avenue, Homestead Air Force Base.  My sister and I had a bunch of friends on that street but no photos, so maybe Arthur or Alice, or Gary and Gerry, if such a UPDB existed could post their family photos, and if I searched on “Maine Avenue” and “Homestead Air Force Base” and (1961 or 1962) I’d find them.

Or I could search for “Lake Forest” “Hollywood, Florida” 1958-1963 and I could find photos of the old subdivision where I grew up.  Facebook has accidently created a beginning of a UPDB for the Lake Forest (Hollywood, FL) Historical Appreciation Society.  The group has 90 photographs, some of which seem to come from the era when I lived there, so obviously, this idea of mine might have widespread appeal because there are other people feeling nostalgic for that neighborhood too.  Multiply that desire by millions and billions of people and you’ll see the potential.


[Patty Piquet (spelling?), Michael Kevin Ralph and Becky Harris (my sister) in front our house in Lake Forest subdivision in Hollywood Florida, April, 1959.  Patty and Mike, are y’all out there?] 

The tremendous popularity of Facebook is due to nostalgia I think, but so far its technology is based on simple groupings allowing people to reconnect with old acquaintances.  A UPDB with key fields based on names, locations and dates would redefine our interest in the past, and it could be used for other purposes other than wistful remembering.  Think what it would mean to biographers, writers and reporters?

My favorite science fiction writer is Robert A. Heinlein.  What if every fan photo, interview photo, magazine photo, fanzine photo, convention photo ever taken of Heinlein was uploaded into the UPDB along with information, memoirs, interviews, etc. linked to the photos, wouldn’t that create a wonderful library of information for researchers and fans to study?

Also, how often do you find old family photos where you don’t know all the folks in the shot?  Uploaded those photos to the UPDB and someone might identify the mystery faces.  Or how often do you clean out old closets and drawers and throw away ancient photos?  That’s history buried in the landfill – ain’t that a crying shame?  Every photo is a snapshot of reality from a unique time and space location, and who knows what value it might contain.

Most libraries have a special collections department that collects local photos, but they are impossible to use without visiting each collection in person.  Imagine if all the special collection photos where uploaded to the UPDB?  Or old archive photos from newspapers and magazines?  Or all the school photo annuals?

Imagine if Google Maps was cross-referenced to the UPDB where you could zoom in and see photos based on location and time period?  What a fantastic mash-up that would make.  Now that we live with pocket telephones that have built-in cameras, wouldn’t it be easy to create photo diaries of our lives?  Especially ones with GPS tech built in that could date/time/location stamp each photo?

When I was growing up, buying a roll of film for the Kodak Brownie was a rare event.  For most years of my life I doubt there were no more than 2-3 photos taken of myself, and some years none.  There is a small chance I’m in other people’s photos.  During the decades of my parents life, they probably went years without being photographed.  And their parents and grandparents were probably only photographed a handful of times during their whole lifetime.  If we don’t make an effort now, those photographs will soon disappear.

On the other hand, the current digital generation will have hundreds, if not thousands of photographs of themselves, so they will overwhelm the UPDB and techniques will be needed to weed out the photos worth saving.  One of my favorite blogs, Times Goes By written by Ronni Bennett has a top masthead of 10 photos of Ronni taken across her life that makes a wonderful timeline image.  I wish that everyone I meet on the web had a linked page with a similar timeline photo of themselves.  At minimum, each person should have a photo for each year of their life.  Go look at Ronni’s photos – doesn’t that time dimensional aspect add so much to your immediate impression of her?

Everyone is amazed by what the Internet does now – I’m waiting to be blown away by what it will do in five years, or ten years.  Imagine and contemplate what Facebook could be in 2015?  or 2025?  Picture me singing and smiling like Al Jolson, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”

JWH – 11/25/9 (My birthday – age 58)  

The Loneliness of Facebook Friends

We all know people who tell us they have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but do people really have that many good friends?  Friends that would pick them up at the airport or take them to the doctor’s when getting a colonoscopy?  Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe Facebook is a marvelous invention for tracking all the people you meet throughout life, and if it had been invented before I was born, I may have paid more attention to the folks I associated with at each stage of my life.

I think young people today grow up more social than I did back in the 1950s, belonging to all kinds of groups, starting with their daycare centers.  Some kids today seem to move through life in cohorts, and Facebook is perfect for them.  I moved around so much that I can’t remember any individual classmate before the 5th grade.   My memories are of neighborhood kids I played with after school.  I only have one friend on Facebook from all my K-12 years, but then I’m 57 and not really part of the Facebook generation.  However, I do know lots of people my age that are reconnecting with old names from their memories.

As my wife Susan told me, when I mention I was writing about Facebook, she thinks the young of today are adverse to talking to one-another directly, but instead love to tweet, text and write on each other’s walls, as if email or phone calls provided TMI.  In other words they prefer scads of friends to share bite-size facts with frequently.  I’ve never texted or tweeted, but then I’m a verbose bastard, and even feel silly typing a simple snappy line on someone’s wall.

I’ve yet to find much value in Facebook, to be perfectly honest.  When I scan my Facebook home page and read what all my “friends” are doing it makes me lonely because most of my “friends” are people I never see, especially not daily.  It makes me sad that I don’t want to keep up with all the tiny details of their lives, and I worry I’d bore these folks if I wrote about the little things in my life.  Or would they be bored?  Is it heart warming to follow a group of acquaintances – like watching a favorite soap opera?  I have to wonder if Facebook provides a kind of mini-fame, so the young feel good about the number of people that follow their lives.  But I have to ask, do people read as much about their friends as they write to them? 

I like seeing my friends face-to-face, like last night when Anne invited me over for dinner when Susan went to play trivia at Swanky’s.  We listened to the original cast recording of Phantom of the Opera while she cooked me a wonderful dinner and then she made me soothing herbal tea for my cold.  So, should I describe our evening on Facebook?  Would my other friends want to know what Anne and I did on Saturday night?  Since there was no hot sex would they find our chit-chatting boring and again, too much information?

The question I’d like to explore is:  How well does Facebook help with maintaining current friendships?  Is it a good tool for genuine friendships?  My wife loves Facebook because it’s useful for keeping tabs on all our nephews and nieces and other extended family members, and I know other women in our generation that use Facebook in the same way to follow children and grandchildren.  We have so many friends that never had children we could create group just for them, and Facebook seems perfect for this task of keeping up with relatives.

Of course, how do all the kids feel about their old Aunty keeping track of their doings?  Maybe they would prefer it to their Aunts interrupting their lives by calling them once a week to get the news.  In my day my mother made me write my Aunts occasionally “Dear Aunt Sissy, How are you?  I am doing fine” kinds of letters.  I wonder if they would have loved Facebook?

I have to wonder if people really enjoy tracking the daily events of their old classmates.  I’m curious about what happened to them all, but I’d just like to read a summary like those short where-are-they-now updates for each character at the end of American Graffiti.  My memories are stuffed with fond recollections of childhood, but I don’t think I could regain paradise by tracking down old friends.  A cooler invention akin to Facebook would be Photobook where everyone could register their old group photos to share with forgotten people in the photos or Memorybook where you could chronicle a memory of an event featuring past friends hoping they would chronicle the same event from their point of view.

If people are truly friends they stay in touch.  I think a cool feature of Facebook would be the chance to collaborate old memories, but I doubt I’d want to make new memories with old acquaintances.  Is that sad?  I wouldn’t mind apologizing to some old teachers for not pulling my weight when they were trying so hard to help me, but I’m guessing those teachers, if they were alive, wouldn’t even remember me.  

I know a number of people my age that joined Facebook and then quit after a few months.  Is it just a fad for the youthful that will disappear in a few years, or will a new generation grow up and maintain lifelong contacts via the web?  Will Facebook become as integrated into society as the telephone?  I shall stick with Facebook a bit longer even though it makes me feel lonely to use it.  I hope I’m an old dog that can learn new tricks.

Currently, I think I have two kinds of friends.  The people I will spend real time with, either in person or on the phone, or those folks who I commune with via blogging.  I tend to think blogging is my Facebook, but most of my real life friends don’t blog or read my blogs.  Blogging seems to be a communication technology that has limited appeal, rather than the mass appeal of Facebook, Twitter or texting.  What this all implies is we have many kinds of friends, and many ways to communicate with them, Facebook is just one tool in the toolbox.  One that I haven’t trained with thoroughly, or learned its advantages.

Theoretically this means we can have Facebook Friendships that never overlap the real world.  At this time I have no idea what value such friendships would bring, but then no one can predict the future.  I love the TV show, The Big Bang Theory.  I suppose I could use Facebook to find other folks who love the show too.  I assume young people already do that.  But do such friends reduce loneliness?  Are people happy just having Facebook friendships?  If Facebook has real value, what will it be like in 50 years?

JWH – 10/11/9

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