Whilst the creation of the social networking website known as Facebook and its consequences in the contemporary world have many angles to be analysed from, I will focus only on what David Fincher tells us through the film The Social Network, about its purposes and effects, such as the generation of a sense of exclusiveness and importance in a community that gets the opportunity to accept or reject members into their social group on internet, to be members of the social group that matches their interests and even life style, about the substitution of human-bodily interaction for the virtual interaction, and the main reason for this change. Through the description, exemplification and comparison of different scenes from the film, I will approach to themes that can give us a closer look into what this virtual world is and was meant for, such as the situations that Mark Zuckerberg –one of the creators of Facebook– has to go through to develop this program, the interactivity of students, the representations of exclusiveness and importance, and the dynamics of relationships between some of the main characters.
Mark Zuckerberg is a brilliant student of Computer Science at Harvard University, who after breaking up with his girlfriend creates a website where women students can be compared by their hotness. After its success, Harvard’s network crashes, the Winklevoss twins and Divya Narendra hear about it and ask Mark to help them develop their project about a website that be exclusive for the Harvard community. Mark accepts, and whilst delaying the latter project, ventures himself to develop Facebook with the support of his friend Eduardo Saverin and his roommates. After the first months of their achieving, they look for expansion and talk to Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster, who advises them to move to California and focus on exponential growth for the company. Following the utter success of Facebook, Mark faces two lawsuits, one made by the Winklevosses appealing intellectual property theft, and the other by Eduardo Saverin, who claims an unjust contract and that he was tricked into stepping down of the project.
There are key moments in the film that can be interpreted as reasons for Mark’s actions. Every time he acted upon something, whether it was a new idea or the improvement of a project already on the road, something happened that triggered his ambition. The first time we see this attitude is in the opening scene, when he is drinking a beer with his girlfriend, Alice, talking about intellectual skills and his desire to enter into a final club, they argue upon the subject and Alice breaks up with him. Instead of looking for a way to fix things with her, Mark goes to his room, drinks some beers and writes on his blog despiteful things about Alice, his connection to the virtual world and, in a way, his reproach onto the blog is the result of an impotence in front of the rejection that he just suffered. He proved his brilliance –perhaps as compensation– and his resentment by creating FACEMASH, a website to compare the hotness of women students. Only when the website got the traffic that Mark could aspire to, he showed pride of his own potential. This attitude is also depicted when the Winklevoss brothers invite him to their final club to talk about the project they had in mind, they say to him:
Winklevoss: So, you ever been inside the Porcellian?
Winklevoss: You understand we can’t take you past the bike room, because you’re not a member
They talk about the project and Divya suggests that by working on their project Mark could clean his image before women’s eyes after the problem with Facemash. Mark does not take this comment kindly and after short consideration accepts to work on their project without even listening to details. A few moments later he is shown talking to Eduardo Saverin about creating THE FACEBOOK, summarising an idea somehow alike that of the Winklevoss twins. The fact that he was treated as an outsider to the club when he was most eager to join in, as well as his collaboration being seen as if they were doing him a favour, triggered his desire to show that he was better than them, and therefore deserving what he wished. Finally, when Eduardo says he has been invited to compete to join one of the final clubs, Mark seems troubled and surprised by the news, but focused on explaining his idea:
Mark: People want to go on the Internet and check out their friends, so why not build a website that offers that? Friends, pictures, profiles, whatever you can visit. Browse around, maybe it’s just someone that you met at a party, but I’m not talking about a dating site, I’m talking about taking the entire social experience of college and putting it online
Eduardo: I can’t feel my legs
Mark: Yeah I know, I’m totally psyched about this too, but Wardo?
Mark: It would be exclusive
Mark is not a character that shows his emotions, rather his reactions speak for him. By the end of the conversation with Eduardo he only says:‘It probably was a diversity thing. But so what?’; and later on when Eduardo goes to the second cut to enter the final club, Mark says: ‘That’s good, you should be proud of that right there. Don’t worry if you don’t make it any further’.
Now, the first of Mark’s successes shown in the movie is exclusively within the range of the University and, it was possible due to the students’ interests. The film shows that one of the most important sides of the University are the social activities. There are scenes depicting parties, social gatherings, club meetings that focus on the challenges they have to face to enter the club such as: drinking straight from a bottle of whisky; hence the popularity of Facemash and later on the boom for Facebook. Mark’s creations were focused in taking the interests of the students to the realm of the virtual, his field. By creating a site like a book address, but in which you could register your information, upload photos, set a status and share all the information with your friends, Mark used the basis of the kind of interaction they already had, and took it to a level in which everything is more immediate and broad, for example: instead of showing your pictures to each and every one of your friends and telling them the last gossip of the party, you would just upload the pics and everyone in your circle would know about it, and it works the other way around, you would always be up to date with the latest information posted by your friends, just as who broke up with who, and who went crazy on a party, etc. This is a clear example of it:
Dustin: Mark, there is a girl in your art history class. Her name is Stephanie Attis. Do you happen to know if she has a boyfriend? have you ever seen her with anyone? and, if not, do you happen to know if she’s looking to go out with anyone?
Mark: Dustin, people don’t walk around with a sign on them that says…
Considering Harvard community as a social group, and its activities as the characteristics of that kind of society, then it was highly possible to expand Facebook into social groups alike, that is to say, other Universities with the same profile. Therefore, Facebook is transported into Universities within United States and later to other places around the globe. So the image of the students and their interests are shown to be somehow universal, whether it may be because of the same education system or because it may be a real human need, the importance of interaction with other people is depicted as essential, if not only popular. But the temptation of knowing everything about your friends is not the only pillar that holds the networking site, but also the opportunity that gives to people of choosing who will know about their ventures and who will not, most like trying to get into a fraternity or final club –but hopefully in most of the cases without tests– you would send your ‘friend request’ and wait for the answer. So it would also work both ways, because just as you would be hoping to be accepted by the person you are aiming to know or keep in contact with; other people would be hoping for you to accept them, which creates a sense of desirability, exclusiveness and importance, and always these elements would be seen from the perspective of the person who is at the centre of this social sphere: the Facebook user. Thus, when Mark and Eduardo are invited to ‘Facebook friend’ a couple of hot girls, this characteristic is exposed.
The sense of exclusiveness, desirability and importance that Facebook subtlety promises is the reflection of what the movie shows are Mark’s desires. In the first scene Mark is talking to Alice and explaining her why he wanted to join a final club:
Mark: I’m just saying I need to do something substantial in order to get the attention of the clubs.
Mark: Because they’re exclusive, and fun, and they lead to a better life
So the meaning of the final club lies in its promise to bring something better or to make you a desirable figure later in life. When Mark interprets from the conversation with Alice that he wouldn’t be able to go into one of those groups, his aim in creating Facemash is to prove his genius. When he is invited by the Winklevoss twins to discuss about their project, they meet in the club’s headquarters, but there is a threshold that he cannot pass because he is not a member, so Mark is out of that exclusiveness, a way to turn the situation around would be to create a network that followed the same principles and leave the twins out, just as he was. In a subsequent scene, while in the process of litigation, Mark reminds us of this treat to him:
Lawyer: You also knew that Tyler and Cameron were members of a Harvard final club called the Porcellian.
Mark: They pointed that out
Winklevoss: Excuse us for inviting you in
Mark: To the bike room
When he talks to Eduardo about Facebook the purpose of its creation is clearly explained ‘as something cool for people to be member of’ almost in short words ‘a virtual club’ and the first people they aim to add to Facebook are the members of the final club in which Eduardo is trying to get in, so it is like tempting them to get into a new club, but this time, it would be his club, so he has the control now. Finally, after the website’s starting success, Mark meets Sean Parker, a character that exudes presence within the virtual world, that belongs to the entrepreneurial field and that is a rebel within that world, his accomplishments impress Mark not only in the intellectual way, but for their range. Mark wants that expansion and Sean knows how to do it, Sean represents the importance Mark wants to acquire by being present, through Facebook, all over the world. Hence, Facebook’s features do exactly what Mark wants and are translated into the need of a whole society. Thus, by owning a Facebook account, the students could experience what Mark was aiming for in a larger scale.
The quality of what Facebook offers and the justification of changing that for what you have in the real world is something worth discussing, because having too many friends in Facebook could be just an idea and the information that displays could also be false. A few examples from the movie can explain this. About the veracity of the information, when Eduardo comes back from New York after looking for interviews with advertisers, his girlfriend, Christy, comes to his place to demand an explanation of why he had not called her and why his relationship status appeared in Facebook as: single.
Christy: Why does your Relationship status say “single” on your Facebook page?
Eduardo: Well, I was single when I set up the page
Christy: And you just never bothered to change it?What?
Eduardo:I don’t know how
Christy: Do I look stupid to you?
Eduardo: No, calm down
Christy: You’re asking me to believe that the CFO of Facebook doesn’t know how to change his Relationship Status on Facebook?
Christy is expecting and perhaps even relying on the information in Facebook to be the complete truth, ignoring what was happening in her real life. Whether the status was single or not, wouldn’t change her position of being Eduardo’s girlfriend. There is a difference between a ‘real relationship’ and a ‘virtual relationship‘ , it is possible that in both styles of relationship there could be lies however, in the former the relationship is more about facts and in the latter relies merely on information. Therefore, everything that is displayed on the networking site should be judged carefully.
Changing interaction in the real world for a virtual interaction, could have a negative side in terms of experiences. Mark’s relationship with Alice was shown to be difficult from the beginning of the movie, their conversation was cold and somehow distant. Alice expresses it clearly when she says:
Mark: You don’t have to study, let’s just talk
Alice: I can’t
Alice: Because it is exhausting. Dating you is like dating a StairMaster
During this fight, Mark tried to apologise but with no success, so instead of trying again or doing something that involved contact with her, or talking to his friend, he went to his blog and wrote nasty things about her, even if he discharged his anger, he was not able to experience confrontation, to say what he was thinking and arrange or give closure to the relationship, he exchanged a real conflict for a virtual long-distance sort of vengeance, therefore, that chapter was not closed. Later in the movie, as Mark gets more and more traffic on Facebook, lets say more Facebook friends, his relationship with Eduardo deteriorates, Eduardo says to him while in litigation:‘I was your only friend. You had one friend’. Mark had just exchanged one real friend for five hundred million people he didn’t even know. Finally, in the last part of the movie, after Mark has almost finished the process of his lawsuits, he is depicted watching the Facebook page of Alice, playing a bit with the cursor, he finally sends her a friend request, perhaps, in the attempt of regaining the real relationship he had through the virtuality in which he felt more comfortable. Throughout the movie Mark gained everything that he wanted, except the courage to be and stay in real relationships.
The Social Network shows that Facebook was created mainly out of the need of one person to be accepted, acknowledged and even liked, therefore what Facebook offers us is the virtual satisfaction of those needs. Being part of a community and getting a certain status whilst progressing as a student and as a person is depicted as to be very particular within the University dynamics, where connections are formed to give the final touch to your preparation for the next stage of the journey. In the words of Eduardo it is expressed: ‘See, in a world where social structure was everything, that was the thing’ . Facebook can have many features, but its importance lies in what the film was named after: The social network, while Facebook can apparently give you many connections and friends, a sense of belonging and the opportunity of having control over those who surround you, it can also be a escape from the difficulties of relationships in the real world and an obstacle in our ability to communicate with others in a deeper way.
I enjoy overall what the film tells us about the importance of human relationships and I think that while Facebook, for its broad reach, is an amazing tool to keep in contact with people that you cannot see frequently or that, for any reason, are geographically away from you, to develop our abilities of connection with people, to nurture our relationships and achieve our needs through our own development is still essential to our well-being. After all, the advantages of Facebook depend on the user.
(1) StairMaster is a US company specialising in the design and production of fitness equipment for commercial, light commercial and home use. <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=StairMaster&useskin=monobook> 9 June, 2012