Our Broken Social Network

The Social Network, directed by David Fincher, written by Aaron Sorkin

This new film has received lots of positive reviews and has sold lots of tickets over the past weeks, but I was unsure just what might be in store as I walked into the theater this weekend. What I found was a brilliant, and oddly moving, tragedy. At first, it seemed to be just the tragedy of one man, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of facebook, but in the end the tragedy seems to be so many-sided, so “social” that I found myself drawn right into the drama. I was asking the question: these people’s lives are so very broken, but in the end, are they all that different from me?

The movie runs through the story of the founding of the website facebook, which, whether you love it or hate it, is without question an amazing phenomenon. Two 19-year-old undergraduates took an idea and turned it into a billion-dollar company within 5 years. The director, David Fincher, and the writer, Aaron Sorkin, are able to communicate just how surreal, how amazing the speed of this development was for all the people involved. They take what from the outside could have been an incredibly boring story (if I had made the movie, it would have been entirely made of two hours of people typing on computers until Zuckerberg jumps up and yells “Eureka!”) and instead make the audience feel the ridiculous pace as the little company gains its thousands, and finally its millions, of members.

Yet if the filmmakers render the business story exciting, they do even more with the human story. Facebook is not an idea for connecting stuff, as if it were about getting natural gas to homes faster, or about safer ways to ship trinkets. The whole idea is about connecting people. As the movie depicts it, this means for connection is in large part created out of the social backwardness, the social folly, perhaps even the social sins, of its founders. On the one hand, you have the Winklevoss twins, comfortably occupying a position as the elite of the elite, members of the most exclusive private club at Harvard University. Their disdain for Zuckerberg and their assumption of their own superiority is so complete that when Zuckerberg fools them, it takes them months to figure out what to do. They are convinced that because they always win, they will win. When they don’t, they are flabbergasted. Even more tragically, Zuckerberg’s friend, Eduardo Saverin, ends up being pushed aside by Zuckerberg because Saverin disagrees with him about the direction the company should take. Saverin, who had put up the money to get facebook started, who served as its CFO for the first year, gets shoved to the curb.

In the end, the tragedy focuses on Zuckerberg. It is driven forward by his brilliance, his desire to be liked, his phenomenal insight into what people want from facebook, and the very brokenness of his personal life. As the movie depicts it, facebook is substituting for the connections that Zuckerberg wishes he had: with a girlfriend who dumped him, with the elite social clubs at Harvard, with other powerful and talented people, such as Sean Parker, the former founder of Napster. His own desperate need for connection drives him to create the means for connection for everyone else. Facebook, built as it is around the network of connections to other online “friends,” thus provides the ironic center, the dramatic irony of the movie. Saverin turns to Zuckerberg, after facebook has become a network of millions of “friends”, and says, “I was your only friend.” The accusation from Saverin is such a basic human drama, of a person betraying a friend because of a new friend. But in this case, Zuckerberg betrays Saverin because of millions of new friends. The advertising tag line for the movie is right on: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.”

It is crucial, in the midst of this engaging and stimulating movie, to allow the tragedy to turn on us. What are the betrayals we make in the midst of cultivating our social networks? Who have we sacrificed? How is our online life driven by the brokenness of our daily interactions? And any finger-pointing is coming right back at me. Let it be noted for the record that facebook makes frequent appearances in my examination of conscience. But in evaluating our online lives, it is not to write it off completely. The writer of the movie, Aaron Sorkin, has said in a number of interviews how much he hates facebook and does not use it. Yet Sorkin does the right thing in the movie by not making it an accusation against facebook itself, a decrying of the falsehood of internet friends. In fact, what the movie says is that the tragedy of human injustice, of human brokenness and sin, is the same online and off. It’s one human tragedy, in which we all participate. Among those who are constantly proclaiming the internet as the Savior of the World, and among those who are ready to demonize it in favor of immaculate natural interactions, this is a great middle-ground to hold: it’s all one human tragedy. Our weak human hearts find it hard to love and be loved, whether online or off. It lacks a clear savior, but this amusing, engaging, and ultimately sad movie might help us face, in our whole lives, just how badly we need one.

Michae! Magree, SJ

+AMDG+

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15 Responses to Our Broken Social Network

  1. Paddy says:

    Nice work, Magree. I loved the end of the movie when Zuckerberg was sitting there just hitting refresh on his ex’s page. I imagined the internal monologue was like my own: be my friend, be my friend, be my friend…

    Maureen Dowd did a great little piece in the Times too: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/opinion/10dowd.html?_r=1&ref=maureendowd

    Prayers!

    PG, SJ

  2. Julia says:

    Hi – I need to give you kudos for this piece especially since I did a midday examination of conscienc because what you said below:

    “What are the betrayals we make in the midst of cultivating our social networks? Who have we sacrificed? How is our online life driven by the brokenness of our daily interactions? And any finger-pointing is coming right back at me. Let it be noted for the record that facebook makes frequent appearances in my examination of conscience.”

  3. Ty Selleman says:

    This is a very interesting analysis on the movie Social Network. It is very brave of someone to make a movie on something that has corrupted society like Facebook has. It is also great that you look at it in a different way then the movie does. This point you made, “It is crucial, in the midst of this engaging and stimulating movie, to allow the tragedy to turn on us” really allows for our eyes to be open because we are involved in this tragedy very day but we never realize it. The move talks about Facebook as a social network but not as a major issue in society. Dealing with the issue of the Zuckerberg’s friend, why do you find this so important and does is pertain or apply to society as a whole? We as Catholics are told through the virtue of hospitality to welcome everyone and be open to all, so then why does society let a social network violate this belief? In the end, this is a great movie yet I do not think that the tragedy applies to everyone. People can still be part of Facebook and have a good social life and have solid relationships with people.

  4. Lebron Wade says:

    Your analysis of the film, “The Social Network” brought up many new and interesting points to my eyes. When I first saw the film, I only acknowledged it as a strenuous lawsuit filed by a good friend, and other colleagues. After reading your analysis I began to think about the film in a whole new direction. The corruption of Facebook, and how it leads to demoralizing tragedies that our community is faced with today has been a new topic that I have thought about. I have always thought of Facebook as a helpful social networking site that allows us to be connected to the world. Although my feelings toward Facebook have been altered, I for the most part, still believe that it is intended for good, not evil. Have you ever though about Facebook as a true connection through the community, or just a network that allows us to communicate with our friends? Through hospitality we are called to welcome everyone, so I think that making “enemies” is very subjective. The other person can see you as an enemy, but we are called to welcome and make friends.

  5. nick says:

    “What are the betrayals we make in the midst of cultivating our social networks? Who have we sacrificed? How is our online life driven by the brokenness of our daily interactions?”

    I agree with ideas posed by these questions, and feel that the use of social network sites can cause our social life to become distorted and misshapen. I know from personal experience that it is easier for some of my friends to talk over a computer screen than in person, and I feel that this might be a major downfall of our generation. The lack of face-to-face communication destroys our social skills, which are so important in the worlds of business and relationships.

    “Among those who are constantly proclaiming the internet as the Savior of the World, and among those who are ready to demonize it in favor of immaculate natural interactions, this is a great middle-ground to hold: it’s all one human tragedy. Our weak human hearts find it hard to love and be loved, whether online or off.”

    While it is safe to take the middle ground, I would beg to differ on the comment about the weakness of human hearts, and how we humans find it hard to love or be loved. With all do respect I feel the opposite. Yes, it can be argued that America is turning into a consumer society, but I feel that the ability to love and be loved is not directly hindered by social networks. Do you feel that people who have a hard time expressing themselves are more prone and attracted to write about their feeling rather than talk about them with someone, and that the use of the internet is not destroying human hearts, but rather giving us a new way to express our emotions and feelings?

  6. bart says:

    great article

  7. Tido Bake says:

    I like your article and analysis of the film The Social Network, especially the aspect of the movie depicting overall human dismay, not only online but in real life as well. “In fact, what the movie says is that the tragedy of human injustice, of human brokenness and sin, is the same online and off. It’s one human tragedy, in which we all participate” (Michae! Magree, SJ). As far as I have read in your article of The Social Network, it seems as though Zuckerburg is not satisfied with himself for several reasons such as not being accepted into the elite clubs and his girlfriend dumping him. This drives him to want to be popular and powerful and show people what their missing. He even is willing to lose a best friend who has been by his side the whole time to do so. Although this does show an example of your point: “our weak human hearts find it hard to love and be loved” (Michae! Magree, SJ), I respectfully disagree that our hearts are weak and that it is a tragedy. Rather I think that it is part of the Human Condition that has been around since Cain killed Abel and is actually a “happy fault” which led God to send Jesus done to earth as our savior. Do you think our consumer society is amplifying this part of the human condition or do you think that it is as prevalent as it has always been?

  8. Miller says:

    After reading your critique and analysis of The Social Network, I agree with your last point that it lacks a clear savior, and might help us face the fact that we need one in our lives. I feel that through the loss of friends whether you “sacrificed” the friendship or not is a call to recognize the savior. Through failure we must recognize those important to us and strive to become true to ourselves. You mention Zuckerberg and the relationships he had with Saverin and the Winklevoss twins. After seeing the movie I felt that Zuckerberg justified the ending of these relationships as a necessity to further develop facebook. He never looks back at the loss of his best friend as a devastating event and acts as if he was never friends with him. I was wondering how he can morally justify this and if you had any thoughts on it? Last, as you described facebook to have a negative aspect on society through creating in a sense fake relationships, I feel people can still participate with facebook and not uphold this aspect. Facebook in general I feel helps create new relationships as well as connect people with relationships they may have forgotten. I feel that as facebook connects us to others it reminds us that we also need to reconnect with God. The theme of relationships can be a call to remember God’s presence in our lives.

  9. Bob says:

    I agree completely with your idea that Zuckerberg finds himself in such desperate need of friends that he creates an ironic way for everyone else aroud him to connect to each other. I think Zuckerberg is a classic example of an awkward student trying to fit in with his fellow classmates. However, I respectfully question your statement that this movie is above all a focus on the tragedy of Zuckerberg. I think the Social Network equally reveals the pain of Edwardo Saverin, and may even focus on him more. I think you can apply your idea that people have a natural problem with reaching out to each other to the virture of generosity, which focuses on helping others and creating new relationships.

  10. Andy Roy says:

    Excellent analysis of the movie in this article,i now view this movie in a different light. however, In what ways do you think our online social life gets in the way of our everyday human interactions? could it be that as we are christians we are taught to include all and to be hospitible? this is a very easy thing not to do when you are not face to face with a person and not seeing their physical reaction to the actions you just portrayed. Again, beautiful essay this will be passed on

    • Gabriel Sarethi says:

      I applaud the thoughtfulness of your analysis. Unlike many of Facebook’s critics, you realize that the site is not damaging in and of itself, but simply amplifies the problems already present in our relationships. I think that many people see friendship as a means to receive pleasure and status, rather than an opportunity to share love. As you stated in the article, Zuckerburg craved companionship because he wanted to be cared for, but never stopped to consider how he could care for others. Through his selfishness he alienated his friends in real life, and saw Facebook as a way to replace them. In this way, Facebook can be used as a tool to perpetuate apathy in relationships. Since lost friends can be “replaced” almost instantly, true companionship is rendered obsolete. The root of the problem, however, lies with us; Facebook only serves to illuminate our flaws.

      That being said, I disagree with your assertion that we need a savior to fix our broken social network. I think that we are the only people who can solve our problems, and in fact the only people who should solve our problems. Saviors and teachers can preach their lungs out, but in the end the decision to change comes from within. In this case, the change that must be made is the restoration of mutual love in friendships. Keeping on-topic with the article, I’m curious as to whether you would consider Facebook to be a tool or an impediment to this end.

  11. Matteo Mannesero says:

    When i first saw the movie I didnt think much about the fact that there was a very big lawsuit betwwen the founder of Facebook and his collegue. After reading the article my depiction of Facebook changed, I found that their is a connection between the corruption of facebook and the corruption of societyu today. In todays society people have become harsh and cruel. We do not think about others but rather think more of ourselves. Have you ever thougt how Facebook effects our ability to be gracious, humble and hospitable to others. Although my perseption of Facebook has changed slightly i still believe it was made for good and so that we can spread our hopes and dream and connect with friends and family.

  12. Riley Bruce says:

    I enjoyed the analysis of this movie form your perspective. I agree that the movie was a tragedy. I think in some ways it can be a metaphor for the tragedy of abusive internet use and the loss of personal interaction. I think that some people go to online sites like Facebook in search of friends. As indicated in the movie, people can become so focused on their online life that their real life becomes secondary. I do think Facebook on the whole is a good thing because it allows people to connect, although I think physical personal connection is superior. But your point posing the question, “what have we sacrifice” has forced me to wonder. I think that the relying on technology leads people to lose reverence for physical human relationships outside of the internet. Do you think that searching for friends online will discourage real human interaction? Do you think that relationships formed online (via Facebook) are any less genuine in nature? Your analysis was thorough and deep. I enjoyed reading it. It posed interesting points and questions that can be applied to our own use and sense of the internet.

  13. Rushad Machhi says:

    This blog was a fantastic read. I completely agree with your point that Zuckerberg used Facebook as a way to get in touch with the social life he did not really have. I remember a quote in the movie where Zuckerberg talked to the Winklevoss twins saying that he could buy the Phoenix club that he so desired to get into at the time he was still coming up with Facebook, and to me that action really shows how he needed Facebook to give him a social life. I really see Zuckerberg being sucked into the consumer society in this movie, wanting social status, wanting girls, and wanting popularity among other things. However, I question your point about Zuckerberg betraying Saverin not for one friend, but for millions of friends. Did Zuckerberg really even betray Saverin for other friends? From what I understood from the movie, Zuckerberg betrays Saverin because Saverin takes away money from a bank account and disagrees with Zuckerberg’s thoughts on advertising. To me, Zuckerberg is trying to utilize his authority, not push one of his friends away for other friends; however I do see what you are trying to say in that Zuckerberg does make many enemies on his way to making a lot of friends. Your blog was a wonderful read and it really gave me a whole new perspective on the movie and for that I would like to thank you.

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