The Social Contract


I left The Social Network, aka the Facebook movie, feeling stunned and exhilarated. (Imagine if all of life were scripted by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher!) Maybe it's analogous to bare toes shod in rubber flip-flops hitting virgin snow on a freezing Cambridge morning. After a night of coding. Drunk.

In the opening scene, set in a bar, our hero/anti-hero, the semi-humanoid, hoodie-wearing Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is being verbally brutal but super smart. His date, the beauty who got away, parries his remarks quip for quip. Her final line, which gives the movie its structure, is "You think that the reason women reject you is because you're a nerd. It's not. It's because you're an asshole."

Is he or isn't he? A female lawyer later tells the fictional Zuckerberg that he's not an asshole, but "he's trying so hard to be." This sets up one of the story's amazing ironies: a guy with no friends, impervious to cold (and human warmth) comes up with the world's most powerful friend-ing technology. And, in turn, it allows users lives to be open books without ever having to meet any "friend" face to face.

Naturally, in this meta-media hall of mirrors, I raved about the Facebook movie on Facebook. To my surprise, I got a flurry of negative responses. It made my friends feel "dirty" to know that Zuckerberg was (allegedly) a crook. Seeing the movie made them want to get off Facebook.

What? Get off Facebook? There's no getting off Facebook. Ever. None of the lying or cheating is proven in the  movie, by the way, which makes it so brilliant in its Rashomon-ishness (say that three times fast).

It really is a morality Rorschach. It's not clear that Zuckerberg stole from the Winklevoss twins, although certainly he handled their interactions very badly.

He claims he never used a line of their code, came up with a social network that was simpler and more user friendly, and grew the business from school to school.

What's clearer is that Eduardo Saverin, the original investor, who the movie shows to be Zuckerberg's only friend -- as well as the company's CFO -- was badly treated. (Saverin ended up with a considerable settlement, getting his name restored on the masthead and 5 percent of the company, which comes out to be a tidy billion-dollar sum.)

Many businesses are founded by people who become ruthless and cold-blooded. Yawn. What's ironic is that once Zuckerberg is shown in the movie developing his man-crush on Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), Saverin, made to look awkward and uncool, is edged out because, get this, he wants to stay in New York and "monetize the site" (away from the connections and energy of Palo Alto and the East Coast-West Coast feud that is part of the movie's tension).

"It's cool now," the movie Zuckerberg says of Facebook. "And if it's filled with pop-ups for Mountain Dew, it won't be."

The Social Network shows Parker scathingly dismissive toward Saverin and his tiny ads. "I saw that ad for Gary's Tuxedos and the Harvard Bartending School that you brought in," he sneers.

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