One of my classes this semester is Social Media, Blogging and Business. Every one in the class is a fan of social media. We all bring our laptops every day. We’ve looked at blogging, vlogging and tweeting. I’ve not directed students to take a closer look at facebooking (yes, it is a verb) as everyone (except me) is an accomplished user.
Today, three students accompanied me to a local cineplex to see The Social Network. Did the trip qualify as an educational experience? Was it time well spent? Am I (or any of my students) a better person for the experience? Was I entertained? In this blog post I attempt to answer these questions.
First, I quote the plot summary available at IMDB and attibuted to Columbia Pictures:
The Social Network explores the moment at which Facebook was invented — through the warring perspectives of the super-smart young men who each claimed to be there at its inception. The film moves from the halls of Harvard to the cubicles of Palo Alto to capture the heady early days of a culture-changing phenomenon in the making — and the way it both pulled a group of young revolutionaries together and then split them apart. In the midst of the chaos are Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), the brilliant Harvard student who conceived a website; Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), once Zuckerberg’s close friend, who provided the seed money for the fledgling company; Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) who brought Facebook to Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists; and the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence), the Harvard classmates who asserted that Zuckerberg stole their idea and then sued him for ownership of it.
The movie reveals a secret recipe for Facebook’s success: a large dose of genius, seasoned with both reputational and monetary greed, sprinkled with arrogance and insensitivity, presented in a stew of slavishly hard work. The finished product tastes heavily of betrayal with a hint childish tit for tat. Whether or not the movie reveals the secret recipe is a matter of considerable debate.
Now, to deal with the questions.
Is movie an educational experience? I learned that Harvard women are always beautiful and willing sex partners, and Harvard men are brilliant visionaries with Bunyanesque capabilities. It is as easy to form friendships as to break them, and hurting someone else’s feelings will always cost you dearly in the end. Oh yes, all Harvard students are online especially in the wee hours before dawn.
Was it time well spent? Am I (or any of my students) a better person for the experience? These lessons were not what I wanted for my students. I was hoping for insights into the use and potential of social media. We learned nothing about it.
I see little value in The Social Network story of hurt feelings, greed and betrayal that took place at Facebook. Oh, the movie does a fair job of showing these took place. Unfortunately, it didn’t provide a basis for any of the friendships that eventually were broken.
After viewing the film, I was left with several unaswered questions. What did Zuckerberg and Albright (his college girlfriend) ever have in common that culminated in their being boyfriend-girlfriend? How deep was their bond? Was the relationship defining enough so that its ending provided sufficient energy to power the creation of the primary social phenomenon of the young 21st century?
And what of Facebook? Is it Zuckerberg’s attempt to atone for insults tossed at Albrecht and all Harvard women back on that fateful night in 2003? Does Facebook, as currently designed and implemented, provide Zuckerberg with a means of more effectively establishing friendships? Or is it only a tool that facilitates the shallow hooking up of college age students?
The film provided no answer to whether Zuckerberg was a visionary or an opportunist. Therefore, I conclude that treking to see the 120 minute film was not time well spent.
Was I entertained? I was titillated by the portrayal of genius and sex. I was able to gawk at a train wreck. But I wasn’t entertained. The film’s parting advice to Zuckerberg was not to mourn the friendships lost, but to view the breakups as no more than speeding tickets picked up on the highway of life.
I’m glad this was only an informal, voluntary field trip. Two stars out of four.