tedg reviews The Social Network:
The facts are intimidating. Soon, Facebook will have a billion users. It is already the most visited site in history. As an entity, it already is on par with the the top tier tech companies: Apple and Google. But far beyond that, far, far more significant is the way that the world is changing. Until now, friendship was absolutely anchored in physical proximity. All media allowed that to be extended, but only if it were well established by actually being together.
Now, this notion is being replaced by an entire generation. The compact is no longer on mutual support and emotional needs, but simply being paid attention to. Life is flattened while the numbers get larger. Shared abstract thinking is reduced to whether something is "liked" or not. Political movements exploit this and we are getting into trouble faster than we can imagine. So we enter a theater with a film about this phenomenon with dire worries. Social networking is the successor to TeeVee as the next possible disaster in the social experiment.
The filmmaker and writer decided to make a movie about this simplification of the social fabric by taking a story that is necessarily rich and human, and reduc[ing] it to a cartoon. We liked it not because the thing is well crafted, though it is. We embrace it because it explains things. In fact, it simplifies things so much that we can feel superior in knowing that we would have made a (slightly) more rich version.
In the real world, what is interesting is not what happened with a girlfriend or some jock twins. What matters is the way that connection is changing, the way we form associations and indeed what an association means and what value it gives. This is not a fad. Facebook and Twitter may fade but something profound has started, perhaps changing the very nature of what it means to invest in societies. We likely are not yet past a tipping point in government and family units, but it is likely that we are well past the tipping point in narratives. We may never get richness back as a basic value. It will be relegated to a few who form a social network.
It is also interesting that Zuckerberg, Dorsey, Canter, Mullenweg and Winer truly believe that what they are about amplifies life in all its dimensions. They believe they are doing good work. If this film is anything, it is evidence that the contrary is true.
And Zuck isn't cool enough to be an Emacs user any more, though he seems to have a genius in the opposite direction: finding the lowest common, scalable need.
I shouldn't like this review, as a blogger who for years has flattened and un-enriched experience by reducing it short posts, jpegs, GIFs, "google juice," and conversations with strangers in comments. Where it resonates for me is the idea that this simulacrum of connection becomes the exclusive domain of a "top tier tech company." Facebook is AOL that works, which means that the media convergence the AOL-Time Warner merger represented in the late 90s is finally coming to pass. There is no place for the "indie" in this scheme except completely outside it--as opposed to the loose fabric of independents we briefly enjoyed in the early to mid '00s. Dire worries is right.
Afterthought: Have hated facebooks since my college days when I put down an outre fake hobby and never heard the end of it (no way I'm repeating it). Although you can create a "persona" on Facebook it is discouraged, in the same manner as entering "Nightly, I.P." in the phone book. You are supposed to be you and people are supposed to be able to find you so they can sell you stuff.