Sunday, October 10, 2010

Facebook -- Acceptance Redefined

         When most of us confront the stinging bite of rejection, we suck it up best we can and move on. It might be one of the hardest exercises of human experience, accepting somebody else's right to decide we don't measure up to their personal taste.
         But if you're a gifted computer geek/genius pursuing an undergrad degree from Harvard University, you take your rejection and let it course through your whole system, from heart to brain to fingertips, using it as nuclear power to fuel the creation of a multi-billion dollar phenomenon that has changed the way we communicate, market and relate to the rest of society.
         Yep, I just saw the Social Network.
         Before going to see this movie, I was skeptical, same as I was about joining Facebook, which I did just a couple of months ago. I thought the movie was hyped. As a Facebook newbie, I think Facebook is hyped in our lives. But Facebook won, and I'm still on it. And the movie makers won, and I went to see the movie.
.         And OMG, what a good movie. Pick your theme: ambition, talent, classism, meritocracy, establishment, anti-establishment, betrayal, pride, digital revolution, social isolation, need for belonging, ownership, and even, though not least, sexism. (By the way, has our society gone three leaps back in how it regards women? See this link:
         The movie, based on the non-fiction book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, crafts the story from the various depositions that were part of the lawsuits against Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, now a 20-something who is the world's youngest billionaire. The story begins in 2002, when he was a sophomore in Harvard.
        His main antagonists are two other Harvard undergraduates, the Winklevoss twins, members of the WASP establishment, who zero in on Zuckerberg for an idea they had. His programming skills, they figure, make him an ideal sort of partner to create an exclusive online social network only for Harvard people. That's how it would make it different from MySpace or Friendster.
       Zuckerberg, portrayed as socially inept and painfully aware of his lack of membership in any of the elite clubs to which Harvard's WASP establishment is privvy, accepts. But then he runs with the idea, makes it his own, executes it and makes it a reality, a huge, gigantic, never-ending reality. He does this with the help of Eduardo Saverin, seemingly his only real friend, and a talent in his own right. But while putting it together, he leads the brothers to believe he was still working on "their" project. When the network goes live without any of their involvement, the brothers feel cheated and dishonored, and pursue restitution through the courts, claiming intellectual property.
       The movie doesn't tilt your sympathy either way. True to real life, there isn't a clear villain and there isn't a clear hero, but I was hooked until the end to see who wins. As much as I admired Zuckerberg's talent, I couldn't totally sympathize with him as the wronged outsider for many reasons, not least of which is his nasty blogging about his ex-girlfriend when she breaks up with him. He then hacks the computers of all the girls' dorms to download pictures of the girls and create a site in which people -- people as in guys -- can click to rate who's hottest. Charming.
      I wasn't rooting for the twin brothers necessarily, but I found myself not disliking them either, and I kind of thought I would. As a Hispanic woman who attended Wellesley College, a school that gravitates in the social periphery of Harvard, I'll tell you that I have never encountered a man who can make you feel more invisible than a blue blood Harvard jock. But at least in the movie, the brothers' earnestness in academics and in their chosen sport of rowing rings authentic. (They represented the U.S. in the latest summer Olympics.) So, didn't love them, but in a way found them a little more sane than Zuckerberg. (I don't know if this is a manipulative effect of the movie.)
     In any case, the way the story goes, both real and cinematic, is that they ended with a $65 million settlement. And the way the story also goes is that Zuckerberg alienates if not downright screws Saverin, his real friend. He's one of the two characters I did actually like, sympathized with and rooted for. The other is his ex-girlfriend, Erica. If both of them got the worst of Zuckerberg in real life, I feel the movie makes it up to them. They each get at least one character-full-of-dignity scene, and they are portrayed as people who understand and value the give and take of genuine, real-life, non-virtual relationships. It isn't entirely clear whether Zuckerberg does or doesn't.
     Which brings me to the whole bizarre-ness of Facebook. As cool as it can be, doesn't it also have a kind of remoteness to it? The whole Facebook thing of "asking" and "accepting" friends seems to be Zuckerberg's comeback to Harvard's clubs' tradition of "tagging" potential members. Did he create the ultimate acceptance standard?
     The fact is I don't know what Zuckerberg is like in real life. His talent is undeniable. His lastest public statement was to donate $100 million to the Newark, NJ school system, which of course is a commendable deed. According to David Kirpatrick, another author writing about Facebook (The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company that is Connecting the World), Zuckerberg isn't as angry and isolated as the movie portrays him:
    So let's just say it's the movie's Zuckerberg who is that way. It's still about acceptance. Because as the movie shows in the last scene, wholehearted acceptance by another person is something you can't get on command, even if you have $500 billion and 500 Facebook friends. It has to be given freely, and not through a click.   

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