Review by Jon Lebkowsky
The David Fincher/Aaron Sorkin film collaboration called “The Social Network” is not about technology, though there are scenes that suggest how code is produced through focused work (which actually looks boring when you’re watching it “IRL” (in real life), without Fincher’s hyperactive perspective – but is so engaging you can lose yourself totally in the process when you’re the one actually producing the code). The film is more about the entrepreneurial spirit, what it takes to have a vision and see it through. The real visionary in the film, Mark Zuckerberg, appears far less intense IRL than Jesse Eisenberg’s interpretation would suggest, but his drive and work ethic are undeniable. It’s not an accident that a guy in his twenties produced a billion-dollar platform; he could have been derailed if he’d lacked the persistence of vision and intent that the film shows so clearly. And, of course, he was kind of a jerk, probably without meaning to be. That kind of focus and drive tends to override comfortable social graces, kind of ironic when you’re building a social platform.
Larry Lessig complains that Sorkin’s ignorance of Internet technology caused him to miss the real story here, that Facebook exists because the Internet is free and open and presents few barriers to innovation. But I don’t think Sorkin wanted to write that story – he found drama in the Zuckerberg vs world conflict and wrote the story he had to write, acknowledging that he made no attempt to be true-to-fact. He does pick up on the IP issue, and the fact that Zuckerberg shouldn’t have been forced to pay the Winkelvoss twins (there’s a line in the film where Zuckerberg says a guy who builds a better chair shouldn’t have to share his profits with anybody else who’s thought about building a chair before he got to it). In the film, he’s clearly having to pay because his grating personality and arrogance make him unattractive, not on the merit of the facts of the case. Eduardo Saverin seems in the film to have been screwed over, though one could argue that dilution of his shares was justifiable owing to a lack of commitment to the enterprise. More here.
After seeing the film, and reading and thinking some more about the creation and evolution of Facebook, I find that I have more respect for Zuckerberg’s genius and his drive… but like many I’m concerned about his apparent lack of social and ethical depth, especially since Facebook is how so many people today experience the Internet. Working on a talk about the future of the Internet, I’m finding that one plausible scenario is that Facebook replaces the web as a kind of operating system/interface. What are the implications?