The Social Network

/ 4 October 2010

I loved this film. I thought it was brilliant storytelling about a contemporary story. I also walked away from it almost in tears, and with knots in my belly. I suspect the latter comes from having been in environments like the film — that is, I was an undergraduate at Yale — and remembering all together too well, some of the most ugly elements of that environment. What has surprised me is some of the commentary on the film.

I've been surprised, for instance, by the extent to which some people view the characters of the Winklevoss twins as elegant heroes who were wronged by Zuckerberg. And by the people who seem to feel that the film builds a terrible portrait of Mark Zuckerberg. I actually walked away with a familiar feeling of contempt for the Winklevii (as Zuckerberg refers to them in the film), and with growing respect for Zuckerberg. Now, I realize that this is a story built from contemporary events, so who knows if there is any truth in any of it? But as a story, it felt like a tragedy, and Zuckerberg in some small ways the tragic hero.

Perhaps the best review I've read is Lawrence Lessig's in the New Republic. He knows many of the actual people the film portrays, so he can draw on his own experiences, but he also notes the untouched story that the film's makers don't seem to understand. A story that I think was actually more present in the compelling trailer for the film. As Lessig notes:

Sorkin has been upfront about the fact that there are fabrications aplenty lacing the story. But from the story as told, we certainly know enough to know that any legal system that would allow these kids to extort $65 million from the most successful business this century should be ashamed of itself. Did Zuckerberg breach his contract? Maybe, for which the damages are more like $650, not $65 million. Did he steal a trade secret? Absolutely not. Did he steal any other “property”? Absolutely not—the code for Facebook was his, and the “idea” of a social network is not a patent. It wasn’t justice that gave the twins $65 million; it was the fear of a random and inefficient system of law. That system is a tax on innovation and creativity. That tax is the real villain here, not the innovator it burdened.

Here are some other reviews of the film: The Harvard Crimson, the New Yorker's review, and the New Yorker's longer article on Mark Z uckerberg

I highly recommend the film, and think it could lead to some really interesting discussions about the role of greed in our society, about the ways in which creativity works, and about the power of relationality. </param></param></param></embed>