Monday, October 4, 2010
It’s at this moment, as Zuckerberg is finally getting the welcome attention of the jocks as well as some unwelcome attention from the University, that he’s approached by a pair of twin crew jocks (the Winklevosses) and their best friend, who have been working on a social network for Harvard they call The Harvard Connection. The trio are looking for a new programmer for the site, and impressed with Zuckerberg’s abilities on the Face Mash stunt, they hire him to work on their site. Only…instead of creating The Connection, Zuckerberg spends his time creating his own version, which he calls TheFacebook and which he believes is filled with features and insights that only his genius mind could dream up.
The problem is, despite actor Eisenberg’s “genius” stuttered rapping of social critiques and Fincher’s dramatic portrayals of all-night hacking sessions, Zuckerberg doesn’t seem – at least to me – that much of a genius. The “hacking” of the Harvard photos is actually a fairly simple trick that any CGI programmer could accomplish; his “genius” TheFacebook feature insights (such as indicating your marital status) are routine interactive features (even for 2004), and it's his roommate who comes up with the formula for social evaluation, not him. All that Zuckerberg seems to contribute to the enterprise is fanatical devotion to the outcome and a kind of seething malevolence towards the social world he’s trying to connect. Perhaps Fincher/Sorkin intend us to read Zuckerberg this way, in which case…ouch. Even Bill Gates parodies on the Simpsons are given better treatment.
But I don’t think so. There’s also a kind of lionization of Zuckerberg as an internet icon – as in, great men who see great things by nature have to be jerks to get there. That kind of explains Justin Timberlake’s portrayal of Sean Parker, the founder of Napster and a come-along investor in Facebook, as an internet super-jerk. When Zuckerberg meets the preening, self-absorbed Parker (“what’s cool is a billion dollars”), he falls into a kind of start-up love, and we can see that it’s just a few steps from there to dumping his roommate/partner in order to move up in the internet social world.
On the other hand, the closing title cards do kind of say it all. The Winklevosses were paid off 65 million to go away; Facebook is now valued at over 25 billion. That makes Zuckerberg’s creation more valuable within five years than Cablevision/NBCU, the combined Continental/United Airlines, or the controversial bailout of the auto industry. Fincher/Sorkin’s movie will probably rake in 200 mil when all is said and done. Interesting and breathless as it is, as someone like Shirky might point out, that makes it worth less than one percent of the total Facebook story.