Last night I watched The Social Network, the movie on Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. I was anxious to learn about the start of Facebook and to understand some of the concepts behind it. And yes, I got some insights – but quite different than I expected.
The plot is built around two simultaneous law suits against Zuckerberg; one from two twin brothers who claim he stole their idea for Facebook, and one from his CFO who got kicked out of the company at some point. In between, the story of the early stages of Facebook is told. It is indeed a young boy’s dream story: a couple of nerds that, instead of partying with the cool guys and girls out there, spend the night behind a screen – and end up changing the world unintendedly.
Innovation as the clash of ideas.
No doubt, Facebook is one of the greatest (if not thé greatest) of innovations of our time. The lawsuit between Zuckerberg and the twin brothers is (on the surface) about intellectual property – who actually invented Facebook? The movie makers did a great job by not answering this question in the movie. The chain of events leading up to Facebook included many different meetings, people, settings, exchange of thoughts. Some of the specific concepts behind Facebook can be traced back to one accidental conversation, others cannot. One of those accidental conversations is where Zuckerberg responds to a fellow student who is looking for a date: ‘People don’t walk around with a sign on them that says…’ as all of a sudden he realizes this sign is exactly what Facebook should be.
Innovation is a fuzzy process, and has become so only more and more in recent years. In a networked society nobody is still in the position to claim one idea to be his. Facebook and its coming into existence are both examples and promotors of this idea.
But there’s more to the story than just innovation. The movie reveals also the underlying driving forces behind the creation of Facebook (or at least what could have been: this storyline seems to be far from reality). Towards the end of the movie, they are summed up quite nicely in a conversation between Zuckerberg* and a lawyer: ‘I was drunk, angry and stupid – and blogging’. The unability to communicate and connect to a nice girl in real life (whom he offends by writing about her on his blog) started a series of events that ended up in a social network that connects 500 million people around the world. Isn’t that interesting?
This theme of paradoxical social behaviors is well explored in the movie. Zuckerberg shows a deeply rooted need for a heart-to-heart connection in his relationship with Erica and a deeply rooted need for ‘belonging’ and social status in his attempts to join an elite social club at Harvard. In both needs, he plays a complicated game of attracting and repelling, and (due to the great performance of actor Jesse Eisenberg) the pain and agony this causes is physically visible. He looses his best friend Eduardo in his striving for social status, gets new friends who turn out to be no friends at all, and as the movie unfolds and Facebook grows, Zuckerberg* gets lonelier and lonelier.
Revolution // rEVOLution
Again, there is no doubt that Facebook has stirred ‘the Social Media Revolution’ like no other medium has done. It is a real revolution in the way we communicate, interact, and ‘glocalize’ our presence in society. Mark Zuckerberg* could have never, ever foreseen that his idea of an online facebook (which in itself is a very common thing) would be a very real, tangible factor in society – it even stirs up revolutions in the Middle East, as we are seeing right now.
In the closing scene of the movie, Zuckerberg* sends a ‘Friend request’ to Erica and sits silently for minutes, hitting ‘refresh’, waiting for her response. You can almost hear him say: I’d trade my 500 million connections, my billion dollars and this whole social revolution for one real friend, one heart-to-heart relationship, for real love. And isn’t that, in the end, when everything else fades, what we all are looking for?
* In reality, Zuckerberg seems to be far from ‘drunk, angry and stupid’. Time has a great interview with him as he was elected Person of the Year. It says “only someone like Zuckerberg, someone as brilliant and blinkered and self-confident and single-minded and social as he is, could have built it.“