HOW MANY FRIENDS DO YOU REALLY NEED?
How many friends do you have on Facebook? Because you are almost certainly on Facebook.
I first heard about Facebook in 2005 or so from some friends who were students at the local college. I was mildly interested in their description of an online clearing-house where you could post anything about yourself, and learn almost anything about anybody else. Could I join up? Oh no, you had to be a student somewhere, because it was only for college folk, and it was mostly an aid to, ahem, hooking up. It therefore appeared to be a contraption designed to exclude us Old Farts and to make us feel naïf and uncool.
Just how exclusive Facebook was when it started out, and just how mad it made people, and just how much trouble it caused for its inventor, Mark Zuckerberg, is the subject of the most entertaining film of the year, and the slickest, and possibly the best.
The movie starts with Mark, a Harvard sophomore, on a date with his girlfriend Erica in 2003, and God forbid you should ever date a person like Mark. Within the first 90 seconds he has insulted Erica six ways from Sunday, and is so miffed when she walks out (“Dating you is like dating a StairMaster,” she says, truthfully) the he goes back to his dorm room, mortally insults Erica on his blog, and invents an offensive co-ed rating game that hacks Harvard's computer system and brings down the University's servers after more than 20,000 hits.
This stunt brings him to the attention of two of Harvard's most patrician undergrads, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (I'm not making this up – Mark calls them “The Winklevii”), exquisite twins who want him to engineer a dating site that will make sexual predation easier for Harvard's elite.
Zuckerberg, sensing a world-wide trend in this idea, with financial help from his classmate Eduardo Saverin (a nicely subtle Andrew Garfield) writes thousands of lines of code and gets his networking site, which he calls “The Facebook,” online before the Winklevii have fished the lime out of their G&Ts.
Is this enough material on which to base a totally entertaining movie? You bet your laptop it is. After the Winklevii twig to what's going on while rowing for Harvard at the Henley Regatta (more G&Ts at the snootiest race on earth), they decide to sue Mark's ass, and Theft of Intellectual Property has never been more fun.
Director David Fincher has given us such interesting movies as “Fight Club” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” It's just as well that he didn't cast Brad Pitt in “The Social Network,” because the work of relatively unknown actors supports the not-quite-documentary, neo-fiction approach.
(Did I just invent the term “neo-fiction”? I hope so. You read it here.)
Jesse Eisenberg, as Mark Zuckerberg, plays against type, because he's always portrayed likeable, inarticulate young men (“Adventureland,” “Zombieland”), entirely unlike Mark Zuckerberg, whom you'd hate unequivocally if he weren't so fascinating.
Almost every comment you can think of about the discipline of history can be summed up in the cynical sentiment, “History is written by the victors.” I will take issue with that, and propose that history is written by the entertainers.
Who cares if Richard III was actually a pretty good king, didn't actually have a hunchback, and probably didn't murder his nephews in the Tower? Nope, it's Shakespeare's version, where the witty villain takes us into his confidence and tells us exactly which close relative he's going to eliminate next, that's been delighting us for four hundred years and isn't likely to stop.
Finch has done an equally indelible hatchet job on Zuckerberg and the Facebook story – it doesn't matter a jot what the truth is about the interpersonal relations, accusations and recriminations of the people involved: this is how it's going to be remembered, so go and enjoy it, and be among the first to pass it along.
The funny thing about Facebook, and something I'll be willing to bet that neither Zuckerberg nor any of the original coven foresaw, is that the inevitable expansion has opened the network up to the originally-excluded Old Farts. Not a week goes by without a bunch of folks from my ancient history (and I'm talking college days, at least, if not earlier) asking to be friended. What can I do? Of course I click on Accept. Who can have too many?