The Social Network
The most telling scene in The Social Network was between Eduardo Saverin (Zuckerberg’s best friend and CFO) and his unhinged girlfriend. She confronts him after his return from a business trip, and demands why his Facebook status still lists him as “single.”
He confesses that he actually doesn’t know how to update his relationship status. His girlfriend believes it must be a lie… after all, as how could the CFO of Facebook not know how to update his status?
Rather than acknowledge the reality of being in a relationship, she resides in the “image” of reality. Rather than have an actual relationship with Eduardo, it’s not real until the image shows others it’s real.
For me, this is the true zeitgeist of our times.
Social networking has given us the ability to live our entire lives through the projections we show to the world. The sheer volume of “friends” that most people connect with online is far greater than the authentic connections we could hope to sustain face-to-face. Some of these friends we will meet occasionally, while most, never at all.
In effect, “you” ceases to exist. In your place is the “image of you” – constructed by status updates, photos, quiz results, movie clips, quotes, and of course, your friends.
This phenomenon is not new. We do the same thing with language, science, and religion. A Zen parable warns against becoming lost in the abstract: it’s like eating the menu instead of the food.
Similarly, Alan Watts argues in The Book, that this abstraction is not a problem in itself. After all, we have no other way of apprehending reality, other than through our interpretations:
There is no alternative to the use of conceptions and images, and no harm in it so long as we realize what we are doing. Idolatry is not the use of images, but confusing them with what they represent, and in this respect mental images and lofty abstractions can be more insidious than bronze idols.
Another example. The opening scene of The Social Network reveals Mark Zuckerberg and his soon-to-be ex girlfriend at the pub. After a rapid-fire argument, she tells him, “Even though you’ll likely be a success someday, you’ll think people will hate you because you’re a nerd. But in fact, they’ll hate you because you’re an asshole.”
Zuckerberg proceeds to become obsessed not with examining his own misperceptions about himself and others – but instead, about altering the perception that others have of him. Likewise, he flips the exclusion he faced from the top fraternity’s at Harvard by creating the most popular network in the world. Suddenly, everyone wants to be his friend – or more accurately, be “seen” as his friend.
The irony is Zuckerberg (at least as portrayed in the film) becomes so lost in the trappings of abstract relationships, that he failed to cultivate the one real friend he had – Eduardo Saverin. Their bond ends in bitter litigation and settlement.
Alan Watts continues:
“It is difficult not to feel the force of the image, because images sway our emotions more deeply than conceptions. When we realize that this form of identity is no more than a social institution, and one which has ceased to be a workable life-game, the sharp division between oneself and the ultimate reality is no longer relevant.”
The final scenes of the film return Zuckerberg to his ex-girlfriend scorned. Rather than resolve to mend their relationship in person, he reaches out the only way he knows how: he adds her on Facebook.
And refreshes the page…continuously…awaiting her response.