‘The Social Network’ depicts Facebook lifestyle

Nate Lessler

“I’m talking about taking the entire social experience of college and putting it online,” exclaims Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in the recently released and critically acclaimed movie “The Social Network.” Directed by David Fincher (“Fight Club,” “Se7en”), the film follows the college life of Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg of “Zombieland”) and his creation of the ubiquitous social network that lead him to become the world’s youngest billionaire.

The idea of a “Facebook movie” might sound unappealing for some students, but the film is not about Facebook–it’s about Zuckerberg. However, there has been much debate surrounding the accuracy of events as portrayed in the film. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”) argues that the film, although dramatized, is nonfiction.

“If we know what brand of beer Mark was drinking on a Tuesday night in October seven years ago when there were only three other people in the room, it should tell you something about how close our research sources were to the subjects and events,” said Sorkin in an interview with “Entertainment Weekly.”

Zuckerberg feels otherwise. When asked by “The New Yorker” for his thoughts on the events as presented in the film, Zuckerberg calmly replied: “I know the true story.”

Though the controversy must be noted, Sorkin and Fincher set out to tell a story, and the truthfulness of the film is not as important as its depiction of the Information Age.

Fincher’s background in directing more blatantly dark films allows him to successfully illustrate the darker side of college life as well as some of the negative effects of social networking. But although the film is fast-paced, visually interesting and entertaining, Professor of Rhetoric and Film Studies Robert Sickels believes that there is not much substance behind Fincher’s style.

“It creates the illusion of telling an interesting story,” said Sickels. “I don’t hate the movie, I just don’t think it’s an important movie. I think it’s too soon [for the film to be made] . . . Hindsight will give us a context that we don’t yet have [and] will allow for more interesting takes on this [story].”

Despite artistic drawbacks, “The Social Network” does present an interesting, albeit simple, paradox: Zuckerberg turns to the Internet to gain the attention of Harvard’s final clubs, but as Facebook expands Zuckerberg becomes less and less connected to reality. Zuckerberg ends up with millions of “friends” but also entirely alone.

The competitive, entrepreneurial nature of Harvard is a driving force for Zuckerberg and many other characters in the film. But Whitman is no Harvard. There are no elite final clubs here, and although the college is full of talented and passionate students, they are not entrepreneurs.

“The film is good, but it doesn’t present an accurate depiction of college life–at least as it exists at Whitman,” said sophomore Nick Leppman.

However, Sickels noted that the film’s portrayal of students’ use of the Internet instead of face-to-face communication might have some relevance to students.

“One of the scenes in the movie that does portray [social networking] evocatively is when Zuckerberg and his friends are sitting around a computer in the middle of the night rather than being out with other students,” said Sickels. “The rise of social networking allows you to make connections that you otherwise wouldn’t, but . . . in some ways [that reliance] prevents you from making those deeper sorts of relationships that . . . you can only make face-to-face.”

Leppman argued that Whitman students are unlikely to sacrifice face-to-face relationships for Facebook.

“Zuckerberg [is] an exception,” said Leppman, as he coincidentally browsed Facebook on his laptop. “[Facebook] allows people to communicate [with others] and connect faces with names . . . people at [Whitman] use Facebook often, but they don’t isolate themselves. People here don’t choose to stay on Facebook instead of going out.”

However, a 2002 study conducted by Robert Kraut and published in the “Journal of Social Issues” suggested that while extroverts are more likely to become connected and involved through the Internet, it will often cause introverts to become more isolated. Therefore, introverted students might be more likely to replace face-to-face interaction with Facebook.

Zuckerberg and Facebook seek to make the world a more open place, but “The Social Network” challenges the value of this mission. After being dumped by his girlfriend in the opening scene of the movie, Zuckerberg blogs, drinks and hacks into Face Books, the Harvard equivalent of Whitman’s People Search. Zuckerberg then uses student’s pictures from the Face Books to create a website called “Face Mash,” on which people rate the attractiveness of female students. The night of its creation “Face Mash” got 22,000 hits, crashing the Harvard wireless network. The website “Face Mash” makes the world a “more open” and honest place, but not exactly in a positive way.

Facebook asks users to reveal personal information, everything from sexual preference to their current location. Rarely would anyone run around sharing this information with strangers, a concept noted in the film when Zuckerberg’s friend asks him if a girl is single and Zuckerberg replies, “Dustin, people don’t walk around with a sign on them that says–” and at that moment Zuckerberg gets the idea to add the relationship status feature to Facebook.

“I’m not going around and sharing or soliciting that information . . . I’m just putting it out there,” said Leppman as he opened the “info” tab in his Facebook page.   Under religious views he had posted: “Badass motherfuckerism.”

“You can’t take Facebook too seriously,” said Leppman.

Regardless of artistic value, “The Social Network” presents a thoughtful snapshot of 21st century American culture and the role of social networking in contemporary society.   The film allows students to reflect on if they really want to be “taking the entire social experience of college and putting it online.”

“The Social Network” is currently playing at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.