Friday, October 22, 2010
FRIEND WITHOUT A FACEBOOK
Jesse Eisenberg gets to erase his genial nice-boy image in David Fincher's The Social Network. As Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg, on the brink of founding the facebook phenomenon, he's snarky, sarcastic, and rude, peering out a the world with cold-eyed reptilian disdain. A narcissist unable to shift the conversation away from himself for two minutes at a time, and arrogant as only the deeply insecure can be, he belittles his girlfriend for not keeping up with his mercurial monologue. No wonder she dumps him, and when she does, all he can think of is rushing back to the dorm to go online and have his revenge. Nowadays, we call this online bullying. In 2003, it was the birth of a $25 billion empire.
I have no idea whether this portrait of Mark Zuckerberg is in any way true or accurate. But I must confess I've always found something a little creepy about the Borg-like stealth of facebook and the way everyone needs to plug in, hook up, and drop out of real life. Resistance is futile, all right; every time I delete one invitation to join out of my inbox, six more pop up in its place.
Maybe it's because I'm just not much of a joiner. Groucho Marx, once famously said that he refused to join any club that would accept him as a member, and that goes for me too. When Santa Cruz used to hold its own First Night celebration, reports of 20,000 people thronging downtown were reason enough for me to stay home. The virtual crowd on facebook is something like 500 million.
Set aside for a moment, the Big Brother implications of everyone plugged into the same "social network," where any competent hacker can locate, steal, use, or spread your most private and intimate information. (Or monitor your Friends, your purchases, and your political affiliations.) The larger point is, as a society, we're already vastly over-stimulated. Who needs more input? My inner hermit requires a lot more downtime than I'm getting now just to rattle around inside my own brain for awhile and see what's there. Space is at a premium in there; I don't want it so cluttered up with the random chatter of the Borg, I can no longer hear or identify my own thoughts.
"Freakishly addictive," a character in the movie says of the fledgling facebook. What freaks me out is the pack mentality involved, that adolescent need to do everything your friends are doing (and nothing that they aren't).
In the Harvard milieu of the movie, we see a busload of strippers shipped in for a boozy frat party, idiot pledge rituals (involving sub-freezing temperatures and live chickens), the public humiliation of coed girls ranked online for their relative hotness, the vindictiveness of boys who can't get laid. This is "the total experience of college" the movie Zuckerbeg is so eager to capture online? Who wants to stay in college forever? Remember when they used to tell us the best years of our lives were in high school? Only for the extremely unlucky. The rest of us grew up and moved on.
There aren't many of us left who are still not on facebook. Very soon it will be like not having a microwave, or a cell phone, or an iPad. (Oh wait, I don't have any of those either.) I'm all in favor of community, and I'm grateful for anything that brings people together rather than dividing them, but I still prefer to socialize with real friends, offline and in person. (Preferably over a nice bottle of merlot.)
(Obscure Movie Reference: My title is in homage to the wonderful 1958 British sci-fi cheapie, Fiend Without A Face, whose genetic-mutant creatures were malicious brains, propelling themselves about on their rotating stems.)