The Social Disease

Published: May 17, 2011

By Jim Lichtman
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Director David Fincher’s film, The Social Network, is as deeply disturbing as it is deeply engrossing. It’s a testament to Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin that I could not take my eyes off the screen sitting on a crowded flight from Boston to L.A.

The film follows Mark Zuckerberg – a computer geek trapped in the delusion that what he creates is singularly spectacular and singularly his own creative work. No scene more clearly illustrates this than the one in which lawyers are deposing him in a lawsuit that challenges his authorship of the social behemoth known as Facebook.

Gage: Okay – no. You don’t think I deserve your attention.

Zuckerberg: I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try, but there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention – you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?

Zuckerberg’s genius not only lies in his prowess with manipulating computer code but manipulating the people in his life. From the girls he dates (or tries to), the friends he has (very few and not for long), and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the crew-training twins who initially hire Zuckerberg to help create a dating site that clearly is the building block of Facebook.

Writer Sorkin explains that he was drawn to the story because of its universal themes – “…friendship and loyalty and betrayal and power and class and jealously.” Yup, that’s all there and then some.

What becomes clear is that there are two Mark Zuckerbergs. Zuckerberg One is the socially awkward, brilliant computer nerd interviewed by Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes.

“I have a little, like one bedroom apartment with a mattress on the floor. That’s where I live,” Zuckerberg shyly tells Stahl.

But listen closely to how keenly he reads sub-text.

“You seem to be replacing [Google founders] Larry and Sergey as the people out here who everyone’s talking about,” Stahl remarks.

Zuckerberg doesn’t reply, only stares at her at length.

“You’re just staring at me,” she adds.

“Is that a question?” Zuckerberg asks.

The exchange gives only a glimpse of Zuckerberg Two, the one portrayed in the film. Zuckerberg Two has all the basic components of Zuckerberg One, but comes with the add-on package of arrogance, rationalization and a muscular win-at-most-any-cost attitude.

Zuckerberg: I went to my friend for the money because that’s who I wanted to be partners with. Eduardo was the president of the Harvard Investors Association, and he was also my best friend.

Gage: Your best friend is suing you for six hundred million dollars.

Sorkin’s source material for the legal scenes comes from a transcript of the actual deposition.

While I was fascinated with how Zuckerberg One lucked into creating and building a social networking site that apparently fills the needs of millions, I was equally disturbed by Zuckerberg Two’s freewheeling, relativistic ethics, the consequences of which he easily ignores until he’s confronted with them.

Erica Albright: You called me a bitch on the Internet, Mark.

Zuckerberg: That’s why I wanted to talk to you.

Albright: On the Internet… As if every thought that tumbles through your head was so clever it would be a crime for it not to be shared… And you published that Erica Albright was a bitch, right before you made some ignorant crack about my family’s name, my bra size, and then rated women based on their hotness.

This is the social disease I’m referring to here because the minute someone with the right smarts, creativity, political power and luck comes along and builds the better mousetrap, makes a boat-load of money or becomes the latest rising star in Washington like Zuckerberg, Donald Trump, and now formerSenator John Ensign, we praise them with words like remarkable, genius, maverick. It’s as if the deodorant of creative, financial or political success can eliminate all the smells of past and future moral lapses.

In the long run, it can’t. It never could.

In the long run, only a person’s character matters and we ought to remember that in the relationships we encourage, cultivate or support.

After his attempts at an apology fail, Zuckerberg has to endure Erica’s final humiliation for his behavior.

“You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”


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