After seeing “The Social Network,” the story about how the originally programming and company of “Facebook” came about and succeeded, I couldn’t help but be reminiscent of “The Facebook’s” early days, when I first joined in 2005.
One of the major pluses t0 being accepted into a college was getting your “.edu” email address, which meant you could sign up for “The Facebook.” When I joined, it had expanded a good deal from its Harvard-only exclusivity, but nowhere near as open as it is nowadays. It was a couple of years before they let high-schoolers sign up, and then eventually everyone. It was a part of my college experience even before I got to college. I “met” and talked with people who were on my freshman year floor, some of which I would actually become friends with. In REAL life. Although, there was always the awkward “This person is being a little stalkery,” even in the early days. After seeing the movie, at least in the view of the filmmakers, the idea behind the social tool was to be able to find out information about people you knew, or kind of knew, without necessarily having to speak with them directly. This dynamic was already present in existing social networks, especially in Myspace’s case.
Not only did Facebook coincide with my college experience, it really came into my life when I first got my own computer. I’m sure I’m not the only one with this milestone, and it’s an interesting insight into the simultaneously privatized and publicized lives of young college students 5, 6, 7 years ago. We became independent with our own computers, moving away from home into our new lives, which allowed us a more private computing use – no need to worry about sharing a computer with family members, everything you did on your laptop was yours. But at the same time, we began expanding our online lives, sharing various bits of information about ourselves – our interests, our relationships statuses and sexual preferences, who we associate with, what we say to each other, etc.
Once pictures came into the mix, it became a whole new scenario. Suddenly you had to be careful what was posted of you and how you were shown in pictures – underage drinking at college parties, drug use, being in photos with members of the opposite sex when you had a significant other stalking your page. Very quickly, the freedom we had to express ourselves and share our lives with peers online had a shadow cast over it – there were consequences to our online actions, oftentimes dire ones – relationships ruined, jobs lost, parents upset.
Speaking of parents, once Facebook was opened up to the general public, where anyone with an email could join, many of our generation’s parents started joining, as they had obviously heard so much about it from us, because it was as much a part of our lives as college and high school kids as music, movies, comedy, fashion, drinking, partying – any and all of our interests.
Through the whole time, Facebook was expanding and quickly becoming the biggest social network out there, and making Mark Zuckerberg the youngest billionaire in the world. This is where I found “The Social Network” very interesting. Having been on Facebook from its earlier stages (not the earliest obviously, but within a year or so of its inception), it was interesting to see what was happening behind the scenes with Zuckerberg and his business partners throughout my own personal experiences with Facebook. I remember when they dropped the “The” from the title. I remember when it expanded worldwide, and when it reached 1 million members, and it’s so amazing to think that now, only a few years later, they’re at 500 million members and still growing.
A good way to conclude this pseudo-review would be to imagine what life through college would have been like without having this social tool to help us through it. Sure, there would have been other venues of communicating with each other – perhaps AIM or G-Chat later on would continue to carry online communications between college kids. Perhaps texting would have taken off a few years earlier. Of course, another new thing would eventually have to come along, clearly the idea was thought of in similar senses in similar circles, had Zuckerberg not created what he created. But despite all those “what-ifs,” the fact remains that Facebook exists, and is pretty much in everyone’s lives, whether they use it every day, or just check it every so often. It’s helped college kids make new friends freshman year, it’s helped people find former high school and college classmates, years after they’ve lost touch. It’s allowed us to share anything and everything with each other, its helped craft both the course of our personal lives online, and also the course of social media in general. Now, you can log in to almost any site with your Facebook profile, there isn’t a site out there that doesn’t allow you to share things on Facebook. “Facebooking” and “Friending” are in our collective vernacular, (and in our dictionaries, at least in the case of the latter). Facebook is as much a part of our lives as television or movies are, it’s even social water-cooler talk – “did you see what Jim said on his Facebook? He caught a foul ball at the Sox game yesterday, and was on TV!”
I was thinking a bit about brand loyalty while watching “The Social Network,” and I came to this conclusion – there are very few companies that have such a strong hold on their consumer base as Facebook does. Apple comes to mind, but it’s slightly different, because Apple creates tactile products that cost money. Facebook is a free, extremely useful tool, and I think it may be safe to say it goes beyond seeing Facebook as a brand. I really think that it’s clearly not a fad, and may even overtake our use of email as the primary source of online communication. If not Facebook specifically, than the various social networks that exist – Facebook for primarily social forms of communication, Linked-In, or something similar for our business networking, Twitter for real-time updates on news, events, traffic conditions, whatever.
It’s an exciting time we’re living in, in terms of technology and social media – things that haven’t always garnered such strong attention, and in the case of social media, didn’t exist a decade ago. Just look at the box office numbers for “The Social Network” after this weekend is done. The movie isn’t even necessarily an entirely fact-based account of the beginnings of the Social Media giant. But everyone is going out to see it, because everyone is on Facebook, and everyone is interested in its story. And it’s a good story to be told.
Feel free to Facebook your comments.
Oh yeah, and my quick review of the movie itself – Aaron Sorkin wrote a great script, extremely well-shot and directed, thanks to Mr. David Fincher and his DP, Jeff Cronenweth, and the interpersonal drama between the main characters, despite being almost entirely based on legal issues and testimony, which many find tedious and boring, was compelling throughout. While no one actor really shined off the screen, perhaps Justin Timberlake could be mentioned just for the fact that he’s proving himself to be more talented than any of us thought from his “Bye, Bye, Bye” days with *NSYNC. While Facebook may or may not have started in exactly in the way that the movie portrays, the tension sifts throughout the heavy dialogue and business/legal jib-jab. You leave the movie not really sure whose side to be on, aside from maybe just Facebook’s side. We use it. We like it. We’re addicted to it. We don’t necessarily care one way or another whose original idea it was, or who screwed who out of the company. I for one, am content with simply clicking the big “like” button on “The Social Network.”