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Zuckerberg on 'The Social Network'

Mark Zuckerberg's response to "The Social Network" is quite perfect, and gets at some broader problems in both the fictional and the factual media:

As he says, it's really peculiar that the movie was obsessive about accurately portraying his T-shirts but unconcerned with recasting his motivations as a spurned geek's efforts to strike back at the girl who wronged him. The idea that he just wanted to build "something cool" -- that he'd been building cool things since before he came to college, and meant to continue building them after he left -- doesn't make for a good movie.

Both fictional and factual reportage have a bias towards human relationships and failings as the driver of professional achievements. In part, that just makes for better stories. The psychology of a president -- his complicated bond with his mother, or father, or wife -- is more interesting than a story of sweat, talent and interest being joined by luck. The personal conflicts between legislators make for a better story than "yes, they wanted to do this, but no, they didn't have the votes, and couldn't have gotten them." And particularly in political reporting, tracking donations or reading polls -- a story, in other words, of personal corruption or opportunism -- is a preferred explanation for a politician's behavior than the idea that he or she simply thought this or that problem worth solving.

So Zuckerberg is wrong on one point: It's not just Silicon Valley that gets that treatment.

By Ezra Klein  | October 20, 2010; 9:33 AM ET
Categories:  Journalism, Tech  
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Next: A world without suckers

Comments

But then this is just another form of gross over-simplification. The movie pretty clearly only ties the girlfriend into the sort of quasi-drunken-rage ontogeny of face-mash (which of these girls is hotter) website, a link that Zuckerberg's own blog backs up.

In the case of The Facebook, on the other hand, the film presents numerous potential "explanations" (depending on who's doing the explaining and when), and: hey--what do you know? That's also probably pretty close to the truth such as we can know it.

Also a pretty typical modern media preferred tale in microcosm: focus on the detail about the detail about the t-shirts, oversimplify the more important and/or telling part(s). Those are either too complicated or old news.
Absolute catnip, even for the blogging division.

Posted by: ecwooten | October 20, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Do we care whether a fiction film ascribes (fictional) motivations to its characters? I offer a big definitive no. Do we care that Mark Zuckerberg feels misrepresented? I offer a massive steaming cup of no. Do we care about Mark Zuckerberg (or Facebook) at all? The gods are laughing. I shouldn't have taken the time to jot down this comment, but I do have an actual motivation: I'm procrastinating some work I have to do. However, anyone is free to ascribe other motivations to my comment.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | October 20, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

JJenkins2, in the scheme of things, does this stuff about The Social Network matter? Probably not, but as Ezra's previous posts have pointed out, it's a good example of how we as a society view innovation: as Doc Brown working on a DeLorean out of his garage, who could make a huge innovation if only he had the funding and materials...and plutonium. We like this because it makes for better stories. "Back to the Future" would be a lot more boring if Doc Brown worked at a research university making incremental advances based on the most recent research conducted by his peers and carried out in a relatively safe lab environment.

The problem is that we like to see our reality like we see our movies. So not only do we create characters like Doc Brown to be our heroic inventors, we create characters like Zuckerberg in biopic movies, even if that doesn't really comport with reality. And we also imbue or deny our individual leaders, like President Obama, with great, sweeping powers based on their personalities. If only the President gave a better speach or twisted a few arms, or whatever, the results would be different/better. Institutional and procedural realities are boring, but they are reality, and we shouldn't get so caught up in good story telling that we forget.

Posted by: MosBen | October 20, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

It's in Zuckerberg's interest to contend that the movie portrays him inaccurately, but there's no reason why we should necessarily accept his views at face value. Presumably he is spinning just as much as the movie is.

Posted by: tomtildrum | October 20, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

"They just can't wrap their head around the idea that someone might build something because they like building things."
-Mark Zuckerberg

"When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it."
-J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1947

I actually think the movie did a good job of questioning the moral outcomes of a technological innovation. Narratives necessarily simplify, but they also reframe technical questions into moral ones. Just sayin'

Posted by: jtm961 | October 20, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse


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Posted by: markballou20 | October 23, 2010 6:45 AM | Report abuse

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