The Facebook generation

The Facebook film goes on release across Britain this weekend, and if US box office figures are anything to go by, it’s going to do pretty damn well. 

 You can read my interview with Ben Mezrich (author of The Social Network’s literary inspiration, The Accidental Billionaires) here. But the arrival of the film in cinemas got me thinking; Has it really been only six years since Facebook was created?

 I am undoubtedly a member of “The Facebook Generation”. I joined the site in May 2006, on the recommendation of American gap year friends. Initially i liked it, but I was also a MySpace member at the time and had no inkling of how important the site would become. Very few of my British friends were on it; it was fun, but limited. A passing craze.

Then I started university in September 2006 and suddenly everyone in my world was on it. Suddenly every party was organised on it, every morning spent studying Tagged photos. We wrote on people’s walls, we poked them. A birthday was no longer registered by text message or phone but by a generic Facebook post. Now everyone Facebooks (verb). Even my octogenarian grandpa announced recently that he had inadvertently joined.

It’s crazy how short a time it has taken for the vocabulary of Facebook to enter common usage, for the etiquette of the site to become part of normal behaviour. As a journalist, my job has been made far easier by the availability of private data, by the erosion of the personal into the public.

It’s funny, because I remember when I gained my first email address (age 12, on the school computer, under the questionable moniker of littlemisschatterbox2001) and boy did I think I was cool. But entering the email community, while exciting, wasn’t lifechanging. It became a feature of my life, but only gradually.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article marking Google’s 12th birthday. I had been surprised that the web emperor was still a preteen, so comprehensive is its involvement in our lives. But Google simply streamlined a process already in existence; it did what Lycos and Yahoo already did, but better.

You could say the same about Facebook, that it just improved the MySpace, Friendster and Friends Reunited mould.

It didn’t. Those sites were, variously, uncool, awkward, messy and limited.They were about utility, about practical pursuits; MySpace for music, Friends Reunited for high school reunions.

Facebook’s primary purpose was never to help people live more efficient or productive lives – it was the exact opposite.

Its agenda was gossip, snooping, Schadenfreude.

Facebook was from the outset geared towards replicating the best parts of social life on-screen. Not only could your internet alter-ego be a photoshopped fantasy, but you could use the site effectively to find out about friends, partners and anyone you damn well pleased.

Think back. Can you count on one hand the number of paper invitations you’ve been given this year? When was the last time you went to a party only to recognise half the guests from the dubious practice of stalking? How often have you messaged a distant acquaintance with a favour you’d probably never dare email or phone?

And even more importantly, can you believe you lived a large part of your life without being able to do those things?

There’s a wonderful moment in the film when Mark Zuckerberg (played disarmingly well by Jesse Eisenberg) comes up with the “Relationship Status” feature. It’s a stroke of genius, a lightbulb, a great scene.

But it’s also a pointed reminder of how one website can change the world.

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Aaron Sorkin vs. Andrew Marr

After Andrew Marr registered his dislike for bloggers – calling them “socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting” – it’s good to see that one prominent public figure considers them worthy of engaging with.

 Aaron Sorkin, writer of the West Wing and more recently The Social Network, was so upset by remarks below a blogpost about the so-called Facebook film that he responded in the comments section.

After facing criticism by “Tarazza” for “the lack of a decent portrayal of women” in the film – they “were basically sex objects/stupid groupies” – on the blog of Emmy winning writer Ken Levine, Sorkin wrote back:

 “This is Aaron Sorkin and I wanted to address Taraza’s [sic] comment….

“….Tarazza–believe me, I get it. It’s not hard to understand how bright women could be appalled by what they saw in the movie but you have to understand that that was the very specific world I was writing about….

Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Aaron Sorkin, Justin Timberlake (Photo: J Lipman)

 “….More generally, I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren’t the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80’s. They’re very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now.

 “….I wish I could go door to door and make this explanation/apology to any woman offended by the things you’ve pointed out but obviously that’s unrealistic so I thought the least I could do was speak directly to you.”

Having seen the film, I’d agree to an extent with the complaint that there are very few positive representations of women in it. But to my mind, that’s more about how male-dominated the web/tech world is than any failure on Sorkin’s part.

Nevertheless, all credit to Sorkin for taking the time to talk – and for doing it in the forum of his fans, rather than via a press spokesperson.

 I wonder if Marr would tell Sorkin his comments are simply “the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night.”

Aaron Sorkin goes back to the White House

West Wing fans, our prayers have been answered. Sort of.

OK so Josiah Bartlet isn’t going to get a third term, nor are we going to get a more detailed glimpse into the Santos administration.

But WW writer Aaron Sorkin has apparently agreed to work on a film about the rise and fall of John Edwards. Edward, you’ll remember, ran for president then suffered a spectacular fall from grace when the National Inquirer revealed the juicy details of his affair (and child) with an aide.

Keen WW lovers will recall of course that political scandal is no new subject for Aaron Sorkin. The dramatic demise of John Hoynes for a similarly stupid misdemeanour made for a nail-biting season four finale.

Of course, Hoynes was fictional… real politicians would never be so stupid. You’d think.

The Edwards tale is great Sorkin fodder, and I can’t wait for the film, which follows his political biopic Charlie Wilson’s War and the forthcoming Facebook flick The Social Network.

But as enthusiastic as I am about the project, there’s another caught-with-his-pants-down political affair I’d rather see the writer turn his attention to.

Bring on “Sorkin does the Bill Clinton life story”.

Read my feature on Aaron Sorkin here.