The social network that changed your life

Facebook Mark Zuckerberg is, excusez le mot, The Fucking Boss. He created Facebook (and not you). He became a gazillionaire at 21. He goes to inverter’s meetings wearing Adidas flip-flops and Looney Tunes pyjamas. His business card reads “I´m CEO... Bitch!” Zuckerberg is such a boss that the first thing he installed in his company’s first office (in a chalet in Palo Alto, California) was a zip-line to be able to jump from the top of the chimney to the pool. Smart guys also do balconying.

His story, of his Facebook and it’s genesis, is the one David Fincher ( “Se7en”, “The Fight Club”, “The Game”, “Zodiac”) is about to tell, with a script by Aaron Sorkin ( “The West Wing” and, in his spare time, alpha male in the TV series “Entourage”), in what is already being called one of the films of the year, “The Social Network”. For now, the Rotten Tomatoes website agrees with the American film press giving it a 10. The film has already caused alarm because it supposedly uncovers some of Zuckerberg’s dirty laundry. There are people who have deleted their Facebook accounts, shocked by the dirt under the carpet. So there’s a lot of anticipation: it premieres in the U.S. on 1st October, the 15th in the UK and on the 29th in Spain. For now we will have to placate ourselves with the juicy foretastes: the poster and it’s tagline ( “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies”) promise a story of back-stabbing and unfair play; as well, the trailer, in which a Zuckerberg double appears with his gullible face as if he were a Big Brother or Messiah, is accompanied by an apocalyptic, acapella version of Radiohead’s “Creep”. [By the way, the soundtrack is by Trent Reznor and some pieces of it can be downloaded for free from Soundcloud –look for Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross].

But what has this boy done to deserve such a show?

“The Social Network” is based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires”, by Ben Mezrich. In it’s page, he explains the story of the creation of Facebook from the very beginning in a dorm room at Harvard University to the Silicon Valley adventures of the protagonists in search of millions of dollars (which they will find, many of them). In the meantime, the film unveils titbit after titbit of betrayal, extra-judicial agreements and supposedly confused simpletons who, in the end, turn out to be the Masters of the World.The point of view taken by Mezrich’s book is the one of Eduardo Saverin (played by Andrew Garfield, who will be the next Spiderman), the Harvard student who lent Mark Zuckerberg his first thousand dollars to create Facebook. They got to know each other as members of a Jewish fraternity at University. Note the decadency of this: if Harvard social life –a nest of rich kid students, as we all know– could be reflected as a pyramid graphic, the fraternity Zuckerberg and Saverin were part of would be the top (but with the pyramid upside down and with its pinnacle pointing down, towards the dungeons). The two nerds’ social lives were so anaemic that one day, Zuckerberg, after a night of partying and failure during which he was systematically ignored by ALL of the women who crossed his path, decided to steal images from the student directories stored in the university residencies in order to create a web page where the photos of the girls could be compared to, for example, those of farm animals. That was the birth of Facemash and which landed Mark in court, sued by the University’s direction.

This small scandal, which spread around the campus like wildfire, left poor Zuckerberg even more despised by his female peers. He would never have sex with any of them, that much was certain, but on the other hand the Facemash thing got him in touch with the Winklevoss twins, two boys from a well-to-do family who were members of the Porcellian Club, a secret society at Harvard, famous for being a breeding ground of future presidents of the USA or CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies. Legend has it that if a “Porc” (which is how The Porcellain members are referred to) hasn’t earned a million dollar on his own before the age of thirty, the society will make sure he or she gets it. Continuing with the illustration we used before, with the catacombs of Harvard’s social scale and so on, The Winklevosses would be on the other end, at the top –a top, of course, with an open eye and illuminated by solar rays, in the purest monetary-masonic tradition. The twins dedicated themselves fully to their studies and to rowing (they even competed at the Olympic Games in Beijing). They saw themselves as good for the parties (money, good corporal form, with possibilities of advancing on the social ladder), but they had no time at all to socialise with the campus girls. So they wanted to create a web page where they could put their photos and CV’s on display, so that everybody at Harvard would have a similar profile. A kind of business card, so that girls would come to them and they wouldn’t have to waste time hunting. The Winkelvoss’ problem was that they hadn’t a clue about programming, but they knew that the savage who compared their female classmates to farm animals would be brilliant in that department. Moreover, it was known that Zuckerberg had, during his highschool years, turned down a million dollar offer for a programme he had designed that enabled audio players to automatically create playlists based on the users’ tastes.

And that’s when the first betrayal occurs.The Winkelvosses get in touch with Zuckerberg. They ask him to work for them. But Zuckerberg (in Fincher’s film his role is played by Jesse Eisenberg, the protagonist of “Adventureland”) prefers to forget about the issue and starts the first version of Facebook with the thousand dollars Saverin had loaned him. The page spread like a virus and Mark decided to leave university and move to Silicon Valley, Start-Up paradise. But he does it leaving out Saverin, right before the extra money from the investment funds arrives (hence the bile the book oozes), in order to team up with a more adequate partner, Sean Parker, creator of Napster and big internet star (played by Justin Timberlake). The Zuckerberg-Parker tandem made Facebook grow until Parker was arrested for participating in a party with minors and cocaine, which the smart Zuckerberg took advantage of, seizing his chance to kick him out and keep the business of the century to himself. After taking care of the annoying presence of Saverin, Parker and the Winklevoss twins by means of several discreet judicial arrangements, Mark Zuckerberg now puts away something like the GDP of Guatemala for his company (his personal fortune has grown 245% in one year, which landed him number 35 on the Forbes list of richest men in the USA; Bill Gates is still untouchable, but he’s getting ever closer).

In four words: deal of the millennium.Image: Hugh Macleod

This is, in short, the complete history of the creation of Facebook, the plot of the managerial thriller with nerds that is “The Social Network”. If anything becomes clear reading Mezrich’s book, it’s that everyone involved had the strong sensation of being on the verge of discovering the equivalent of the wheel for the 21st century. They were all looking for The Definitive Social Network, something that would connect all the users in the world. So far, only Facebook has achieved that. There’s a devastating flood of information. As I’m writing this, Facebook has 252 million users (and growing; Facebook never stops growing). It gets more visits than Google (in the U.S., that is, and the rest of the world will soon follow suit). Every Facebook user –yes, including you, and you know it– spends at least 55 minutes per day on the site, three billion photos are uploaded and five billion pieces of content are posted per week, worldwide (including status updates, links to other websites, tests, etc). From the start, Facebook’s growth has been exponential and, presumably, that won’t stop until the whole world has their profile on the site. Facebook is a clear example of the kind of content that overflows its container: its limit is the whole of internet.

Since the invention of television, every idea, movement or new technology has received the following argument against it: “It’s a stupefier of the masses, that separates the individual from the group and locks them up inside themselves.” It’s a kind of rejection suffered by the idiot box, pop music and video games, and even the big shopping centres have been under this kind of attack. And the Internet, of course. Up to recently, the image of a web user was that of a solitary wanker (literally) who spends his days (or rather, nights) in search of animals and girls, role-playing games with marsupials as protagonists and articles by antagonists that would cause a stir if widely read. That image has changed with the rise of the social networks –and not only in the media, who usually are twelve steps behind when it comes to technology, but among “the people” at large. An Internet newbie is not afraid to open a Facebook account, because all of his friends have one. And judging from their stories it’s something great: it’s not some shitty page where people are insulting you all day (like the chat rooms), nor are there people behind it pestering you and, even worse, you won’t find yourself out there without anyone paying any attention. It’s rather the opposite, because it’s not a “funny people” thing, either: it’s a different way to be in touch with people. Once you’re there, the rookie user will be swept away by the “like”s, the invitations to play Farmville, and will even feel he should join an anti-China or anti-Mourinho group. In other words, and in that order: Facebook makes the majority of its users reinforce their conduct (the shot of self-confidence when other people like your status), it amplifies the cohesion (when you start to build your Farmville pen, you help the others so that the other will help you) and intensifies certain mechanisms of social pressure (for example: you don’t care at all about the Tibetan monks or the substitution of Chicharito, but since all your friends suggested you should follow them and you don’t know what they’ll think if you if you don’t, you do it, just in case).

This feeling of control Facebook offers has not been achieved by any other social network. Myspace only offers a place where to exhibit oneself before the whole planet, with all the problems that exposition involves (the difference between how a user presents themselves on MySpace and who they really are is as large as the difference between a garden and the landscape of Mars). In essence, it only serves to fill hours in a talk show. And what to say about Twitter: what you have there are only tiny pieces of information from celebrities aimed at their followers and the anonymous users has little to say there. Admit it: your anonymous Twitter account is no fun, doesn’t serve any purpose and I don’t care how many retweets you have: you only use it to annoy the celebs.

With a more experienced and developed level user, what Facebook achieves is the disposal of any interpersonal dirt you might have collected over the years. Like a ham cutter taking away the layers of dirt, skin and fat until it removes the grains from such a glorious delicacy, on Facebook we discover why we accept speaking to someone we don’t know, or why we get in touch again with people from our past whom we stopped talking to over something stupid and of no importance whatsoever. We also spy on those who were dickheads during adolescence, we curse and laugh about our (ex-) colleagues of whom we don’t think too much and we get to know the tastes and movements of people with whom we have hardly have any relation. In that aspect, Facebook is almost as effective as Paroxetine for face-to-face interpersonal relationships: we feel more secure because we already know the field. Facebook has undoubtedly made the world an easier place. But that situation, so exposed socially, is also scary. Leon Festinger, an American social psychologist, confirms that we only value our ideas in terms of what the others think about them. And Facebook, with its “like” button under each and every one of our opinions, expressions or movements, stands for a judgement of every step we take, a continuous examination of what we really are.Beyond the psychological anxiety it can cause, Facebook has another dark side. The site is the wet dream of any marketing vulture, a kind of sheepfold in which we feel watched. For example: it can be infuriating to find how much the latest pack of Kubrick films released on Blu-Ray coincides with the selection the majority of the director’s fans did in that application called Pick Your Five. And it’s also scary to know that the information of thousands of people attached to the results of an application that measures the IQ can be sold to who knows who for who knows how much money and who knows what for. But if you want to minimise that feeling of being watched there is a simple solution: don’t use any of the applications floating around on Facebook, don’t publish any personal detail (just the ones Facebook requires for your registration) and, while you’re at it, don’t share any links, as all these things are registered and monitored by Facebook and “belong to them” ( it’s all here). That way Facebook becomes a place of reunion for friends and nothing more. That those reunions are boring is another thing entirely, because one of the main achievements of Facebook is that it’s a really fast way of sharing information with a bunch of people.

From the very first moment, Zuckerberg visualised Facebook with that first function (another reason to call him The Fucking Boss). He and his army of geeks have been developing Wirehog from the social network’s very beginning, a programme that would have accompanied the main application from the start and which would have enabled users to exchange any kind of file with any of their friends. This add-on was finally integrated in Facebook in a watered-down version, without the possibility to add music files, although in the end it does allow the sharing of links or YouTube videos so that they can be shown on the users’ walls. That way people can share any kind of information they find and offer them to their friends in a matter of seconds. And right beneath it people can discuss the file, enrich the conversation without the anonymity of the forums, without being attacked by the trolls and other scum. Free and effective distribution of knowledge: good, right?The thing is, that great idea has gone too far with Facebook Connect, the function that makes the “like” button available on hundreds of web pages in order to let the readers vote if they like it or not. It might be a coincidence, but this application started to be developed when Microsoft bought a part of Facebook, back in 2007, for the sum of $240 million. Here the swift and vile marketing directives come up again, those who spit fire and who want to turn everything beautiful in this life into obscene fortune (hello, Bill Hicks). What’s happening here? What’s happening is that your Facebook profile works like a kind of electronic ID card via which you can be tracked and monitored beyond the social network. If you click “like” for a column or a product review, your data will be attached to that opinion or product in some database, guarded and thoroughly analysed by some data miner, be it human or artificial. The consequences? Unimaginable: it could happen that at some major record label they decide that the time has come to release another Queen compilation or that the complete series DVD pack of “Six Feet Under” will only be available in the UK with subtitles in Polish. Or it could happen that the politicians decide to raise the taxes or dismount public health service before the people’s indifference. So here’s some advice: don’t let them do that to you.

And all this is happening because poor Zuckerberg couldn’t get laid during his university years and stole a couple of photos to take revenge. Today, he’s the idol of a huge pack of entrepreneurs and, at 26, like a pop star. He was even spotted on the red carpet at the premiere of “The Social Network”, ready to undergo, with enviable fair play, the biopic Fincher and Sorkin had prepared for him. He will never be the college freak again: now he is a multi-millionaire (richer than Steve Jobs), he has too much of everything and while you’re reading this, he’s up there, at the top of the pyramid. Because Zuckerberg is, excusez le mot, The Fucking Boss.

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