“The Social Network” as Creation Myth

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January 14th, 2021

A decade before Facebook turned into a dominating global political institution and banned the President of the United States, The Social Network was filmed to depict its foundation story. Like all creation myths, it's not meant to be literal. These myths serve as dramatic representations to guide our intuitions about what an entity stands for.

This is true for national epics like The Aeneid about the founding of Rome, which provided solid ground for a nation's moral values over centuries. It is also true for this haunting film, The Social Network, which cautions us about how to approach Facebook and the culture of Silicon Valley.

I watched the movie tonight, for the first time in years, and the salient themes today, as depicted by David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin, are envy and deception.

As we reflect on the thing Facebook has ultimate become, we realize that it's not our ability to connect, but to compare that is the driver of platform's engagement. And its ability to deceive us -- about how it is using and controlling us and our politics -- is how it continues to survive.

Envy oozes into almost every scene in the movie: first, in Zuck's obsession with prestigious final clubs, like the one his best friend Edwardo is being invited to ("It's probably a diversity thing"; "Don’t be upset if you don’t go any further"). His environment at Harvard is characterized by a compulsion towards exclusivity, and that's how the projects gets its start -- as a quest to artificially amplify our desire to stand out among peers.

Within the first minute of the movie, we're asked: How do you distinguish yourself in a population of people who all got 1,600 on their SATs? Perhaps the emotional essence of that question echos each time a teenager in America open her Facebook or Instagram account.

Women in particular are used throughout the film to amplify the sense of judgement of status.

Zuck is depicted in deceiving the Winklevoss twins -- not through lying, but through subtle evasion of the truth. Today, Facebook doesn't exactly lie about the scandalous way that our data is being used and their practiced ability to control our emotions.

My point isn't that Facebook is bad. That's already been said. My point is that foundation myths are extremely important and we should pay attention to them. They're a deep part of human civilization and psychology.

Also, the movie was excellent. I could explore its themes for hours more.

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