Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Social Network: Lonely Planet Guide to Facebook and the Beatles

So, Mark Zuckerburg is an outlier.

Picture a lad, with a simple, Jewish background, incredible enthusiasm, loads of computer programming talent, lost in the awe-inspiring Ivy League world of Harvard. He is trying hard to be somebody. He is trying hard to be cool. He wants a girlfriend. Erica Albright, to be precise.

He can only write code though, and his gauche excellence conceals the seething rage of rejection – or perhaps, a craving for acceptance.

Ah, look at all the lonely people.

Over across the Atlantic Ocean now to Liverpool, circa 1960. Working class youth in Lancashire gang up to emulate and excel in the legacy of a Tennessean Elvis Presley, a truck driver who twisted country-style jazz to father rock n roll. John, Paul and George have a friend called Pete Best, who is the drummer in a group they call The Silver Beetles, which in turn is raised from the ashes of an early teen group called The Quarrymen.

To be somebody in the Liverpoolian suburbs of the teenaged minds, perhaps, you had to strike it big in America. So, yonder the ocean they land in 1963, and Beatlemania happens. At New York, not, by global standards, far from Harvard. This after a journey through Hamburg’s nightclubs.

At Harvard, circa 2003, Mark wants to hold Erica’s hand. But he goofs in a burst of anger after a courtship-turned-altercation, and bitches about her in a blog, which has replaced the guitar as a geeky instrument of arrival and aspiration. He escapes into composing the code that offers succour from heartbreaks. His anger and social outcastness combine in an expression of outrageous enterprise in which the exhaustive might of the Internet becomes a toy for teenage dreams and rivalries. He gets by with a little help from his friends.

The timing is just right in a world where the old Web is giving way to Web 2.0, giving way to an ubiquitous interconnectedness of a world that seems to mock at the exalted isolation of Harvard's exclusive culture, and the discreet charms of the bourgeoisie. It takes the gutsy geekyness of a spurned lover to connect the ocean with the Noah's Ark of Ivy League snobbery.

Before we know what is going on, there is Facemash that helps students connect, an official Harvard Connection group, and intrigue and excitement as the young Jew finds a friend in Eduardo Saverin and then rivals in the silver-spooned Winklevoss brothers. Zuckerburg turns the gatecrashing of the outliers into the wannabe network of Harvardian mystique in a Web of relationships, rivalries and accusations and defence of intellectual property theft that explodes as fast as social media in the big bad world out there.

It takes a savvy Hollywood mind to capture that in "The Social Network" based on "The Accidental Billionaire"

While Zuckerburg faces a famous Harvard trial that smacks of the Spanish Inquisition, what we see is a tale of class conflict, youthful outrage and friendships turned partnerships.

Facebook happens, like an inexorable event history. The enterprise grows, and its popular might brings for Saverin a happening girlfriend, and Zuckerburg the prospect of becoming the next Bill Gates. Built on lines and lines of code written like musical notes on lonely evenings, over bottle-sipped beer and munched Hamburgers.

* * *

THE Silver Beatles, in fact, were Hamburgers, in a manner of speaking. They played in nightclubs, fooled around a little and cut a record called “Love Me Do” that got them going. It is a song that Mark would have loved to sing for Erica, had he only swapped a computer for a guitar. Back in the UK, John, Paul and George – and Pete Best – meet a man called Brian Epstein, a record-store owner who becomes their manager. He takes them to their historic success.

But somewhere along the way, in the hunt for quality in the quest for success, Pete Best is gone and replaced by a trendy drummer called Ringo Starr. They arrive big in the United States, where a post-war baby-boomer generation hangs on to every breath that John takes and back in their homeland, they become somebody.
And in the US – or Harvard, to be precise --- Zuckerburg is growing bigger. He is somebody now and he is fuelled now not just by the spunk and the talent but the outrageous style of Sean Parker.Remember Napster? He was one of its co-founders. The little boy who wrote code that helped teenagers share and swap music files, bringing the music industry to its knees. But there was a twist in the tale of that suffered lawsuits and combat from the world’s biggest music symbols. Napster’s MP3 manna was eventually turned into a workable business model by Steve Jobs as iTunes, owned by his company, Apple.

Apple, incidentally, was the record label that the Beatles made famous. Sean Parker courts big money for Zuckerburg, the way Epstein pulled a rabbit out of the hat for the Beatles, putting him in touch with the likes of hedge fund managers that right big cheques. Rock N Roll parties happen.

But, in the Newtonian gravity of cultural mystique, strange things happen. The affable Saverin feels insecure in the presence of the more gutsy, ambitious Parker, who charms Zuckerburg in the Silicon Valley – which must be to Mark what America was to the Beatles.

Facebook is now bigger than the small dormitory dream of a Harvard student, the way the Beatles were much bigger than the Quarrrymen or The Silver Beatles. Facebook is now bigger than Facemash or the Harvard Connection.

Saverin is eased out. Much the way Pete Best was. The world has its youngest billionaire.

* * *

“THE Social Network,” in the end, is the story of outliers seeking name, fame and girlfriends. Much like that of the Beatles. If John Lennon famously taunted the British Queen in a concert (“Those in the cheap seats can clap. The rest of you can rattle your jewellery”), Zuckerburg is the latter-day anti-hero, poking fun at the Winklevoss clan’s awesome might of smart lawyers and their undefinable confidence that only inherited money and privilege can perhaps bring.

The Winklevoss brothers are Olympian rowers. The same game that forms part of the Oxford mystique.

If the Beatles wanted to be cheered where the Americans were screaming, the Winklevosses want to be accepted in the charmed air of the Thames. The water might look the same in Charles, but, laced with the mystique of social power, the mystery runs deeper than both the rivers.

The Winklevosses, historically, are outliers in their own right. They may have inherited with their money the same complexes their parental memories instill.

To row in Cambridge and to row in Harvard cannot be the same thing, right? Where, or when, does the valley become the hill?

* * *

DOWN in the Silicon Valley, Sean Parker gets into trouble for a drug party, and Zuckerburg makes a few enemies as the world toasts the latest technological tribute to friendship. Through the back-and-forth pastiche of a hidebound Harvardian traditions and manners (that so smack of a British influence), charmed student games, the mating rituals of geeks and the rites of passages of the code jocks, “The Social Network” tells a Freudian tale of children trying to find the success that eluded their fathers – and forefathers.

The Beatles fell apart, as they evolved from love songs to magical mystery tours and Oriental mysticism. Zuckerburg and friends chart much the similar way as fame and money take them to a world beyond girlfriend-hunting.

Friends fall out, albeit in a rich way as lawsuits and conflicts give way to settlements. The pangs of guilt linked to a friendship gone sour do hurt Mark, but such is life.

Saverin loses his trophy girlfriend.

Mark is still trying to find one.

A few feet from him at his Harvardian Inquisition, eyeing his spunk and zest is a comely assistant to the lawyers who are out to get him. She cares for him, and he does return the affection. But they are like Archie and Betty. She eats salad for the same reason he writes code.

Archie wants Veronica, whose name happens to be Erica Albright. He is last seen asking to add her on his Facebook friend list. Do not confuse his earnings with his yearnings.

It’s Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Hope you enjoy the show.