By far my favorite part of “The Social Network” was the line “And Stanford. It’s time for them to see this in Palo Alto.” The Facebook was great and all, but if Zuckerberg wanted to make it big, he had to go to California, just like the gold rushers and aspiring movie stars before him. Once again, Hollywood reclaims its position as the destination for excitement and dreams, a reclamation that unfortunately becomes writer Aaron Sorkin’s biggest source of unintentional comedy in the movie.
Either Sorkin didn’t do his research, or he just didn’t care, because I found it quite incongruous to see the most boring college town in the world represented as our hero’s Island of Circe. There’s probably a reason that most of those scenes take place inside the house. And Stanford, which is home only to model-thin coeds who all can afford apartments in Palo Alto and crazy coked-out sorority parties. Just where exactly Sean Parker went on campus to have said parties that proved so alluring to ruddy young Zuckerberg escapes me. Certainly not the Cowell Cluster; I’m pretty sure there hasn’t been an all-campus sorority party over there to date.
All nitpicking aside though, Sorkin’s characterization gratifies me. Even if I am four years late to the party, I’m still finally at the place to be. Even after all my requisite collegiate disillusionment, I still get jazzed to discover that Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt had lunch over at Town and Country or that Mark Zuckerberg goes to the Nuthouse. I’ve been to those places! Moreover, the South Bay held enough intrigue to prompt the founding of Valleywag, America’s first Silicon Valley gossip blog. They could be talking about people I know!
Though if you desire the real story, just ask the one of the many ’05 alums making their way back on campus this weekend. They entered college in 2001 and so are perhaps the best witnesses to the transformative power that Facebook held over us college students. That was back when Facebook was, ahem, still discovering its identity. People would actually list their favorite movies; you could still indicate that you were interested in Random Play and Whatever I Can Get instead of just Friendship and Networking, and people had no qualms posting all their compromising photos. If Inlovewith McHottie was attending Generic Party, you could count on them to be there, damn it. The lascivious dissolution of the public/private sphere, all behind the safety of the Internet, was precisely the seduction, as movie Zuckerberg freely admitted. That was the Facebook of the man whose business card said, “I’m the CEO, bitch.”
My second favorite part of “The Social Network” was JT’s speech to movie Zuckerberg right before he goes into a business meeting in his pajamas to curse them out. Hardwired into many a brain, including mine, is an inherent contempt for traditional authority and corporate culture, which provides the fuel for the romance of the tech scene with their company-wide excursions to Burning Man and permission of cargo shorts at board meetings. It would just be so cool to work there, though admittedly not cool enough for me to actually take any CS classes.
What I love even more, though, is that this unique culture is a direct product of Stanford, the place always looking forward. Armed with only your mind and an ability to function without sleep, you can create multi-billion dollar corporate empires without ever having to buy a suit or practice your golf game. Facebook and Google are approaching dullness by the second (the delightful awkwardness of the poke is pretty much extinct), but if they’re the faces of our new corporate overlords, I’m OK with that, as long Zucky-boy keeps doing all his presentations in pullover fleece.
But before I finish my apotheosis of all things Facebook, I should take a step back to remind you all that my lowly old English department produced some American visionaries as well. John Steinbeck, Ken Kesey—you may have heard of them. They’re the embodiment of what Stanford’s revolutionary spirit used to represent before CS ran this town: a collection of the brightest young minds in the country, given unparalleled academic freedom, working to take down the wasteful systems holding America back from achieving its true potential, not just creating new ones that have a more seamless integration with your smart phone. “The Social Network” doesn’t really have an ending, but Sorkin insinuates through JT that the arc of the start-up firm bends toward hubris. In 30 years, don’t be surprised if the next great American hero has to leave the stuffy technocracy of Palo Alto in order to realize his dream.
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