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The Social Network

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No, I have not yet seen The Social Network.  Weirdly, despite the fact that (a) I write about social media, (b) I was an early adopter of blogs and social media, and (c) I like David Fincher and Trent Reznor, I am not particularly excited about the movie.  The reasons why actually have quite a bit to do with social media, and why the creators of social media are less interesting than their progeny.

Steve Jobs is an interesting guy.  Bill Gates is an interesting guy.  So is Larry Ellison, and so are many of the other titans of the the tech world.  They are interesting in the same way that Andrew Carnegie, or J.P. Morgan were interesting — they are (or were) larger than life characters moving the world according to their vision.  The iPad looks and acts the way it does because Steve Jobs decreed it.  So it shall be written, so it shall be done.

Conversely, Mark Zuckerberg and the other folks behind the social media and web 2.0 revolution are not nearly as relevant, and this has to do with the nature of what it is that they are selling.  The tech titans of the past were selling software, or computers, or gadgets.  The social media entrepreneurs of more recent vintage (while no less clever) were selling something entirely different: a room.   Zuckerberg basically gave people the ability to talk to each other, en masse, about things they already discussed in smaller groups.  His genius was to allow people to express their creativity amongst themselves.

As a social phenomenon, this is incredibly interesting.  Everyone now has a bullhorn, and the old ways of communication (centralized, non-interactive) are getting pummeled because of it.  But the dynamism in the idea comes from the dynamism in all of us, rather than anything special or fun about Facebook (or LinkedIn, or Plaxo, or YouTube).  The genius of the social network comes from below, rather than above. 

So while I’m pleased to hear that Zuckerberg is giving $100 million to the schools of Newark, I am far more interested to see what social media means for its users, rather than its creators.

P.S. For an interesting take on the movie that completely dismantles the entire rationale for making it, check out the always brilliant Larry Lessig in The New Republic here.