Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Social Network

The Social Network
seen @ Green Acres Cinemas, Valley Stream, NY
10.5.10

Technology has such a strange hold on us. When I was about 13 or so, my parents sent me to computer camp for a summer, where I learned BASIC, having fun with it but not taking it all that seriously. In college, I took a computer art course during senior year on a Macintosh, not entirely believing it could help me as an artist but everyone said I should take it anyway. Eventually, though, I understood that I would need a home computer - not want, need. When I got one, in 2000, I told myself I could severely limit the amount of time I spent online. I believed I would only need a computer to send and receive e-mail. I didn't want it to take up all of my time.

A decade later, and much has changed. I had been reluctant to embrace the Internet, but little by little, I've come to accept it as much as anyone else these days. Each new technological innovation during the Aughts took the world by storm, but I was always resistant to it at first. I wish I could say why for sure. Money was a factor, but it wasn't the only one. Fear? Maybe - but I've taken to the Internet in general fairly intuitively, all things considered. I put off getting a cellphone for the longest time until it became necessary to have one, and I rarely use mine for anything other than making and receiving calls. Like I always say, I don't need my phone to be anything other than a phone.

Maybe I simply needed to proceed at my own pace. I don't think people realize how shocking is the speed at which technology progresses. With each passing year, it's becoming harder to remember when we all didn't have cellphones or Blackberries or iPods - and we've become so attached to them, we've adapted to them so quickly, it's unreal. The Internet is the same way. I live a significant part of my life online now. This would've scared me ten years ago, but now it's a simple fact.

Which brings me to Facebook. Again, I avoided it in the beginning, like instant message chatting, like blogs, like video streaming, like wireless technology. I only joined Friendster when it was the social network of choice because my co-workers had done so, but I barely used it. Facebook was different. It was - it is - more intuitive, more interactive, more versatile, and when more and more of my friends starting becoming part of it, suddenly it was much harder to resist. But boy, can it take you over. As one of my friends wrote on my wall upon my entry into the site, "Welcome to the time-suck!"

At the outset, I liked the ability to keep tabs on what my friends are doing, but lately I've begun to wonder whether or not it's all just too much information. I've certainly enjoyed learning about aspects of my friends' lives I either didn't know or knew little about. On the other hand, though, some of them talk a lot but don't have much to say, if you know what I mean. This doesn't make them bad people, but it does make me wonder what it's all about, y'know?

When something major happens in the world, everyone has to comment on it. If it's a celebrity death, some people will just post something like, "OMG RIP So-and-So" without saying what that celebrity meant to them, if anything. I mean, I can go to CNN for news!

I play a game on Facebook called Social City which, like Farmville or Mafia Wars, requires you to "friend" strangers. They rely on you to help them succeed in the game, and vice versa. Many people, though, only use Facebook for their gameplay. They're not interested in getting to know the strangers they've "friended." It's their choice, but I find it unfortunate that I have people on my friends list from all over the world as a result of my involvement with Social City (in addition to my "real-life" friends, for lack of a better term) and I can't get to know anything about most of them outside of the game context.

I'm sure other people have written about this phenomenon, and more eloquently than me, but it does seem like a system meant to bring people closer together can be alienating at times. Different people are gonna have different levels of openness with regard to their lives, and I naturally accept that - I've become more cognizant of what I say on the Internet in general as a result of Facebook - but in the end, I believe that social networks are pale substitutes for actual human interaction.

I have tried not to become blinded and deafened by all the hype surrounding David Fincher's film The Social Network. It has not been easy. When I first heard about it, I did not believe the formation of Facebook was a premise worthy of an engaging movie. I'm happy to say I was dead wrong.

Network is a dialogue-driven story in a manner that I found reminiscent of old-school Hollywood, in the days when rat-a-tat-tat back-and-forth between actors was commonplace. In the first fifteen minutes, I found myself wishing the cast would slow down, so rapid-fire do Aaron Sorkin's words come. Everyone feels like they're acting in the moment, but Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg embodies this. Coupled with his cold gaze, he's difficult to take your eyes off of. Is his portrayal of Zuckerberg 100% accurate? Probably not, and I admit, this does bother me to a certain extent, but it does make for compelling drama.

I follow the Oscar race every year, and right now, the popular belief is that Network could go all the way, and maybe it can. A lot depends, though, on whether it can sustain all the accolades it has received, from now until February. One of the trailers that ran in front of Network was for the Coen Brothers' True Grit, and that looked every bit as awesome, so we'll see what happens. Naturally I'm hoping for a race and not a blowout.

The theater I saw Network in is one I hadn't been to in years. I was prepared to pay the standard double-digit admission, but it turns out you can get in on Tuesdays for six bucks. They have a popcorn-and-soda deal, also for six, and on a whim I decided to take it - I normally don't buy anything more than candy of some sort, since movie food has become so damn expensive. All I got for my six bucks, though, was a small soda and a ludicrously tiny bag of popcorn that was gone by the end of the opening credits. It's back to Twizzlers from now on.

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