At this particular moment in time I have, amazingly to me, 4513 Facebook friends. After viewing The Social Network for the latest Poliwood on PJTV, I wondered again what that really meant. I know it’s a macabre thought, but what if all those people showed for my funeral? I better start saving for the catering now, or — forget any piddling post-death tax estate — I’m going to leave my family with a due bill double the cost of a fleet of 7-series BMWs.
Of course, we all know that Facebook friends aren’t likely to show for a funeral. They aren’t really friends — not in the way we grew up knowing about genuine friends, what few we had. I had about two in high school, maybe jumped to four in college, and considered myself lucky. But we now live in an era of virtual friends and have scads of them. What are they really?
This is one of the issues raised by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin in his semi-biopic of young Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder. I think Sorkin is somewhat more cynical about the possibilities of virtual friendship than I am. He’s been a busy guy and perhaps hasn’t had the experience with the online community that I have. Seen from afar, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that online relationships are a symptom of modern anomie, alienation, etc. — geeks flailing away on their keyboards in the middle of the night, texting someone they never met (and never will) three continents away, while trying to get the pizza gook off their monitors. And that image has some truth to it.
And yet… and yet… I like to feel like these umpteen years of blogging (well, since 2003 anyway) have not been entirely through a (pizza-stained) glass darkly. I have actually made some real life friends from it. Some of them stuck — and a few didn’t. But the whole experience did give me a different perspective watching The Social Network, adding what Woody Allen used to call, back when he was funny, a certain “heavyosity.” I had been in Silicon Valley offices similar to the ones in the movie, during the days (2005) when I was traipsing around trying to get money to start PJ Media. I have to say the film got the locations and the atmosphere pretty accurately — special kudos to director David Fincher — although it did play fast and loose with some facts, apparently.
Lionel Chetwynd and I discuss the question of what allegiance filmmakers owe to the truth, especially when it is so recent, on that new Poliwood. We invite you to have a look. But I am even more interested, at this moment, in the question of what these social networks — Facebook and Twitter — have done, what they mean to our society.