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.
I was dragged willy-nilly into both them. I didn’t want to get involved, but as CEO of PJ Media, others “sorta kinda” made it clear to me that I “oughta” have presence in the social media for the sake of the company. So there I went on to Facebook and Twitter with the help of people working for us who knew a lot more about it than I do, still do. I hope it isn’t a shock to my Facebook friends that I am not there with an entirely open heart. This is no reflection on them whatsoever — only on me. In any case, I will shortly hit the 5000 friend max and that will be it.
Twitter, where evidently you can have unlimited “followers,” is another matter. I have already crested 5000 over there and it seems even more opaque to me than Facebook — except during the Iran demonstrations when Twitter was indispensable. During normal times, however, Twitter seems to be about people compelled to tell you about their afternoon trip to Trader Joe’s or, at best, Ron Artest’s latest adventure at an after hours dance club. Do we need to hear about that? Well, maybe, if it’s a good adventure. But only once, thank you.
The bigger problem — that Sorkin doesn’t seem to refer to in the movie, but perhaps I missed it — is that we are all now living life on overload. There’s just too much stimulation and random information, too many data points, too many cable channels. I’m an admittedly high intensity type-A personality and there’s even way too much for me. I can’t say that I need Facebook and Skype and Twitter and email and text messaging and blogging and iPhone and iPad and Bluetooth and Bluray and Netflix and Flixster and Flickr and a thousand apps and … Have I left anything out? Well, probably. At any rate, ya basta…. enough already!
Does Zen Buddhism seem appealing? A little raking of the pebbles, a few hours of sitting in the lotus position and that’s it? It does to me.
Of course, the last time I was at a Zen monastery the monks were totally wired and we traded email addresses (this was a few years back in Kyoto), so maybe there is no end to this.
We should all just put ourselves in the hands of next Mark Zuckerberg, whoever he or she is (a nine-year old billionaire?), give up on ordinary human contact, and let it ride. Meanwhile, would you be my Facebook friend? I’ll love you forever and treat you to a grande soy latte at the Starbucks of your choice. (But better hurry. There are only four hundred and eighty-seven friendships left!)