The Social Network & My Generation
an open letter to my friend Peter Travers
Hey man! So, I finally watched The Social Network the other night, and today I read your review of it, curious about your claim that this film defines my generation. First let me say, I agree that the movie is impeccable, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I have nothing but praise and admiration for the folks who made it. But on behalf of we who are inheriting a new earth connected by the Internet, I must raise my hand to say that while Mr. Fincher’s Facebook drama certainly nails a lot of today’s more ominous trends, this story only tells half of our tale.
You say that technology is winning a battle against actual human contact, and that we have become a nation of narcissists, reshaping ourselves online in the hope of being “friended” by others. First of all dude, the cool kids don’t really use “friend” as a verb like that ;o) But in all seriousness, you and I share some of those concerns which The Social Network so poignantly portrays. Whether judging a person’s worth by Twitter followers or a movie’s merit by box office scores, the Information Age has introduced some disturbing new ways for us to measure our culture and ourselves based on trivial statistics and exclusive hierarchies. The low self-esteem and obsession with social status represented by Mr. Eisenberg’s protagonist speak to that brilliantly. And yes, using new communication technology in this way does indeed have the potential to alienate us, to stratify us, and ultimately to weaken the human race.
However! Mr. Travers — I know because of your work and because we’ve had a bunch of awesome conversations — you are a man of letters and a lover of cinema. Well, aren’t the printed word and the motion picture both technologies that blew open doors to new forms of human expression? Technology is not fighting a “battle against actual human contact” any more now than it was then. The Social Network sounds a pertinent alarm against some arguably unhealthy ways our culture is currently using new communication technology, but to say that this film defines a generation is to dismiss the sense of community, the shared empathy, and the collective beauty that our new connectivity has allowed us this past decade. This generation, my generation, we are reaching out to each other, communicating with one another, and creating a shared world in ways no prior generation could have.
Yes, you could focus on the friend-counting narcissists, but you could also focus on countless meaningful relationships formed across national borders and cultural boundaries that would have been logistically impossible before sites like Facebook. And yes of course, there’s the spam-bots slinging Viagra, but there’s also unprecedented opportunities for independent artists and entrepreneurs on sites like Etsy and KickStarter. Or how about the simple fact that I’m sitting here writing this in New Orleans and you’ll read it by tomorrow in New York, along with thousands of movie-lovers like us from all over the world, who will also chime in with their own opinions?
These relationships, these opportunities, these connections, these are the unique blessings of my generation. So who’s gonna make the movie about us? I don’t know, but if I had to guess, it’ll be some group of kids who’ve never physically met, living in all different places, all far from Hollywood, trading ideas, uploading videos, and working together via one or another social network.
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