Friday, October 8, 2010

Zuckerberg & The Social Network: Or why when in doubt I turn to The New Yorker

On my third day at Time Out Mumbai, I dragged Naresh into our merry, cherry-red office meeting room and demanded to know what he expected of me as a journalist. I was an aggressive, green 24-year-old, and was determined that my Columbia-educated, WSJ-alumnus editor, Naresh Fernandes, was going to teach me all that there was to learn about journalism. Naresh, in his usual part-alarmed, part-taciturn way, asked me if I had heard of The New Yorker. I hadn’t – you see, I was also a stupid 24-year-old. He went ack to his desk, got a few copies, handed them to me, and said: “This was my favourite magazine in New York. This is what I want Time Out to be.”

I remember feeling a bit deflated at that time. But six years later, I wonder if he could have taught me more about journalism then to introduce me to the absolute best in the trade. I am a complete, unabashed, unapologetic fan of the publication and now website. I love it because whenever there are too many voices, too much emotion, too much hyperbole in the air about something, I know I can turn to The New Yorker for a detailed, thoroughly well-researched and reasoned analysis of the situation.

And if there is one subject that has tongues wagging at the moment, it is David Fincher & Alan Sorkin’s film The Social Network, which is the story of how Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, screwed all and sundry in the process of becoming the hippest geek in the world. It is hardly surprising that the film is so anticipated. After all, no internet tool since Google had impacted our lives as much online as offline. For better or worse, it tapped somewhere deep into our psychology and affected our notions of friendship, popularity, self-awareness, privacy and connectivity. And of its reach, I can only say that my 61-year-old Dad who still types with one finger has a Facebook account, as do many of his friends.

The film will release in the UK on Oct 15 but if reviews of the film from the US are anything to go by, Zuckerberg is depicted as a socially-retarded, sexually-charged, and morally-vacant person. The film is not kind to Zuckerberg’s personality, his intentions or the way he went about making the Facebook tool. In short, we will probably come out the theatre heartily disliking the fellow and suspicious of how his intentions for us, the unquestioning users of Facebook.

But trust the New Yorker to come out with a more questioning and nuanced profile of Zuckerberg just before the film’s release in the States to balance the Sorkin’s hyperbolic character. The author Jose Antonio Vargas still describes him as supremely ambitious, iconoclastic and socially-retarded, but tempers his portrayal with enough humanity to make him believable. There are four things from the article that I would like to keep in mind when I watch the film.

a)    He was 19 when he created the tool. He is 28 years old now. Surely, some self-reflection must have accompanied his ascent into adulthood.

b)    If money and acceptance was all-important to him, why didn’t he sell his tool to Yahoo!, Microsoft or MTV Networks, all of whom offered him between 75 million dollars and a billion dollars for the tool.

c)    His girlfriend of last seven years, Priscillia Chan, is a Chinese-American studying medicine at the University of California. Somehow that does not sound like the actions of a horny, misogynistic jerk – that the film supposedly shows he to be – who suddenly came into a lot of money and fame.

d)    And finally, the fact that the 49-year-old Sorkin admitted in the article that he knew very little about social networking and professed an “extreme dislike of the blogosphere and social media”. Are the most ignorant, often the most prejudiced?

The New Yorker article was important because how we view Zuckerberg, and perhaps Facebook, will be affected by the film for a long time to come. Hence, I am glad that there is another compelling and alternative account of him out there too to counter the film’s character. After all, as any good journalist knows, you will never know the truth but it is important to put all versions of it out there. And The New Yorker is all about good journalism.


Huma said...

I've just stumbled upon your blog - you write super well. I'll be coming back to read more! Huma x

Ro said...

Chetna, I think the movie is deeply misunderstood if that is the negative impact of zuckerberg's personality on people's mind... Myself and my 3 other friends have come out of the theater inspired by this eccentric and passionate person.... Would like to watch this space after you have watched the movie...

globalbabble said...

Hi there,

I am waiting to see the film as well. Most articles (see the NYT and the NEW Yorker features) suggested that that he has been portrayed quite negetively. But if you guys came out thinking otherwise... I'll just have to watch the film myself and make up my mind:-)


Arun said...


I read this post last week and saw the film today. I think your guess was quite wrong. Zuckerberg is depicted as a much better character than several others in the film, and it was quite inspiring to me. The character in the movie is also a kid, so the age factor etc you mentioned here is well shown in the film. Anyway, see the film :)


globalbabble said...

Hi there,

I agree. I came out with that impression too. But read this review on NYT

OR this one in the

It definitely leaves you with the impression that Zuckerberg has been displayed as a irredeemable bastard.

The NYT actually mentions "money, sex, fame" - so I don't know what they were getting at.

I don't know why. Because that is not the feeling I was left with at the end of the film. I thought he came across as human - warts and all - as did the rest.

The Winklevosses were pompous idiots, who perhaps got more money that they could have managed with their website. And Eduardo - though treated badly - didn't share the vision for facebook. He didn't get its potential, so I can understand why Zuckerberg would have wanted him out. Perhaps, it could have been done less sneakily.

Obviously, the reviewers were left with a different impression.