There Goes Your Social Life

In the opening scene of The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg sits with his girlfriend in a far more boho bar than I ever saw in Harvard Square. Obsessed with gaining entré into a final club, he prattles on about the access he could give her to people she "wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to meet," the prestige of the club's alumni, and how he needs to do something noteworthy to be punched. The girlfriend is disgusted, summarily severs their ties, and sashays out of the bar with the line -- "You're going to be successful and rich. But you're going to go through life thinking that girls don't like you because you're a tech geek. I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that won't be true: It'll be because you're an asshole." For all the Facebook movie has to say about the changing nature of business, the elite of this generation, privacy, and the way technology is changing the world, I suspect the reason it interests people who don't care about any of those things is because at it's heart, it is about the ambition that springs from this scene.

Often times, we think of success as intrinsically yoked to the pragmatism displayed by the movie's protagonist, Eduardo. Eduardo is the business sense behind early Facebook, sort of the Anna Wintour to Zuckerberg's Grace Coddington. As the story goes, Eduardo is phased out by Sean Parker, the hard-partying tech genius, who envelopes Zuckerberg with the in-crowd hug he so ardently seeks. Zuckerberg then dilutes Eduardo's Facebook shares from thirty to less than one percent, kicking him out of the company he financed and losing his only friend in the process.

What this says about ambition is not so much that success can come at the expense of personal relationships, but that to some people, ambition exists in a vacuum, unencumbered by loyalty and a sense of fair play. You cannot help but notice several junctures in the movie where if Zuckerberg had considered the feelings of those around him, Facebook would have been worse off, and in a way, this serves as a warning to anyone with a big idea -- worship no other gods before it.

The script may vaunt Eduardo and demonize Zuckerberg, but it also begs the question -- who would we rather be, given the way things turned out? Which of us would be Eduardo- honorable and cheated -- and which of us would be Zuckerberg -- the world's youngest billionaire, with everything but true character at his disposal? And if sometimes circumstance conspires to the benefit of the person with nothing but raw acumen, what is the rest of the striving world left to do?

But if the benefits to unfettered ambition are obvious, the obliviousness that permits it is the true tragedy of the movie. Zuckerberg seems fueled by an innate fire to maximize what math, technology and psychology can propel Facebook to, but his more conscious yearning is for something outside the domain of what Facebook could bring him -- the company of a girl with whom he feels comfortable being himself. The same single-mindedness and social timidity that allows him to put Facebook above all else disables him from expressing his affection in the only way that could fulfill this desire.

In the film's final scene, a woman on Zuckerberg's legal team sits with him in an empty room at the end of the day. She advises him to settle with Eduardo, and tries to make conversation. After he mutters one word answers while staring at his laptop, she makes a move for the door. On her way out, she turns back to him and says, "You're not an asshole, Mark. You're just trying so hard to be one." As much as he seems to wish it did not exist, this is the beating heart of the Zuckerberg the movie portrays, and he in this goal he esteems so highly, he most certainly fails.

The Social Network as such is a testament to the power of ambition of all stripes -- the ambition to create something noteworthy, yes, but also that to walk with the swagger you envy in others. If what we as a society generally laud is the end result of ambition, the movie is fascinating for laying bare the ugly and insecure process to such a polished end product. It is a valuable movie for any person who hopes to balance their character and their ambition -- to everyone, in fact, but those like it's main character.