Sunday, November 07, 2010

Two thoughts on 'the social network'

The wife and I watched 'the social network' on Saturday. It's a passable movie. It's worth keeping in mind that it's not only fictional, but the work of a team that doesn't want to let truth get in the way of story. That said there are two lines in the movie worth reflecting on.

1. "A guy who makes a new chair doesn't owe money to everyone who ever built a chair."

This is the essence of the case against intellectual property. What is it to own an idea? You can't control it, you can't exclude people from using it, there's no physical means of doing so. It's not a 'thing'. And IP by nature must be copied to be shared. But copies don't dilute in value. If I take your idea of a chair, I haven't taken anything from you. You aren't short the idea of the chair. Want to be the only guy in town making chairs? Sure, but let's not call it property.

Much as movie-Zuckerburg is unlikeable, he's at least right on this, even if the scriptwriters missed the biggest point of their film.

2. There's a line in the film, I haven't found it online, but it's the moment when Zuckerburg talks about "taking the whole college experience and putting it online", and I think it's linked to the relationship-status epiphany.

Here's the biggest secret about facebook - the biggest game on facebook is not farmville, it's facebook. facebook is the game. or, college is the game. or, high school is the game. or, social networking *is* the game. Do you see that? That high-school in micro, and then college for a bunch of people, is actually about a social game in which the nebulous contest is for popularity, but not necessarily in a crass 'I have the most friends' kind of way, but in a thousand subtle interactions, attempts to gain status, steal status, improve status, and network ourselves into being liked. The initial shifts to make facebook first available to school students, and then to the world, essentially began to replicate the social games we play in those institutional environments, and make them shape our whole life. it's not that we wouldn't play if we weren't on facebook - we were already playing. facebook just took that, put it online, quanitified a few aspects, added some nifty coding and algorithms to play by, and we're a generation hooked on playing. life is a game, and facebook is its virtual mirror.

1 comment:

Luke said...

Some good comments. It's also an interesting movie because like you alluded to, it's the story of a thing, and how it came to be.