March 6, 2011
I’ve known Ben Mezrich for years, since long before he became a successful author and his books like Bringing Down the House and The Accidental Billionaires were made into hit movies like 21 and The Social Network. I was at the 40th birthday party his wife, Tonya, threw for him, and the party for the Boston Marathon where their newborn son, Asher, made his first public appearance. I have pictures of Ben and me on my cellphone (neither of us remotely sober). So naturally I was among the thousand-or-so of his nearest and dearest at his advanced screening of The Social Network, which Aaron Sorkin adapted from Ben’s fictionalized account of the creation of Facebook.
It’s both appropriate and unlikely that my inaugural entry on It’s My Life, Get Your Own should involve Facebook. Unlikely because I’m a last-adapter, practically Amish in my technological ineptitude. I joined Facebook only grudgingly, after countless people said, “I tried to friend you but couldn’t,” but before I finished setting up my profile, I was an addict. It was like being back in high school, passing notes with friends to relieve the tedium of history class. The popularity contest aspect—who friended me or accepted my friend request, and how many I had— appealed to the middle-aged pre-pubescent in me. And I still find it wildly entertaining that someone from my fifth grade class can have a conversation about something I posted with an eccentric English baron I know who did time in a German prison. It gives an illusion of omnipotence: I’m the puppet-master, provoking witty or bizarre but entertaining (to me, at least) interchanges.
Facebook’s global egalitarianism is maybe my favorite thing about it, which is funny, given that it began as a “members only” club, an elitist tool for students to connect at prestigious colleges and universities. And its addictiveness is a double-edged sword. I resent how compulsively distracting it is. My shopworn line is, “Facebook should be called Black Hole of Time-Suck.” I’m ashamed to admit that I have a tab on it open most of the day and check it frequently. And I still laugh at all the parodies on TV and in magazines or cartoons, poking fun at people who post vapid crap like what they had for lunch. That’s because, like everybody else, I want to believe that my posts are funny, clever, witty or deep, and I’ve wasted untold hours trying to think of them. I wish I’d expended as much time and energy on piano lessons when I was a kid.
So my Facebook obsession prodded me to create It’s My Life, Get Your Own. About a year ago, I was driving from Boston to New York, and my de facto husband-type-person, Sam, wanted a coffee, so we stopped at a Starbuck’s in Vernon, CT. (It’s a strange town—the last time we stopped there, we got lost and wound up at the corner of Lantern Lane and Lantern Lane, no lie.) Out of curiosity, I decided to update my Facebook status to something purposefully inane to see what happened. I typed: “Witnessing an awkward gay first coffee date at a Starbuck’s in CT,” and by the time we got back to the car, something like 25 “friends” had commented and who knows how many “liked.” If my most off-hand remark provoked that kind of attention, I figured, I should start a blog.
Problem is: I hate that word. I hate it with a blind, raging and unreasonable passion, in all its fabricated cutesiness. I loathe it so completely that it was a real obstacle, until my boss, Wendy Semonian, the publisher of the Improper Bostonian Magazine, said, “Just call it a blogazine, then, and spell it b-l-a-h-gazine.” Problem solved, and thank you, Wendy. Welcome to the world’s first blahgazine—It’s My Life, Get Your Own.
Which brings me back to Facebook and the Social Network. The night of Ben’s screening, before leaving for the movie theater, I updated my status to: “Jonathan Soroff is going to see Ben Mezrich’s screening of The Social Network. LOVE posting that on FB.” In less than a minute, three people had “liked” it, and seven followed (including a Spanish friend who’s part of the Silicon Valley scene and was a principal in a smaller-stakes but equally nasty and friendship-ending fight over a website). Beyond that, the small number and poor quality of comments surprised me, given that just the night before, I had posted that I was going to meet Peter Brady at a fashion show in a bowling alley, and 26 people had commented. (For the record, Christopher Knight is one of the most agreeable one-role wonders I’ve ever met and an excellent addition to any scenario that calls for a celebrity petting zoo.) I was amazed that my friends were unfazed that I had announced, on the world’s biggest social network, that I was going to see a movie about the contentious founding of it, hosted by a guy I know and who wrote the freaking book! Seriously: WTF???
So I went to the movie, which was a contender for multiple Oscars and I thought might win Best Picture, because Facebook is playing such a major role in recent events in North Africa and the Middle East. I didn’t know that then, of course, but regardless, the movie does an excellent job of dramatizing what a paradigm-shift Facebook has become. On a more basic level, it’s a highly entertaining account of how Mark Zuckerberg did or didn’t screw a bunch of other Harvard kids out of the billion-dollar score that Facebook has become (while concomitantly screwing himself out of all of his friends). Idiosyncratically, one of my favorite things about The Social Network is the names of all the characters: Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (twin Olympic rowers), their business partner, Divya Narendra, and Zuckerberg’s partner, Eduardo Saverin. In a star turn, Justin Timberlake (whom, if you’d asked me ten years ago, I would’ve laid odds he’d be jacking gas stations for meth money by now) plays Sean Parker, the founder of Napster, portrayed as a coke-snorting, whore-mongering Machiavelli.
“Zuckerberg has all the money he needs.”
“But you’re getting sloppy seconds?”
Again, Ben laughed. “Gotta love the Zuck.”
Well, why wouldn’t he? Because of the “The Zuck,” Ben and Tonya won’t be worrying about how to pay for Asher’s education.
I skipped the after-party, and when I got home, I checked Facebook, again disappointed by the response to my post. I felt snubbed and neglected by my so-called “friends.” And yes, I’m fully aware that Facebook connections aren’t deep ones. I’ve never met Anderson Cooper or a lot of the other famous people I’m friends with on Facebook, and a few of the famous people I actually do know either use pseudonyms or have someone impersonating them.
So I decided to try another experiment: I sent friend requests to Mark Zuckerberg, the Winklevoss twins, Saverin and Parker. That any of them still have Facebook profiles is both telling and amusing: After all the nasty legal haggling, they all came out okay (and lined lots of lawyers’ pockets along the way), so their attitudes must be either “This thing is bigger than any of that,” or “Who gives a shit?.” Even funnier: I have mutual friends with a few of them—six degrees of virtual separation. And no, none of them have accepted my “Friend” requests, which leads me to believe that they all have enough friends, despite what the movie depicts.
So the next time someone offers a toast to friendship, I’ll be quick to add, “But not the Facebook kind.”
Two weeks after Ben’s screening, Sam and I were in San Francisco (check out my Travel section). One night, we had dinner and went to a party with the Spanish friend I mentioned before. The party was in Noe Valley and composed almost exclusively of gay men trying to impress each other. My Spanish friend was talking to a guy he obviously thought was hot. He mentioned the 40th birthday party he was planning for himself in Manhattan. “You should come,” he said. “Sean Parker’s going to be there.”
Welcome to It’s My Life, Get Your Own.