The Iraq War Came and Went But Facebook Is Here to Stay

Seeing the new Facebook movie solo as a metaphor for modern life.

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OK, my friends, I went to see The Social Network in Georgetown Saturday afternoon all alone, and I didn't even mind. Quite an admission, I know--and maybe a metaphor for the times. You tell me.

What movie could be more relevant to American life today? It's a sizzling and delicious legal romp telling how Facebook hopped from Harvard's dorm halls to change the face of 50 million social lives now wrapping round the world. For free, Facebook seems to cure what ails society, dispensing a shared sense of connection with zero conversational ado. Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook cofounder, is portrayed as the sullen, brilliant main character who has a hard time hanging onto his own friends in real life. Aaron Sorkin, author of the screenplay's crackling dialogue, leaves you asking whether young Zuckerberg is an inventive genius in the same historical class as Henry Ford or Alexander Graham Bell. I'd say yes to that.

 And yet, my Facebook friends were nowhere to be found Saturday to call upon. (Note to self: 166 friends is a bit paltry--all my FB journalist pals seem to have hundreds, if not thousands of friends.) Well, there was the simple problem that I hadn't actually seen or spoken to most of my FB friends here in Washington in weeks, months, even a year. I had read their witty, charming and droll posts and commented on their summer pictures of Martha's Vineyard--but that was not the same as calling them up to meet somewhere social in the real world.

You see, it's not clear I'd be friends with all my FB "friends" in real life; some are just friends of "friends." Some journalists preen a bit much on FB, showing off their wordplay twice a day as if that world were a stage. Authors who shall remain nameless flog their books shamelessly and I mean shamelessly. We all create a Facebook persona, don't we? And try to write our life stories in clever headlines? In my orbit, the best at that art is an actor, funny with a touch of angst and without the self-consciousness of the writerly ink-stained crowd. I really do need to get together with Bill one of these days.

Back to my social plight. Much of my FB set lives out of town, along the Eastern Seaboard, but Baltimore and Philadelphia are too far away to call a friend on a movie whim. As for my farflung family, one sister and her husband are "friends" but they live in Santa Monica. My ex-cousins-in-law--my English ex's relatives--were my best bet that day, as they dwell in Washington. Of my closest real-life friends, one is a doctor in Michigan. Two others are not even on Facebook, a social death these days. And the last time I saw my dear friend and "friend" K., who lives across the river, had nothing to do with Facebook. She came to the September meeting of my old-fashioned book club, the Millennials, founded before the advent of Facebook.

Somehow the movie manages to make 2003 feel like ancient history. The Iraq War came and went but Facebook is here to stay. Now we are all living in some semblance of a Harvard dorm room.

For all the time we spend alone on the social network, there was precious little to spend in my pocket Saturday. I was pretty much on my own--without as many friends as I counted in the ether's gallery. Malcolm Gladwell, the author, tells us Facebook is a way to organize and strengthen our weak ties, from past and present. But if weak ties are stronger these days, perhaps strong ties are weaker. A smile, a kiss, a shared cup of tea or coffee--these are real things not found in an ersatz community.

I'll tell you what saved the day for me. In my backstory, it was a beautiful afternoon for a march and so I decided to walk by the Lincoln Memorial along the Potomac River up to Georgetown. The sight and sound of a real live political rally in the great American tradition, "One Nation," made my heart glad--never mind that I had no friends or "friends" in the throng. They were an energizing presence on the October horizon.

So that was why I didn't mind going to see The Social Network alone. When I put this irony up on my FB wall, my editor Robert Schlesinger chimed in minutes later: "Sounds like the makings of a blog post."

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