Monday, February 28, 2011

Good month for Mark Zuckerberg

February was a memorable month for Mark Zuckerberg. The hype for “The Social Network” is over without further embarrassment. With the movie out on video, three minor Oscars and Zuckerberg’s uneventful appearance on Saturday Night Live, that story is over.

Meanwhile, earlier this month the 26-year-old Facebook CEO gained positive recognition as the only Silicon Valley mogul under 40 invited for a private dinner with the President — as immortalized by the official White House picture.

Obama dinner

This follows a January where Facebook’s bankers cleverly raised $1.5 billion in an oversubscribed private placement (boosting its valuation to $76b) by ignoring SEC concerns and going to overseas investors (and Goldman’s internal funds.)

Yes, the movie didn’t put Zuckerberg in the best light, but as Salon notes, the most sophisticated viewers can separate fact from fiction:
Moreover, we don't go to movies to learn about history, or at least we shouldn't, since the history taught in the movies is even more ludicrous and shot through with present-tense ideology than the history taught in schools. … I probably know more about Facebook and the Early Middle Internet Age than I did before I saw "The Social Network," but that stuff isn't the source of the film's appeal. It's an energetic and straightforward work of American pop storytelling, a soapy, gossipy tale of young people behaving badly and class-based infighting at America's most elite university.
It’s obviously not news that Harvard boys (or young men more generally) want sex. Decades ago, one would not expect that Jerry Brown’s trips with Linda Ronstadt (or Steve Jobs’ evenings with Joan Baez) were limited to talking politics.

Merc columnist Chris O’Brien feigned outrage at the treatment of Zuckerberg, Facebook, and Web 2.0 at the hands of Hollywood in a “hatchet job”:
Technology, it argues, is giving rise to a generation of people who are lost and shallow, in danger of losing touch with their humanity. As you might imagine, I couldn't disagree more: Technologies like social networking are expanding people's relationships and actually helping us better connect with the rest of humanity.
This is a silly argument: the generation (particularly Zuckerberg’s male contemporaries) was already shallow and self-centered before Web 2.0 technology came along.

O’Brien quotes two outraged so-called social media experts:
"What they did was make a movie that completely marginalizes social media," said … an assistant professor. …

"It reflects what film critics think about social media," [a professor] wrote in an e-mail. "They should own those attitudes rather than project them onto this generation. "
(Of course, these academics make their careers selling the idea that social media is a transformational technology that renders obsolete any previous technology or societal movement — just as I did for my research on open source software or mobile phones.)

Pirates of Silicon ValleyIt’s pretty clear the movie isn’t going to change people’s view of entrepreneurship one way or the other. Yes, it’s a bigger soapbox than usual: Zuckerberg got a Hollywood Oscar contender at the peak of his fame — as opposed to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who had to settle for a TV movie made for TNT two decades after their respective debuts. But unlike a multiyear TV series like Perry Mason or ER, it’s a onetime impression about a career or profession that will fade over time.

If Silicon Valley wants a more favorable impression of its business, perhaps it can commission a weekly series. Although “Social Network” screenwriter Aaron Sorkin did such a good job fictionalizing Washington DC political wonks, his extreme technophobia suggests that he’s unable to understand or empathize with hardworking technologists on the left coast. But certainly California has enough underemployed scriptwriters who would jump at the opportunity.

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