One of the numerous themes drifting through David Fincher’s exquisitely realised but biographically off-target The Social Network (2010) is the idea that social networking assumes an understanding of human interaction that is both unnaturally stilted and unhealthily reductive. The fact that Sorkin’s script depicts Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as a social spastic, a high-functioning autistic and a ruthless bastard conveys the idea that Facebook does not so much replicate the college experience online as reduce it down to its component parts as understood by someone who, at some fundamental level, does not understand the beautiful complexities social interaction. Facebook, we are lead to believe, is what our social lives would be like had Mark Zuckerberg coded human psychology. The difference between Facebook friends and real friends is the difference between the way that Zuckerberg sees the world and how the world really is. While my viewing of The Social Network left me feeling that Aaron Sorkin simply does not understand where the founder of Facebook is coming from, I find it hard to disagree with the suggestion that social networking casts humanity in quite an ugly light.
Take a long hard look at your Twitter feed or your Facebook friend updates and you will most likely find not the carefree banter of people exchanging ideas and pleasantries but a lot of different people working a lot of different angles: Please RT! New Press Release! New Blog Post! Nominate My Stories For This Award! Someone is Saying Something Wrong, Go Shower Them With Hate! Spend enough time on Twitter and you start to wonder whether Sorkin’s Zuckerberg might not have been on to something when he boiled human interaction down to a simple numbers game. Are those pleasantries and ideas ever anything more than currency in a game of self-advancement? Do we have friends or do we have allies? Do we do anything that is not motivated purely by the pursuit of power, prestige and pleasure?
Anita Brookner’s Booker prize-winning novel Hotel du Lac (1984) is a book that paints a similar portrait of human interaction. The novel suggests that beneath the genteel façade and old world charm of an off-season luxury hotel on the lake of Geneva lurks a hideous charnel house in which the modest and the self-effacing are dismembered and devoured by the greedy, the ambitious and the selfish.