Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Social Network

"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but a true friend is more loyal than a brother." Prov. 18:24

The Social Network is to the 2000s what Casablanca was to the 1940s, Rebel Without a Cause was to the 1950s, and Wall Street was to the 1980s. It is a film that tells a specific story while defining the very context of the age in which it sits.

This movie is a critical look at the founding of Facebook through the lens of the various lawsuits filed against entrepreneur Mark Zucherberg (played here by Jesse Eisenberg) during this rise to become the youngest billionaire ever. On that quick journey to the top, the film shows us the other men and women he rankled and angered to get to where he is today.

The irony here is that, for a guy who created the world's foremost social networking site, he certainly had a way of de-friending a lot of people.

Just as Casablanca challenged viewers to choose a side in World War II and Wall Street opened our eyes to the excess of lavish 80s lifestyles and unchecked greed, The Social Network warns us about the incredible responsibility of being instantly globally connected - all the while re-discovering the real meaning of our relationships in life.

Of all the treads laid out in this movie, the one that really struck me was the relationship between Zucherberg and his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). It was a friendship that viewers are left to wonder: was it ever real, at least from Zucherberg's perspective? Or did the facebook founder just use Saverin for his grand scheme to make it to the top? Was it a long con stemming from jealousy - or was Saverin just gullible to the reality unfolding around him?

Regardless of the 500 million+ "friends" that are now connected to facebook, it is the story of one friendship that really fascinates me about the origins of a global phenomenon.

In Proverbs, it is prophetically written: "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but a true friend is more loyal than a brother." (Prov. 18:24) The fact that their relationship comes to a lawsuit is the great tragedy of this story. It is also a warning for all of us engaged in a socially networked world.

God have given us many relationships in our lives - family, friends, neighbors, teammates, classmates, and co-workers. With sites like facebook, we can connect with all them at any hour of the day. We can share news, comment on others' lives, post our own photos and videos, follow up with a chance encounter, and catch up with lost friends. These are wonderful ways to build and maintain a sense of community in a busy, time-strapped, and increasingly global landscape.

However, with all these new possibilities, we can easily lose sight of the wonderful joy of true friendship. If a friend's struggle or excitement today become just one of hundreds of wall posts that we scroll past on the way to the next task, what does that mean for our relationship? And does this casual, nonchalant connection spill over into our in-person encounters, making our conversations as stale and distant as a wall posting?

To borrow a line from SpiderMan, "with great power comes great responsibility." Facebook is a wonderful tool, but are we still practicing compassion, concern, and investment for our friendships that exist there? Or have we become lazy and disconnected?

Pope Benedict XVI has recently commented and applauded the opportunities afforded to us through the internet and social networking, saying "It is in and through our friendships that we grow and develop as humans. For this reason, true friendship has always been seen as one of the greatest goods any human person can experience." His message notes that these technologies should be put at the service of human rights, solidarity, and respect for the dignity of each other.

If the thrill of being connected to so many people were the end goal of our time online, that would truly be a sad existence. Instead, the possibilities that now emerge from facebook and other social networking sites should challenge us to deepen rather than shallow our relationships.

Facebook can allow us to go more in-depth into our friends' lives, giving us greater insight into the joys and sorrows that our friends and family are facing. Knowing this gives us an opportunity to get to know those people better - and to be there for one another in both good times and bad.

This was the challenge that faced Zucherberg in this film. He was so caught up on the possibilities of global networking that he lost sight of the genuine need for thoughtful, compassionate, and loving connectivity that his very creation now allowed.

Let us pray not to be caught in that same trap. If we have friends online, instead of ditching them because they're just online connections, why not deeper those relationships? If we have a habit of scrolling through status updates like items in a grocery store, why not stop and be the face of Christ to another person, even if just for a moment?

In that instant, we are able to truly live out the command of Jesus to "love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12) in an incredibly new and digital way.

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