Ends, means, and 'The Social Network'
Does becoming a billionaire justify cruelty and manipulation?
We don’t go to see many movies. Unless they have a lot of nudity or violence, they bore us.
But The Social Network is not a boring movie. We went to see it because our daughter, Maria, has a small role. It is her major motion picture debut. We went to see her. But what we discovered was an unusually engaging film.
The movie tells the story of the founding of Facebook. It is a “social network,” designed by students at Harvard to make it easy for people to keep up with each other.
“You mean, it will help us get laid,” says one of the characters in the movie…or words to that effect.
Occasionally, we get an email that tells us “so and so invites you to be a friend…” Once, we tried to follow up…we went to Facebook. There, we found a page of questions. We quickly lost interest and gave up. Henceforth, when asked to be a friend, we respond in the negative.
“Dad, you’re making a big mistake,” Jules, 22, opined. “I know a lot of people who don’t even check their email anymore. They communicate exclusively through Facebook. This is a big, big thing. And it’s not going away. E-mail could disappear.”
Maybe he is right. Maybe, in the future, we will publish The Daily Reckoning only on Facebook. But we hope not. We don’t like the concept. We don’t like the company. And we don’t like its shareholders.
“Now, Dad, you’re getting ridiculous. Zuckerberg revolutionized how people communicate. There are half a billion people on Facebook. This is like the invention of the printing press. I guess you don’t like Guttenberg either. You’re just being silly. That’s the point of the movie, by the way.
“Zuckerberg and Parker aren’t exactly nice guys. But that’s the point. You don’t have to be nice to do something great. And doing something great is what is important.”
The movie shows how Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker squeezed out – cheated, really – Zuckerberg’s original partner, Eduardo Saverin. Eduardo seems like a decent fellow. He provided a crucial formula early on. Then, he put up the seed money. But he did not see the potential of Facebook in the megalomaniacal terms of Zuckerberg and Parker. Being “cool” was not enough for him; he wanted it to be profitable too. Instead, he approached it more modestly and more conventionally. (Even today, it is not clear how profitable Facebook is.)
In the early days, Eduardo tried to sell ad space on the system in New York, while the other two were going wild signing up customers and getting venture capital backing in California. Once they got big backing, Zuckerberg and Parker had no further use for Saverin, so they cut him out.
“Eduardo was useless,” said Jules, sounding a bit Nietzschean. “He was not adding value. He was a loser. They were right to get rid of him. Eduardo was operating according to the wrong code. An antiquated code. Zuckerberg and Parker knew better. They understood something he didn’t.”
“No. They didn’t really. They were lucky. The project could just as well have failed. Most do. If it had failed, then those two would look like what they really are – a pair of conniving jerks.
“That’s really the lesson. Eduardo did the right thing. He was the winner. The Winklevoss brothers, too.
“And if I had the choice of doing business with Eduardo or with Sean Parker, I’d do business with Eduardo. You don’t know which projects will succeed or fail. You don’t know which ideas will win. But you know you never want to do business with nasty people. Even if you make a lot of money, it’s not worth it.”
“Are you kidding? At the end of the day, Zuckerberg and Parker were billionaires. Now they can be nice if they want to be. Being nice is not everything.”
“No, now they can’t be nice. You can’t undo nastiness. You can confess. You can repent. You can beg forgiveness and give a $100 million to the New Jersey schools. Maybe you’ll be redeemed. Or maybe you’ll be a miserable billionaire all your life.”
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