Monday, August 22, 2011

On "The Social Network", Part 1 (English)

(Go here for the original essay in Korean)
This is the first half of a two-part series on my thoughts after watching the movie “The Social Network”. Who’d have thought the film would prove to be such food for thought?

By way of introduction (to explain better where I am coming from) I want to first talk about a lecture that I saw on the internet a while ago. It’s all in Korean (and I haven’t been able to find any English subtitles..) so you’ll just have to do with my summary of it. It’s a lecture given by a Doctor Park Kyungcheol in front of a large group of undergraduate students at Ajoou University. He’s quite the celebrity in Korea these days, having published a number of books on how to invest in stocks and making frequent appearances on Korean TV. The lecture, which is more like him telling the students his story of how he went from being a medical doctor to becoming the next ‘stock investment guru’ in Korea, is quite engaging. His worldview can be summarized as follows: since the Industrial Revolution, modern history has been dominated by a series of “Innovation Waves”. He calls these sudden thrusts of technological advancements “the W’s”, and (borrowing heavily from Jeremy Rifkin of the Empathic Civilization fame) he reckons that only 1% of the population participates in the process of ushering in the new age, while the remaining 99% merely observe the changes that happen all around them. The 1% can be further divided into the 0.1% who, through the power of their creativity, think up the new “W”, and the 0.9% who recognize such talents and support the 0.1% in realizing this vision. He then goes on to tell the story of how he first missed the “W that was the Internet” during the late 80’s in Korea, and how in the nineties he then spotted the next “W” in mobile phones; he invested heavily in the then nascent Korean telecommunication firms, buying up all the shares and bonds that he could. The rest (how he became a multimillionaire overnight) is history.

* * *

With this lecture in mind, the following are the some of the reflections I had on watching the movie, in no particular order:

1. I really liked the way the movie was told. It’s not back-to-front like Memento, nor is it like the “inclusio” method (the present-past-present pattern), that are all-too-common in movies like Saving Private Ryan and Titanic. Instead, the movie roams freely between the past and the present, which support the story-telling in a non-verbal and natural way. Although the sudden jumps between different times were a bit disorienting at first, I was soon sucked into the story and found the movie quite absorbing. I’m quite looking forward to other movies by David Fincher.

2. There’s a reason why the Facebook story is quite special to me. Mark Zuckerberg was at College during 2002-2006; exactly the same as me. And as the movie portrays, Facebook was first made available in the Ivy League Colleges and in Stanford; next, it crossed over to the UK, being available in exclusively in Oxbridge and LSE. I still remember when I first heard about Facebook and registered. It was during the early Facebook days.

3. Watching this movie brought home to me the attractiveness of exclusivity, and how important it is to take full advantage of it. Mark Zuckerberg was himself drawn to the exclusive societies of Harvard; I was also attracted to the secret societies of Yale University, even though I knew I would never stand a chance in being ‘tapped’.

Yale Berzelius building

Why do we get so drawn to these “elitist” institutions? In the next part, I will discuss this “draw of the exclusivity”. I will argue that Facebook’s initial success is due greatly to this common human trait.

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