A Little Wget Magic: The Amazing Saga of Mark Zuckerberg

“Why the hell do I want to see a movie about Facebook?” a friend said about The Social Network, the new film about the geeky young entrepreneur who created Facebook. “Don’t I get enough of it everywhere else?”

That might be the best reason not to see the movie, but it’s quite a film, and possibly even a future classic (I bet it will get nominated for a few Academy Awards too). It’s a serious movie that revolves around a moral question: what does it mean that everybody’s favorite social network was built by an awkward, alienated college student who had lots of trouble making friends?

Those who resent Facebook’s intrusion into our common privacy can enjoy some zuckerfreude here, because young Mark Zuckerberg’s personality is splayed out in the most unflattering poses — and yet he remains, in Jesse Eisenberg’s deft impersonation, mostly charming and lovable. Unlike many of his fellow nerds who haunt the social circles around Harvard University during the movie’s early scenes, skinny nervous Zuckerberg is naive but never quite shy. He has strange reservoirs of confidence, rooted perhaps in his mastery of Linux and Apache. He tries boldly to puzzle out the social codes — attitude, style — that lead to popularity on campus. But these are puzzles he can’t seem to solve, and he is forced to face this uncomfortable truth repeatedly. The long journey of coding that ends with the creation of Facebook begins in a desultory dorm-room cloud of romantic misery after Zuckerberg’s semi-girlfriend unceremoniously dumps him. Thus was Facebook born.

I like this film for its immediacy and straightforward, casual realism. Director David Fincher (who directed the excellent film version of Pahlaniuk’s Fight Club) and writer Aaron Sorkin wisely yoke the movie’s plot close to the book it’s based on, Ben Mezrich’s Accidental Billionaires (a review of this book ran on Litkicks last year). There are histrionic moments — does a Harvard student really have to interrupt a choral concert just to prove that he’s upset about something? — but not many, and the film is most exciting when it hews most closely to the banal rhythms of everyday modern life.

When I reviewed Accidental Billionaires last year, I questioned whether Mark Zuckerberg would have ever used the unlikely phrase “a little wget magic” (wget is a command-line HTTP request tool, very useful but rarely considered magical). The book’s author corrected me on Twitter, stating that these exact words had been found on Zuckerberg’s blog. The line about “a little wget magic” is spoken in the movie version too, and the phrase is starting to grow on me.

The Keith Gessen-esque social psychodrama at Harvard occupies only the first half of The Social Network‘s storyline, and in the second half a hilarious Justin Timberlake shows up as a savvy Silicon Valley rounder ready to coach Zuckerberg into the stratosphere of venture capital financing.

By the film’s end, Zuckerberg has prevailed over all his enemies, friends and frenemies. He stands alone at the top of the Facebook empire (as he still does today). He’s a nerd with cojones. When Bill Gates shows up for a cameo about halfway through the film (and occasions some of the film’s funnier dialogue), the message and the lineage is clear.

But even Bill Gates has never been the subject of a major dramatic film. There’s something Shakespearean about the character of Mark Zuckerberg, and that’s why this film works. A boardroom scene calls to mind Henry V, but at the film’s bleak end he stands as lonely and tragic as Richard III or Iago. Not bad for wget magic.

12 Responses

  1. Although Zuckerberg is not
    Although Zuckerberg is not shown in a flattering light (morally speaking) in this movie, I’m impressed by how he transformed an idea that wasn’t entirely original (Myspace preexisted Facebook) into something that nonetheless revolutionized social networking. I read somewhere online that the appeal of Facebook is that it satisfies people’s most basic social urges: ego (it’s about presenting yourself) and curiosity (it’s about snooping even on acquaintances who aren’t your close friends). Can a similar mini-revolution be done about publishing? It seems like the world of publishing, which Litkicks follows and discusses at length, is still very retro (mediated heavily by agents and editors, if you’re going to get any wide-spread exposure to the third and most important link between you and the readers: critics/the media machine). I think publishing is the one networking domain that is hopelessly old-fashioned and awaiting its own invention/networking revolution. Any ideas?

  2. Claudia,
    I agree with you


    I agree with you totally about publishing. I think it is happening. Ultimate questions about how writers will earn money in this new structure are still there, but with Kindles and iPads and electronic banking and commerce and the like, that will be addressed as well.

    Literary Kicks Publications Inc will be a significant player in this in the long run.

  3. Levi and TKG, You got my
    Levi and TKG, You got my interest! What is Literary Kicks Publications? Can I participate? (I may sound naive, but I’m perfectly serious) I’ve been sitting on ideas for how to circumvent some of the mediation (agents and editors) in publishing for awhile. Not that I don’t respect my own agent, who is great. But things would move so much faster and be more “democratic” if the networking involved in the literary world weren’t so old-fashioned (run by top agents who still meet for lunch with the top editors at the three or four mainstream publishers that swallowed up in the 1990’s most of the smaller publishing houses). So far it seems that the disadvantage of the ebooks is that they generally don’t have access to distribution and the critics/review network. It’s easy to mistake them for vanity presses. But look at what Facebook has done for socializing and dating. Look at what Wikipedia has done for information (without hiring experts, just its own contributor hierarchy). Look at what HuffingtonPost.com and yahoo’s news engine, Associated Content, has done to professional journalism (it’s replacing it fast with contributor-run freelance work). If anyone has any good ideas for doing something analogous for old-fashioned publishing while avoiding the pitfall of creating one more online vanity press, I’d love to find out about it and perhaps even join the venture. Sorry to talk so much, but this blog post has touched upon my biggest current obsession. Claudia

  4. Well, there has been a
    Well, there has been a Literary Kicks Publications for a long time, though it’s never accomplished very much, as TKG sneakily knows!

    We — that is, I — have published four things in hard copy form — “Notes From Underground” (a CD-Rom movie), “Summer of the Mets” (a novel), “Tiger’s Milk” (a poetry chapbook) and “Action Poetry” (an anthology). However, as I know you know, making a profit by selling books or book-type items is tough. So Literary Kicks Publications (which has also been known as Literary Kicks Publishing and Literary Kicks Productions — hah, a lot of names and not much substance) has never been my main focus. I do plan to do more with it in the future, but lately I find it more satisfying to simply write for the web, make a little money on advertising, and call that a business model.

  5. Levi and TKG, innovation is
    Levi and TKG, innovation is born out of a combination of demonstrable accomplishments and some frustration. I think the idea of a Literary Kicks Publications is possible and potentially lucrative if it becomes a little more innovative. A new ebook publishing house would have to include three components in order to be something more than just another online vanity press:
    a) the ability to publish ebooks like Amazon Kindle.
    b) the ability to reward authors not just with money, but also by number of hits, using paypal, like yahoo’s Associated Content or the Huffingtonpost.com
    c) the ability to be reviewed, by experts who aren’t necessarily rewarded by the present system, also rewarded with hits and badges like Wikipedia, Shelfari and Librarything. Somehow these books will have to plug into the online review system to get to readers. Without the mediation of reviews, books don’t get out there in cyberspace or the real world either. Is anyone at Litkicks interested in trying this out? Claudia

  6. At various different times in
    At various different times in my past, Claudia, I would have been into it. And I may pick up the idea again, maybe even soon. But at this point, it’s just not where I’m at. My current mission is just to focus on the quality of the writing that goes up on the site, and not to think too much about other formats. The blog format is the format that lets me reach a lot of readers, and to do so quickly and without much financial risk. Every other format seems more limited, in a way.

  7. Perhaps I am being sneaky,
    Perhaps I am being sneaky, but I like to think I’m trying to be inspirational and encouraging more than sneaky. I’m sincere in that I’ve admired Literary Kicks for a long time.

    I think of Kerouac always saying to Burroughs, when Burroughs had no inclination to be a writer, that he would be a famous writer who would write a book called Naked Lunch.

    And I can tell you Levi, as far as time constraints, I can empathize with that as much as anyone. I hardly ever post here because of time constraints.

    Claudia I share your vision.

  8. Michael, what a cute Newsweek
    Michael, what a cute Newsweek cover! But really, there’s no contest here. Ebooks will definitely win far more territory than they have now. The only question is: how soon, how much, and who will make the profit from tweaking the current system. It’s not books in print that will disappear (at least I hope not), but the old-fashioned networking system of largely inaccessible literary agents shmoozing with top editors at the four mainstream publishing houses. They are like typewriters in a computer age, awaiting replacement by a newer system. TKG, it sounds like you’re a good and loyal friend to Levi. I’m glad you share my vision. If you have any concrete ideas and the drive to implement them, let’s discuss them. Claudia

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!