Monday, October 4, 2010

The Social Network

Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network © Fox Searchlight

I’m going out on a limb here, but let me just say it: You need to see the movie “The Social Network.”

This is a film about Mark Zuckerberg, a young man played by Jesse Eisenberg, who creates the Facebook application on the Internet. Facebook allows you to post information about yourself and others, and share it with people of your choosing. The application is both welcoming and open while still being intimate and protected.

The movie, written by Aaron Sorkin and based on the book by Ben Mezrich, tells the story of Mr. Zuckerberg creating his application and posting in on the Internet. It starts with the program being restricted to just the students at Harvard University, and ends with it being available worldwide. In the process, Mr. Zuckerberg finds he has generated an asset worth billions of dollars, hence the name of Mr. Mezrich’s book: “The Accidental Billionaires.”

It’s a fascinating story, and affects each of us in different ways. Film critics see it as a story of intrigue in the digital age. Bloggers look a little more deeply. Some see it as a story of social upheaval. I see it as a celebration of something special.

That “something special” is the transformational achievements that occur when individuals pursue their dreams without compromise. I see people like Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, through this lens.

Mr. Gates had a dream of bringing mainframe computing power to individuals everywhere. This was not through terminals connected to mainframes, but through individual devices: “personal computers.” He developed an operating system to do this, and drove a complete industry along the path of his vision for several years. In the 1990s, Mr. Gates knew with certainty what was going to happen to the small computer industry in the next year, and had a pretty good idea of what it would look like three years out. He set a new industry in motion, and his vision and accomplishments were “something special.”

You get a sense of that in “The Social Network” movie. Mr. Zuckerberg has a vision that drives him relentlessly. People try to turn him from that vision no matter where he heads. At one point in the movie, he meets Sean Parker (founder of Napster and played by Justin Timberlake) who seems to understand the direction Mr. Zuckerberg is heading. You can feel Mr. Zuckerberg revel in the validation: “Finally, someone who gets it!”

We know that there must be “something special” going on, because our culture handsomely rewards the individuals associated with Facebook. But there’s something more.

Our culture often diminishes transformational accomplishments. Mr. Gates was scorned by competitors and subjected to antitrust litigation. Even though the world was dramatically changed as a result of his work, not everyone was happy. (For the record, the Internet and this blog are grateful.)

I’m now thinking about another transformational event that occurred over 200 years ago. It didn’t immediately create fantastic wealth and still doesn’t seem to earn much admiration and respect, but it was transformational.

It was the crafting of the United States Constitution and the creation of the American Republic.

The concept is still being tested. There is by no means universal acclamation that this was “something special.” However, I think people would have to agree it was transformational. It put in place a model for governing that elevates individual rights and secures freedom. It is constantly under challenge, and yet remains a beacon for others around the world.

Our Founding Fathers took great risks. They knew they had a vision of human governance that broke with tradition, and they were determined to give it a chance. We now enjoy the benefits of their foresight.

Let’s celebrate those people who have the vision to create “something special.”

UPDATE 10/6/2010:
Scott Johnson at Power Line draws our attention to an article by Michael Barone.  Mr. Barone describes our current political debate as "an argument between the heirs of two fundamental schools of political thought, the Founders and the Progressives."

I think I captured the mindset of the Founders pretty well in this post.

UPDATE 10/8/2010:
If you'd like to see a nice exposition of the Founders argument, take a look at this video by Bill Whittle.

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