Thursday, September 30, 2010

Intersection 15: A Geek Tragedy

You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.

So goes the tagline for the movie The Social Network*. Or what one movie website calls “The Facebook Movie”. When I first heard about this months ago, I was the least bit intrigued. Why make a movie about Facebook? Eh?

But when I learned that filmmaker David Fincher and scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin were the creative forces behind the movie, I was most intrigued. The director of Fight Club and the creator of The West Wing taking on the most popular site in the world. Like.

As it turns out, the movie tackles the people behind the social networking giant. Based on the book, it follows the story of Harvard geeks who created a networking site for Harvard students, which eventually became The Social Network Site Of The World. Specifically, it tackles the irony embraced by its very tagline: the site meant for making friends was created by friends who became bitter enemies. As one of them nurtured the utilitarian college site into a phenomenal global site, the others cried foul and brought him to court. And that’s where the drama takes off.

This story reminds me of an earlier battle between the geeks of Silicon Valley decades ago. And of Edison’s patent battles with Tesla and their contemporaries. And of all other similar battles between inventors and innovators. In all of them, the battle lines are the same: I got to it first, not you! Sue you!

I suppose that’s the way things are with inventors and innovators. Every new invention seems to entail a lawsuit from those who claim to have invented it first. While a new technology subsequently collides with the law, the inventors intersect with the law much earlier. The irony is that while the humble geek is protected by the law for his/her efforts, he/she may be pursued with the full force of the same as well. All it takes is one other geek who may have felt wronged by him. Ah, such a geek tragedy indeed.

To quote a now-popular re-imagining of a Bibilical passage:

The Geek shall inherit the earth.

To which I add:

And all the legal issues it brings.

*As you read this, the movie has opened in the US; it reaches our shores later next month.

-- William G. Ragamat

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