by Valentin, January 28 2018, in movies

The Social Network and "We need to expand"

I recently watched The Social Network yet another time. I noticed something in the film that I hadn't in my previous viewing.

There is a scene in the movie where Mark Zuckerberg is in a bar and notices that his ex-girlfriend Erica Albright is having a drink with her friends. He goes to her and ask her for a few minutes in private so that they can talk. Erica declines; she basically is still angry about the mean things he has written about her on his blog after they broke up at the beginning of the movie. Mark repeatedly asks for a few minutes of private discussion, in spite of the rebuttals. He eventually abandons and joins his friend Eduardo, who thinks he has done the good thing of apologizing to her (which Mark didn't). Mark, seemingly still frustrated of the scene with Erica, only says:

We need to expand

In my previous viewings, I took this line as yet another random example of Mark switching subjects rapidly, making hard to track what he is thinking about. In my most recent viewing, however, I realized that the reason he suddenly wants to expand is because he has realized that it's impossible for him to talk to Erica in real life, but if Facebook becomes big enough, Erica will eventually become a user of it, and that will provide him with a way of reaching out to her through a medium he's comfortable with. He wants Facebook to expand because he wants it to become so big it's the default way of reaching out to someone, which is a long shot at bypassing his own communication problems in real life.

At the end of the movie, when Facebook has effectively became this big, Mark loads Erica's profile, which, as planned, exists, and sends her a friend request.

This reading of this line gives two important pieces of insight about Mark's state of mind during the movie:

  1. How visionary he is. It must take some grand vision of his own project to see the possibility of it becoming this big in scope and popularity.
  2. How concerned he is about his relationship with Erica. If this whole interpretation is correct, one of the reason he built Facebook was to talk to her. This is also hinted at in the dance-club scene where Sean Parker explains that the original reason he started Napster was to impress a girl. Mark then asks him if he sometimes still thinks about this girl, revealing that he, himself, sometimes thinks about Erica.

There's something weird in considering Facebook as a better way than real life to reach out privately to someone. First because social networks are known to be a place where people don't show their true selves, and second because the data collection from the company itself makes it not so much of a private space. When Mark abandons trying to talk to Erica, she says "and good luck with your... video game." Whatever he's trying to build, and no matter how addictive and popular it is, it's going to be artificial and won't stand up to reality.