Thirty five years ago, in my third year of ministry in Attleboro, I invented the Dear Friends letter. Well, I didn’t actually invent it – in truth I got the idea from my friend and mentor, Herb Adams.
The idea is that every member and friend of the congregation would receive and old-fashioned letter in the mail twice a month. It would be personal, not preachy. It would help to create a sense of connection between me and you. It was inspired, in part, by the story of the Veleveteen Rabbit – the part about becoming real, which the story says:
“It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
I offer this simple statement and brief review of this letter as a way of telling you my response to the film about the invention of Facebook, by Mark Zuckenberg, The Social Network. Zuckenberg is now the world’s youngest billionaire. The film is based on a book, The Accidental Billionaires. I waited for the movie.
While I felt sympathy for the pathetic Zuckenberg character, I found the film’s story quite disturbing, especially seeing it a couple of weeks after Tyler Clementi’s tragic suicide in response to his personal, intimate life being brutally exposed over the internet.
The film was, of course, meant to disturb, to ask us to think about the morality of big money, the ethics of competition, and the real-life value of friendship. In this regard, The Social Network is highly successful, even brilliant.
Facebook was launched by Zuckerberg in 2004 as a way for college students to connect with each other. The user created a personal page and was able to offer requests for so-calledfriends, and to accept or reject offers made by others – to be a friend. At first it was a kind of exclusive private club since it was open only to those with certain email addresses, beginning with Harvard, then Ivy League schools. Within a couple of years it was open to anyone over 13 and has grown to more than a half billion users.
The film isn’t so much about Facebook but the drama behind its creation, especially about the damage to Zuckerberg’s relationships – damage made public by his attempt to humiliate his former girlfriend by posting things about her on the internet, and damage to his one-and-only actual friend – it was all about money, control and power misused.
The Social Network is a study in character flaws – it’s about the most basic human issues, concerns, hopes and fears. When reviewed in the context of the real-life tragedy of Tyler Clementi’s exposure on the internet and the suicide that followed, it is a warning, a blinking red light that tells us to stop before proceeding further…with caution. Facebook is only six years old, it is wildly popular, and ready to begin classes on appropriate internet etiquette. Real friends don’t come instantly or easily, but they are worth the effort.