Yesterday afternoon my wife and I went to see "The Social Network." It was written by Aaron Sorkin, who was the writer of "The West Wing" which I liked, and directed by David Fincher, who did "Fight Club" which is another one of my favorite movies.
Anyways, the movie (if you haven't heard) is about the creation of Facebook, which so many people are obsessed with (for some reason- I have an account and don't really know what I'm supposed to do with it!).
The interesting thing was how Sorkin construed the basic motivation of Mark Zuckerberg (the founder) in coming up with Facebook. The movie starts with him wanting to get into the "finals clubs" at Harvard and not really having a path. The idea of Facebook is to be able to have a social network that is both exclusive and democratic. It's democratic insofar as anyone can join-exclusive in that your own individual social network is made up of people who your "Friends."
Now, the thing is, although Zuckerberg became the youngest billionaire in the world by making Facebook, he didn't do it for the money. His family was already wealthy enough. Also, his rivals didn't go after him for the money. Again, they already had a ton of money. They were wealthy kids who went to Harvard. The issue is recognition. The social network is about mutual recognition of worth as a "friend"- the action of the plot is drive by the war of the characters for mutual recognition. This is why it is such a clever plot.
This is interesting in that is mirrors what Hegel says about the engine of history. According to Hegel, history is driven by the dialectic of opposing groups demanding mutual recognition. It's no accident either that Hegel considered himself to be philosophical outworking of Luther's theology. Now this is certainly false to a large extent. But to this extent it is true. The human creature under sin is at war with the rest of creation and with God to recognize his or her claim to be in the right and recognized. Eberhard Juengel makes the observation that this takes on even the most trivial forms, as for instance when we mentally justify our right to take a particular seat on a bus or subway.
I think this largely explains the importance of social networks for our culture. The exclusivity of the social network allows a technologically new form of self-justification through mutual recognition. Whereas my own self-justification personally takes on different forms (hence, I generally find Facebook a bore), for most people I suspect that this is the reason why it is so addicting. It's a chance at perpetual self-justification online at the click of button.