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The Social Network That Made Me Sick

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On Saturday night, I saw a lonely young man who was under a great deal of stress. He was scruffy. He wore a hoodie. He looked dazed. He looked confused. And to be absolutely honest, so was I.

It's hard to think when guns keep going off, when you are, in fact, in the middle of a terrorist attack, but you're not quite sure what it is, and you're surrounded by people who are dressed for The Apprentice and some who are dressed for The Wire. Perhaps it's not surprising that when the babe comes along, you talk rubbish and screw up. Next thing you know, she's topped herself. Either that, or she was pissed. You liked her. You really liked her. Your mum's a slag and your stepdad's a wanker, and now the girl you love is dead. You don't know what to do. Do you take arms against a sea of troubles? Or do you try to end them?

At least I, while worrying that there wasn't going to be an interval, or, in one of the world's liveliest capital cities, somewhere to get a drink when it finished, which was clearly going to be very, very late, and thinking that it was very nice for the middle-class audience to have their subsidised Saturday night entertainment uncut while other people were being thrown out of their homes, and particularly for those of us who got our tickets for a tenner, could gaze down at the slate tiles on the stage and think how lovely they'd look in my kitchen. Poor Hamlet didn't have time to look at tiles. He had an awful lot on his mind. But he did make a terrible hash of things. He didn't have too many friends to start with, but by the end nearly all of them were dead.

On Sunday night, I saw a lonely young man who was under a great deal of stress. He was scruffy. He wore a hoodie. He looked dazed. He looked a dork. And, it turned out, he was a dork. He was also, according to the girl who dumps him in the opening scene, an "asshole". He was an asshole and a dork for whom anyone who has ever been on a terrible date, with a man who stares weirdly into the middle distance and appears to think that conversation is a peculiar and slightly disgusting female condition, a bit like periods (and some of us have notched up more of these dates than other people have friends on Facebook), will have struggled to muster any sympathy.

It was, for example, quite hard to feel sorry for him even when he was being dumped, which is unusual, because most of us have been dumped and know that it's not very nice, and most of us haven't driven our lovers to a watery grave or turned a family entertainment into a bloodbath, but can still look at the young man who has and think, while longing for a glass of Sauvignon, that it's a shame. It was very hard to feel sorry for him when he was firing off messages into the ether about the size of his now ex-girlfriend's breasts, and when he was knocking up a little website, as you do when you're a bit fed up, comparing her, and other women, with farm animals. It was extremely hard to feel sorry for him when he decided to post, on this website, a picture of his ex-girlfriend, and place it next to a picture of another girl, and invite a bunch of strangers to say which of them was, in contrast to the heart of the man who sent them out, "hot".

And it was pretty much impossible to feel sorry for him, or pleased for him, or any kind of human feeling for him, as his humiliate-the-bitch website metamorphosed into Facemash and then The Facebook and then Facebook, and a phenomenon which made millions and then billions and lost him the only flesh-and-blood friend he had. (This was a young man who found too, too solid flesh just way, way too scary, which may be why he has trained half a billion people on the planet to describe people they've never met as "friends".) But dorks, to paraphrase another young man whose brand attained global reach, will be with us always. It wasn't the dorks who made me want to leap under the nearest willow tree and into the nearest brook. It was the whole damned caboodle: the clever dickery, the snobbery, the preppy prissiness and the screaming, stomach-churning, nausea-inducing, and apparently universal, contempt for women.

If you thought it was a bit embarrassing that the man now running our country, and the man who has just announced cuts which will make poor people much, much poorer, and the man running the capital city which is about to haemorrhage many of those poor people to places where they will not offend the sensibilities of passing rich people, chose as one of their chief undergraduate recreational activities a club where you have to wear a uniform that costs the same as you get in four years of child benefit in order to have dinners in places you then trash, you don't need to worry any more. Because the students in the film, which is based on a book, which is based on something that still, in spite of the characters' apparent allergy to it, exists and is called real life, and are at a university widely regarded as a factory for future world leaders, would make the Bullingdon boys look like Gandhi, or perhaps, though I admit it's quite hard to imagine, like Andrea Dworkin.

These students were flouncing around their "final clubs" at Harvard not 20 years ago, when our own dear leaders were out-hooraying each other in mustard waistcoats and blue tails, but seven years ago, when their president, who was educated in a similar place, was launching a war on a faraway country of which he knew nothing. They were, if the film is accurate (and since Aaron Sorkin is pretty much the Shakespeare of screen-writing, I think it probably is), very keen to have semi-public sexual intercourse in wood-panelled rooms, or sometimes toilet cubicles, with girls specially bussed in for the occasion on a new form of not-quite-public transport called the "fuck truck". It's possible that a girl who was particularly skilled at, say, fellatio, might be elevated to the position of hysterical girlfriend, but not possible that a girl might be skilled at, say, a project or an idea.

More than 400 years after an English actor wrote a play about a young man in a crisis, a play that spread round the world like a virus, or perhaps like an online social network, a young man changed the way that 500 million people in the world conducted their relationships with each other. He did it because he was dumped. He did it because he liked his girls "hot", but his lifestyle "cool".

Our future is being shaped by young men who like their lifestyle "cool". They are forging a culture in which words are things you vomit out onto a keyboard, because without the keyboard, and the screen at the other end of it, the words are worth nothing, and one in which an experience isn't real until it's been ratified by a photo, or a tweet, or an "update" that your "friends" can consume and gasp at. It's a culture of showing off, a culture of soliloquy. It's the culture of the geek who can't get the girl.

There's nothing wrong with a soliloquy, though it does help if you know you've got a nice glass of Sauvignon lined up for later, and it does help if the words in it are good. But words, like eyes, are only windows to the soul. What they can't hide is a smart-ass or an asshole.