Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"The Social Network" Review-ish

So I had a chance to see "The Social Network" the other day. I'll admit that it wasn't a movie that I was really intent on seeing but a Hollywood blockbuster about (of all things) a programmer/website struck me as an odd little beast, so I was somewhat intrigued.

Now that I've seen it I think that It's probably worth at least one viewing by every individual who has ever built a piece of software. That's not because I really liked the movie, though. True, I found it to be an entertaining (albeit highly fictionalized) tale, and the actors do an admirable job portraying their overblown characters. I wasn't a big fan of the way they tried to portray the whole thing as this wild "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" lifestyle, though. I'm sure that there are programmers out there who live like that, or at least want to, but that's a pretty big disconnect from most of the developers I know. To me that whole aspect of the movie felt heavy handed and overdone and as a result it was probably a one-time viewing for me. So while I thought it was a good flick it certainly wasn't my favorite. (I'd easily go see Inception 3 more times before before bothering with this one again).

Anyway, the thing that really struck me about the movie, the thing I think is important about it, is that it is the first movie that I have EVER seen that actually portrays programming/hacking/development almost completely accurately. There's a fascinating monolog at the beginning of the show in which Zuckerberg (the screen version, anyway) narrates some of the steps he's going through to collect pictures for a prank website that he's building. It's a fairly lengthy scene, and shockingly doesn't try to gloss over the technical bits. It's packed with terms like "apache server" and "wget" and "bash shell" and all sorts of authentication odds and ends, and every single one of them is used in the correct context! This type of portrayal continues throughout the movie: Every single computer screen displays real OSes, real sites, and real code running on real hardware (the OSes are even date-appropriate!) They talk about real languages and real algorithms and generally act like real programmers. What a concept!

Of course, a lot of this is just incidental stuff and most of it is done rapidly enough that audience members who don't know their Perl from their Python will simply pass it off as techno-babble and still be able to focus on the story. But for an industry that has long portrayed "hackers" as semi-mystical beings who mash random keys while staring at psychedelic screens and suddenly have access to anything the very grounded and realistic approach taken here is very surprising and refreshing. It's worth a viewing if only for that: to bear witness to the day that Hollywood recognized that programmers were real people.

One final recommendation for the show: The soundtrack is great, and makes for (ironically) great music to code by. But, hey! It's Trent Reznor! Would you honestly expect anything else?

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