The Social Network and our millennial audience

Movie Week at Exploring College Ministry continues…

Most everything about The Social Network is successful, but its real achievement stretches beyond the Facebook story. Decades from now, when we’ve all forgotten what Facebook even was, The Social Network will still tell us what it was to be part of the generation sociologists are calling the Millenials.

-from Alissa Wilkinson’s Christianity Today review of The Social Network

I wholeheartedly agree with Wilkinson (although Facebook could have more staying power than she imagines). And not only does The Social Network masterfully reflect the Millennials / “Gen Y” in the story it recounts, but it also does so in the way that story is presented.

As I argued last week, pondering these things is great exercise for any of us with Millennials in our audience. For us who are college ministers and youth ministers, they are our audience – and the young adult ministers are gaining more and more each year, too. [To see my specific thoughts on The Social Network and college ministry, click here.]

Currency is currency

One of the first things I realized while watching Social Network was how recently these events took place. It seems almost uncomfortable to watch a recounting of world-changing events (they were, after all) that began only seven years ago. Sure, movies and TV shows and newsy retellings of recent events aren’t uncommon. But Facebook is so enormous and yet still feels so young, with an evolution that still feels so as-we-speak, that having its “creation myth” on the big screen already was striking.

But for Millennials, I imagine it’s less so. They appreciate currency, up-to-the-minuteness. The online world in which Generation Y lives is a current world, fast-moving to the point of nausea. They can catch the newest news online, then return in a few hours for all the still-newer news. Facebook itself provides one of the most obvious currents of currency through its status updates – which cleverly are mirrored onscreen in the film itself. Millennials live updated… and they like it that way.

It makes all the sense in the world for Aaron Sorkin to pen the dialogue in a movie about Facebook; only his brand of quick, snappy back-and-forth would rightly mimic what happens on the newsfeed of your average Millennial Facebook user.

Connection is the crux

Interestingly enough, when there isn’t this sort of rapid-fire “connecting” taking place (either virtually or in-person), the remaining “real life” is slower. The scenes we’d expect to be the most active – wild college parties, sports, running across a college campus – actually provide comparatively serene interludes between this movie’s busier talkative moments. (Making the point all the more explicit, the parties and athletics are actually shown at points in slow motion, juxtaposed with the rapid technological advances happening elsewhere.)

So whether in-person or technology-aided, interpersonal connections are the crux of this movie; chatting with a girl, plotting with classmates, gaining an audience with the head of Harvard, even legal depositions – these are the exciting parts of this movie.

Millennials thrive on this sort of connectivity, having access to what everyone in their own world is doing or blogging or thinking… and allowing hundreds and thousands to have access to their own lives, too. “Private behavior is a relic of a time gone by,” the movie remarks, and it’s right – at least for the bulk of the Millennial generation.

Technology isn’t an “extra”

While the face-to-face moments are this film’s meat, it’s ultimately a movie about a technology that changed the world by broadening those interpersonal connections and making them easier at the same time. And this innate technological bent, of course, is Millennial, too; the movie makes it clear that there was pervasive technology – the movie notes MySpace, Friendster, Live Journal, and texting – long before Facebook came around.

Further, even the subject matter should cause us to take note, as Justin Pasternack writes:

On paper, this is a big Hollywood movie about a website. Acknowledge how strange that is, but then remember that it is increasingly on websites, and on Facebook, that we live. Once, we inhabited farms, then cities, Justin Timberlake’s character says at one point. “And someday,” he proclaims, “we’ll be living on the Internet!”

Facebook fit a generation already primed to live life online; as the first Millennial collegians made their way through college, this site gave them the chance to do that like never before.

to be continued… right here


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