I saw The Social Network again last week — the first movie this year I saw twice in the theater.

On second viewing, you notice how often the movie answers questions across a cut (such as in the overlapping depositions) and how often people run across a campus, or up a flight of stairs. For subject matter that might seem well-suited for a play, the filmmakers were determined to never let it feel like one.

Reading Lev Grossman’s profile on Mark Zuckerberg for Time, it’s clear that the actual guy isn’t quite the character portrayed in the movie, particularly in terms of his social skills and motivation. That’s not a criticism at all; I’m sure the actual Henry V wasn’t much like the character in Shakespeare’s play. In both cases, I’m happy the writer’s first allegiance was to the audience’s enjoyment.

Beyond its rounder, softer profile of Zuckerberg, what I appreciate most about Time’s article is its concise description of what makes me uneasy about Facebook in its current form: the binary definition of friendship, and unified version of identity.

Facebook runs on a very stiff, crude model of what people are like. It herds everybody — friends, co-workers, romantic partners, that guy who lived on your block but moved away after fifth grade — into the same big room. It smooshes together your work self and your home self, your past self and your present self, into a single generic extruded product. It suspends the natural process by which old friends fall away over time, allowing them to build up endlessly, producing the social equivalent of liver failure. On Facebook, there is one kind of relationship: friendship, and you have it with everybody. You’re friends with your spouse, and you’re friends with your plumber.

In the seven years I’ve been running the blog, I’ve noticed the online version of myself drifting closer to the “actual” version.1 But there is still a difference, and that’s deliberate. Even though this site has my name on it, it’s still a fairly controlled product: a ton of useful information on screenwriting. You’re getting the screenwriter John August, not the Eagle Scout, the cook or the Real World/Road Rules Challenge completist.

I mostly write about screenwriting and the film industry. When I do go off-topic, I generally put it in the Off-Topic section or flag it as Random Advice.2 But I’m not an absolutist. It’s my blog, and I write about the things that interest me. When I see complaints about articles that don’t concern screenwriting, I happily offer readers their money back. (Oh, wait.)

Profiles in ambivalence

I’ve found it harder to decide who I am on Facebook. Am I the writer of this blog, the sponsor of a Malawian charity or the guy who went to Fairview High School? While they are physically the same person, their social worlds barely overlap. Screenwriting students don’t want to see vacation photos from Ohio, nor do I want them to.

I could limit Facebook to actual friends. Granted, “friend” is a slippery definition, but I might define it as someone I’d be glad to connect with at a moment’s notice and happy to hang out with for several hours. College and high school friends, whom I see rarely but would like to see more, would still fit nicely in this box.

The trouble is, actual friendship isn’t always so reciprocal. Am I hard-hearted enough to deny a friend request from my college roommate’s wife?

For the time being, I’ve decided to limit Facebook to “people I know in real life.” While that’s a fairly low bar, it seems to help cull the numbers a bit.

My Twitter account, on the other hand, is come-one-come-all. Anything I tweet is open for the world to see. It’s less specifically about screenwriting, but still a version of Work Me. I’m circumspect about revealing much personal information, like travel plans or dining companions.

I’ve enjoyed meeting folks I follow online in real life, though it’s awkward to decide on levels of familiarity. I hugged Melanie Lynskey, but then, LA is a hugging town.

The most unnerving aspect of both Facebook and Twitter is following people you know well. It’s odd to learn about your husband’s day through a status update, or watch a friend take an odd side in a political discussion.

In real life, we carefully tailor which topics we discuss with which friends. Particularly on Facebook, that’s hard to do. We’re forced to be one person to more people. That affects what we say, and may ultimately affect who we perceive ourselves to be.

  1. I’m sure a CS student could write a script to compare my usage of “me” and “I” over time.
  2. I set up a Posterous blog to handle longer-form musings, but haven’t yet used it. I’m not sure I can split the streams any further.