Recently, I saw Social Network at The Lake. Going to a movie theater “by yourself” (odd phrase) is something of a paradox. A theater, after all, is a very public place. You’re sharing the space, and the movie, with dozens, if not hundreds of other people.

Yet viewing a film is a solitary experience, even when you’re with someone (unless you’re with someone who can’t resist leaning over and sharing his pithy insights).

Then again, what distinguishes the silver screen from watching a DVD at home is the ability to leave yourself behind and literally “lose yourself” in another world, a small out-of-the-body experience that film critic Andrew Sarris dubbed “Primal Screen.”

Film viewing also turns us into voyeurs, as we watch simulated lives from a private place in the dark. Being alone in a theater where everyone else is paired up or part of a group intensifies the sense of the solitary.

But as complicated as going to a movie can be, it was even more complicated seeing Social Network, which is the movie about how Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook.

Facebook is the phenomenon of our times, in seven short years exploding to 500 million members. Whatever else you might say about social media, it demonstrates how desperately human beings need to feel connected.

The irony in Social Network is that Facebook was born of Zuckerberg’s inability to connect. Spurned by the woman he desires, socially inept and too smart for his own good, he develops the network of all networks, then holds on for dear life as it takes him for the ride of his life.

According to Wikipedia, “On Zuckerberg’s page, he lists his personal interests as “openness, making things that help people connect and share what’s important to them, revolutions, information flow, minimalism.”

The only thing Facebook doesn’t do for him, according to the film, is cure his loneliness. The manchild (he’s only 26) who got us all to connect can’t connect.

Which is the main rap against Facebook and social media in general. It creates the “illusion” of connection, but in the long run it works against actual encounter. Thanks to the Internet, critics say, we have never been more connected — or more alienated. We internet, you might say, but we don’t interact.

How ironic.

While that’s too simplistic, it’s probably fair to say that though Facebook has changed the world, it hasn’t cured our separation anxiety. At the end of the film, we see Zuckerberg obsessively refreshing his screen hoping for a reply from the young woman who initially spurned him — his object of desire, his Rosebud (to reference another cinematic profile of an isolated media mogul, Citizen Kane).

Meanwhile, I’m watching this along with a hundred other people, most of whom are “on” Facebook.

I feel like a stranger in a strange new world.

Overall, I enjoy my “unconnected” time. I also think it’s healthy. True solitude is something we need. So is genuine intimacy. When you have too much of one, you’re driven to seek the other. Finding a balance is the objective.

With all due respect to the Garden of Eden and the apple (no, not Apple), separateness is our true original sin. Eastern religions would say it’s our original illusion. We’re all connected. We just don’t realize it. We live in a culture that worships individualism even as we find selfishness abhorrent.

We’re confused — and lonely. No wonder we’re such rabid monotheists. God is our ultimate vision of oneness. We pray to be saved from the torturous multiplicities and ambiguities of our earthly existence.

We crave union, sometimes through sexual relations, sometimes through worshipping our particular vision of the divine in church, sometimes through mass political hysteria, and more and more often through the Internet. Our individuality feels like a prison. We long to lose ourselves in something greater — even when it isn’t always good for us.

Blissful, loving union, to be sure, is our dearest wish for the Hereafter.

Which is the next film I plan to see at the Lake Theatre.

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