[Editor's note: in lieu of the Right Honourable Miserable Shitehawk posting 3,000 word diatribes on how he (yet again) failed to change the life of a hermaphroditic compulsive gambler with a heart of gold and a laugh like a shrieking, legless lamb, we bring you this dysenteric word soup on why quitting Facebook had to happen for one young adult.]
Way back yonder in the year 2005, when I was just a jackass high school senior who had no idea that it was going to take eight years to earn that college degree, a good friend of mine (who had the good sense to have the school district pay for actual college classes rather than taking Advanced Placement classes that did nothing to prepare us for college) was talking about a new website for college students that he had just joined with a stupid name: "The Facebook."
As a denizen of Myspace (shut up, it was 2005, it was still a thing) at the time, I was hard-pressed to see why I would leave "a place for friends" (shut up shut up shut up) for a site that had as its mascot what appeared to be the creepiest young photo of Al Pacino in existence in muted corporate tones. Of course, when he (my friend, not the creepy young Al Pacino photo) pointed out that it was "what all the college kids are using," I shut up and kept checking for access to my college e-mail account so I could finally get into what I assumed would be this mythical college cyber-bacchanalia (I may have had some lofty expectations about many things college-related, in general.) Instead, it was... pretty bland and basic. No HTML customization, interactions were weird ("poking?" What? Man, I already don't get college), and in their FAQs they were actively soliciting employees (some joke-y question about network graphing algorithms that I think I finally just got last fall after a *sigh* social networks class.) Regardless, because it was new and college-associated and kind of exclusive in that manner, I thought it was pretty neat, although I basically did nothing with it all summer until a couple of weeks before move-in and classes started.
Because that was when I started getting friend requests from people I had not yet met – mostly women, but even a few guys (I'm guessing based on musical interests, but who knows) and I mean – was this not college? Was this not the promises and life implied in every glossy-print brochure and magazine photo littered with attractive and diverse backpack-strapped students strolling across autumnal tree-strewn campus walkways in between majestic academic buildings, nay, halls? I mean, or something?
I want to remember what Facebook was like in those days – and I guess I do, a little bit, but it's really pretty hazy. I remember walls being editable by anyone (if I remember correctly, the analogy was your dorm room door whiteboard, but with fewer erasable dongs, or perhaps not, depending upon who you were friends with, etc.), groups were a thing, which rapidly turned into pretty much any sort of thing one with the time to invest might turn them into (a lot of novelty groups, which, COLLEGE, amirite), and most importantly, it was limited to your institution. Seriously. And it was a thing people sorta complained about, but not really. Or at least, that's my recollection. I also remember typing in "thefacebook.com" for a lot longer than when the company apparently owned the actual "facebook.com" domain name. And actually, now I'm even wondering if the school-to-school thing was even an issue at that point, since I'm seeing that friends of mine were posting on my wall in August and I know for a fact they were at different schools. Maybe it was a "by permission" feature, or something. Also: college-only. (For about my first semester, anyway.)
Point being: boy things sure were different back then! Gee willikers golly. [presses submit button, walks outside whistling a jaunty tune] [Editor's note: listen, jerkface, you can't just half-ass it (quarter-ass it?) and scoot off and cash that check, get back here.]
Um. For example. I became friends with three different girls I had never met prior to Facebook. One is still a very dear friend who I never see anymore; the other two were roommates, one of whom, in retrospect, I'm positive had a thing for me and yet I probably came off as soul-crushingly aloof or mildly asexual when, for example, she asked me to come check on her computer (which had nothing really wrong with it: it was September of 2005 and P2P malware was barely even a thing), and then proceeded to hang out, post-shower, in only a towel while I checked it (the computer) over. I don't know, man. Anyway, tell me: is that a thing that would happen now? Like, a complete stranger who happens to be starting school at the same time in a nearby dorm surmises that you have a particular skill and invites you into her dorm room after some wall-to-wall banter? (I submit that it does not, but what the hell do I know.) Actually, what's interesting to me is that for the first three months of my first semester, the majority of my interactions or registered wall posts appear to be from women. I lived in an all-guys hallway, so maybe we never felt the need to post on each other's walls because, you know, we were actually interacting with each other in person on a regular basis. (Unlike these girls, because girls, teeheehee, also, see also: towel story from earlier.)
Look: the whole point of this meandering first part is that, OF COURSE, when I started up on Facebook, it was something completely different – at least, for me, anyway, it was inextricably connected to college and young adulthood and it was a pretty huge part of that formative era of my life. And to some extent, it's been amazing, thanks to Timeline, to be able to go back and actually see that part of my life documented in a way that I never expected or took on in my own right. Hell, a great deal of this written piece wouldn't be possibly, strictly speaking, without the ability to look in on all of that. And yes, I'm sure this beats dragging out old, heavy photo albums and who knows what else in the way of physical memorabilia, or by being able to basically, literally, rehash the text of an otherwise-pointless digital conversation you had with someone when you were 19 that ended up being kind of your go-to inside joke for the next ten years. Fine. These are all good points.
But none of this explains why I should feel compelled to STAY.
About a month ago, give or take, with crunch time rapidly approaching in my final undergraduate semester, I had to restrict my own access to a variety of sites and web portals – because I can't trust myself to have any modicum of self-control and actually accomplish things otherwise. No big deal. I think it was much harder almost two years ago when I first had to do it, but at this point the "withdrawal" symptoms maybe lasted three days at most and in any case I was too busy with "actual" work to really notice. Facebook and Tweetcaster even got deleted from my phone (side note: immense savings on battery life commenced, even on a three year-old Android device, which tells you something right there), just to make sure I had no possible "outs."
What was striking to me was that, about two weeks in, I actually had to THINK about Facebook. (Like, brief exertion of mental effort, but still.) There was no mindless/muscle-memory clicking and typing. Of course, having thought about it, I decided to give myself a 5-minute reprieve to go see what all I was being deprived of while I was being a student of some sort of quasi-diligence.
And it was basically this:
- Shitty Buzzfeed repost
- Shitty highly-biased political re-post
- Whatever unfunny derivative of eCards that's going around these days
- Baby pictures
- Pregnancy announcement
- Promo for a band I barely care about
- Lame attempt at pithy frothing (which is not "pissy frosting" as spoken by someone with a lisp, in case you were wondering, which you were not, but I made the dumb joke anyway)
- Grammatically-poorly-headlined articles about pet causes (sometimes about pets)
- Pet photos
- Your way cool lunch/weekend/vacation/outing/brofest/bachelorette party pictures
- "My life is terrible, __________"-esque statuses
- Re-posts of arguments I'm barely interested in with people I don't know or care about
- Product placement/"__________ likes ___________"
...and so on, random sort, shuffle, mix, lather, repeat, never rinse, get off my lawn, etc. Yes, I know, I've been just as guilty as anyone of a lot of this stuff, so as regards pot-kettle reciprocal nomenclature, roger, affirmative, I get it.
The thing is, whatever dorm/tribal/collegiate shenanigans Facebook used to kind of limit itself to, that's not what it is anymore. I'm not sure what it is, frankly – intergalactic psy-ops, perhaps, wherein we overwhelm our interstellar enemies with weapons of mass drivel? Is there, somewhere, a crack team of papyrus or amphora experts who are recording all this bullshit we have in digital form, to make it easier for the anthropologists of eons to come to analyze (incorrectly) and make wild assumptions about the religious practices of our culture ( WHIRRR WHIRRR BEGIN TRANSMISSION IT APPEARS THAT THEY WORSHIPED NUMERICAL DEMI-GODS OF A RAPIDLY-REPEATING/BLINKING NATURE KNOWN AS GIFS PRONOUNCED JYFES AND LIFE WAS EVIDENTLY TERRIBLE MOST OF THE TIME END TRANSMISSION)?
I can't handle it, man. The people I really, truly want to keep in contact with on a regular basis are not being kept in touch with through this clunky-ass hodgepodge of memes and self-gratifying wankery – and, perhaps not surprisingly, they're not necessarily the ones that are clogging teh tubez (although they're certainly far from blameless in that regard.)
Having just written a research proposal along these lines, I know that social network theories suggest that important ties are usually retained no matter what, but "weak ties" tend to turn over in large amounts and in a relatively short amount of time. I'm suggesting that this is beneficial to us – that there is something to not hanging on to the jackass dudes you pounded Keystone Lights with as 19 year-old, not the least because if they're still doing it they're doing it "ironically" and even then not really because of the common misunderstanding of what the word mea- sorry, I got sidetracked. Point being: you are carrying so much dead weight, and I can promise you that if Facebook did not exist (as it managed to quite easily not do so for, literally, millennia), you'd not for a second volunteer to keep these ties instead of cutting them. That is how life works.
But Facebook doesn't make that possible. It takes more effort to defriend people than it does to remove them from your News Feed, or for that matter, to let them blather on and waste space and your time/attention. And even presuming that you can somehow successfully filter out the noise, is this really how you want to stay in touch with those who mean anything to you?
It's so easy to stay trapped though. We place way more value on our memories and the things and people attached to them than we frequently ought to, so of course you're going to jump at the chance to keep alive any knowledge that you can about that one girl you desperately wanted to fuck at age 17 or the people that you wasted time with in the best way possible when you were 22. There's no real cognitive cost to doing so, so why not keep these ties? And so you stick around and don't change things up and now all of your goddamn photos and hilarious conversations are all in one place and it would just take forever to readjust after leaving it all behind and blah blah blah, because god forbid we acknowledge that there might be more to life than our precious memories and their associated artifacts, right?
The other thing, of course, is that we have all this access to information that we not only never really needed in the first place, but actually having access to that information seems to make relationships far more strained than they would have been previously. I'd like to think I have some semblance of civility in "real life" (I've cut inadvertent crumb/dip/sauce-spilling by like 43% in the past two years alone), such that I'd never feel the need to go on the attack anytime I saw a view I disagreed with vehemently – and yet, I find myself actively detesting certain friends and family members for that very reason, despite the fact that these various ugly (to me) things pose no real threat to my relationship with them. But even fairly rational adults seem to regress into dipshit "me-too" adolescent mode when something they find amusing or agree with passes in front of their eyes and of-fucking-course they're going to "like" it or "share" it when they'd at least have the courtesy to not be douchebags about it in the actual company of other people. (As you can see, I feel slightly strongly about this whole thing.)
In the course of normal, everyday (or in the case of extended family, less than everyday) conversation, these are things that manage not to come up with any sort of regularity and everybody seems to have done pretty well. Oh, sure, we all know/work/drink with that one person no one can really stand because of their continued need to discuss topics of urgent interest (to them) that are otherwise pretty unnecessary to converse over in any sort of "polite" company (a term I can't believe I'm honestly using, but here we are), but the thing is, you get to walk away from the office at the end of the day or the bar at the end of the night or away from their particular hobo corner stand, etc.; Facebook has become so needlessly ubiquitous for so many of us that that choice, for all practical purposes, doesn't exist. Somewhere along the line here, the community aspect of Facebook was lost in the interests of making sure that every aspect of an individual becomes paramount to that everyone else's... except that everyone is acting this way, which only serves to increase the noise even further. Which: whatever, I guess – I'm not here to decry some general narcissism epidemic in society, or accuse Facebook of attempting to forcibly penetrate our mindbits unless you buy my special 2-ply tin-foil hat – but more generally, I don't see any reason that I have to be a part of it. It's as simple as that.
Still, it's weird to just disengage so abruptly and completely, I'll admit it. As dumb as it sounds, after backing up my Facebook "archive" (and "expanded archive," which is more information about your relationship with Facebook than you probably ever needed to know), I was genuinely concerned that even though I had a lot of the originals of my photos up there, I was going to lose a lot of other photos that I had been tagged in, for example – so I spent a couple of hours finding a couple of different solutions to make sure that didn't happen (even though this does not even rate anywhere on the scale of "tragedy," by any means – it's not even within telescope distance of it, for that matter) and even that wasn't enough to keep me from finding another solution to back up all my interactions and messages and posts and the like. In truth, what is the real value of all of it? Because it's not as if I'm constantly referring back to a stupid status and the subsequent 15 comments that immediately followed it for some kind of affirmation; the photos, I mean, okay, it might be neat for my kids to see them at some point (although they will probably be bored with 11 seconds and will be back in whatever stupid virtual world that I'm too old understand as soon their neural implants will allow them to mentally slip away without me noticing) or for me to remember what I looked like with a hairline that had not receded like so much glacial ice, and there's no promise that any of the data backup methods I've taken are going to be any more safe or secure than all that out in the cloud. But that’s how it goes.
There's this interesting (extremely) short story from Jose Luis Borges, which goes as follows:
"In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guild drew a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, coinciding point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography saw the vast Map to be Useless and permitted it to decay and fray under the Sun and winters.
In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of the Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; and in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography."
Basically, the point is made about the map-territory relation: can the collection of all this information about our happenings and existences ever come close to describing or matching the real thing? I mean, at some point, the meta-data about the actual data becomes the focus at the cost of the actual data – in other words, how much are we losing by insisting upon this ever-more-precise records-keeping? How much of our lives become structured and staged with the knowledge that some audience now exists that we must constantly cater to? (Why do I dress for going out with an eye on how many times I've been photographed/tagged on Facebook in it? MAYBE THE SHIRT IS REALLY COMFORTABLE AND FREQUENTLY-LAUNDERED, SHEESH.)
It's an underlying concern that I don't need to carry in my life. I mean, when these things happened, I was THERE. No, I didn't catch everything. I probably missed a lot of things – probably some pretty great things, in fact. And sure, if you want to share them with me, awesome! Narrative is important – I don't deny that. And it's imperfect and incomplete by nature – but holy shit, that is life. It is okay to not have all the answers or even all of the information – it's absurdly arrogant to assume that you could possibly capture it, as far as I'm concerned. I do not cease to exist because I do not exist in a particular place and time or widely-accessible computerized social network. There is life after Facebook, much as there was before it. I'm going to go live it.
So that's it, then. I'm not the first one to address these concerns or throw up these objections – I'm not special for talking about it or justifying it, and I present myself as no sort of hero by actually deleting my account. Facebook doesn't care if I'm gone. That collection of bits on their servers and elsewhere never completely captures who I am, and as soon as it's all overwritten, I will have no made mark on their existence. That's okay – it really is.
So, bye. Yes, I’m really sure I want to delete.