My dad created my Facebook account in 2004.
The fledgling social network was becoming the hot new thing on college campuses around the country. It presented itself as a site where you could gossip and plan parties and find out what you missed in class, all while updating everyone on the details of your daily life, compelling and shallow alike.
And it was closed to everyone except college students with a “.edu” email address — no embarrassing teachers or parents to hassle you online. Cool!
At that time, I was a newly accepted college entrant and had contemplated joining Facebook so that I might keep on top of my uproarious social life, but my technophile dad beat me to the punch, registering an account using my new college email address so he, the curious and unhip adult, could check out “what kids are doing online these days.” After an uneventful 30 minutes of exploring, he came clean, reset the password, and gave me control of my Facebook account.
This odd origin story has coloured my near-decade on the site, making me something of a Facebook agnostic. I recognise and appreciate its utility — you can look up a friend’s address or birthday, for instance — but by and large I could do without it.
Generally speaking, you can throw the Internet at something and that thing gets better. Money plus Internet equals Bitcoin, for instance. Facebook strikes me as the Internet’s take on the phone book. It’s a de-facto service that provides a common foundation for people to find each other.
When Facebook first cemented itself in my mind as “a phone book plus stuff,” it was awesome. The party invitation system? Tremendous. Reaching out to a stranger? Send him a Facebook message before moving to the standard email or text message. I understood it.
But something changed and the phone book got complicated. Now it wants to tell people what I listen to on Spotify. It pesters me for my phone number every time I log in, even though that’s information I intend never to share online. If I attempt to remove myself permanently from the site, it throws up dozens of barriers to prevent this from happening. And it does this in an effort to keep me on the site longer, so that it can make more money by showing me hyper-marketed ads based on personal details as specific as my hometown or birth date.
I got tired of it and deactivated my account earlier this month.
Deactivating is distinctly different from cutting the big cord and deleting your account. Facebook still retains my data, friends can still tag me in pictures, but I no longer show up in searches and have for all appearances deleted my account. If and when I want it all back, I just need to log in. Deactivating would be my way, temporary or permanent, to reassess how I communicate with people online.
And you know what? A month later, my life without Facebook is largely the same as it was with, except I’m no longer devoting mental energy to reading about acquaintances from high school getting married or scrolling through lots of pictures of friends’ vacation meals.
Only one speed bump of note comes to mind — I missed a work-related happy hour that had been coordinated through Facebook. But that was it. I was otherwise spending my time doing what I wanted to do with who I wanted to be with. Facebook wasn’t even a calculation anymore.
My frustration with Facebook seems to stem from the way people use it. Because it’s a platform that puts everyone in front of everyone else, it’s subtlely turning communication into performance art. The temptation for one to act as his or her own publicist and post content to Facebook that “shapes the narrative,” so to speak — he’s a successful businessman, she’s an incredible long-distance runner, etc. — is so strong that we’ve all done it at one point or another. Left unchecked, this feels disingenuous at best and dangerous at worst.
In severing ties from the blue-and-white social Goliath, I put myself in a position where the only online interaction I had was that which I made happen for myself. There was no Newsfeed to watch tick by, no social content for me to consume passively. I was now really big into one-on-one email. And when you’re emailing one-on-one or in a small group, you’ll find you’re much more honest, direct, and drama-free than you would be otherwise, passive aggressively posting things to Facebook that you hope so-and-so sees.
It’s the difference between putting up a billboard to sell a notion of yourself to others and writing a letter to a friend.
No one really gave me a hard time for jumping ship. There were mild “you’ll be back, Love” tongue lashings administered over the site when I posted that I’d be quitting, but never once did this spill over into the physical world. I still felt connected to my social groups because any parties, outings, or other plans always ended up trickling down to me verbally. And I was still maintaining an active Twitter presence, so I could still get my digital mainline of news from friends and others.
I imagine that I’ll return to Facebook eventually, but when I do, I will aggressively pare down my friends list so that it more accurately reflects my day-to-day community, the people who are actively in my life instead of the familiar strangers I used to know.