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I grew up with Facebook. Facebooking is second nature. I do it without thinking, it just happens. I wake up, check my email, click Google Chrome and open up a few tabs, one of which is inevitably Facebook, it’s just a reflex. This Facebook tab stays open pretty much throughout the day. It mostly occupies a role of background noise. A few times a day, I’ll go over to check what’s going on. I definitely used to be more entertained by Facebook, but after being on it for about five years, it’s lost it’s charm.
It seems that everyone (over 30) expects “young people” to be completely comfortable with Facebook and all that it entails; even more than that, there is the perception that young people can’t live without Facebook, that we need to constantly check it, that we need it to socialize, that it is the way we interact. While this may be true for some, it is definitely not the norm.
I first got Facebook in 2006 when I was just turning 18. I remember this because Facebook had opened its doors to high schoolers the year before, but I made a conscious decision to wait until I received my official college email address to setup an account. If I was going to do this whole social network thing, I wanted to do it the right way — Facebook was meant for college students. I was soon to be a college student and I wanted a college Facebook account, not a juvenile high school one. I think I also wanted to make it a college thing, you know, something to additionally certify, along with my college acceptance letter, that I was indeed a college student.
Another reason for why I chose to wait was that online social networking was not something that had ever interested me. I never had a social network account before. I never got on the MySpace or Friendster (remember that one?) bandwagons. I’ve always been pretty shy and reserved and was even more so then as a young girl from the suburbs thrown into a shark tank of a New York City private school. The idea of joining a social network online didn’t really appeal to me — I barely had a social network in real life. I wasn’t about to be that weirdo who never says anything in person but then loses all inhibition online and spills their life story to anyone and everyone. But anyway, by the time I was college-bound, most people my age had Facebook, it was part of being a college student; and I was about to start school across the country at University of Southern California without knowing a single person there, so having a Facebook account seemed like a good idea. It was in some ways a rite of passage, like getting a driver’s license.
I had to quickly get up to speed on managing my Facebook identity. There’s no user manual that comes with a Facebook account, so you just pick it up on your own. I decided not to be one of those “friend collectors” who accepts every friend request, even if it’s from a random stranger. No thanks. Despite my hesitancy, I did find Facebook to be entertaining and even useful at times. It was good for contacting classmates when I missed a lecture, or for inviting a sizable group of people to house parties—it’s a good way to contact people you wouldn’t necessarily want to talk to on the phone or even text. It became a temporary cure for boredom and a vital procrastination tool. I spent my fair share of time exploring Facebook—looking at friends’ new photo albums, investigating interactions between certain friends, searching for an acquaintance and trying to get a feel for them from their profile.
After the initial euphoria, the bad side of this constant and seemingly permanent connectivity began to crop up. This ability to constantly access bits and pieces of people’s lives can lead to bad things, like seeing pictures of exes with new significant others and driving yourself crazy. (I’m speaking generally, hypothetically, of course) The voyeuristic pastimes that Facebook enables and encourages become more and more boring, annoying, upsetting or all three. The worst part is how Facebook makes people fake. You get sick of seeing the many ways in which people package and present themselves on Facebook in order to appear one way or another; or conversely you are constantly embarrassed for people who have no filter, who share too much and want the attention in any way they can get it. And then you realize that maybe you are just as bad for participating in any of it at all, however actively or passively that may be. You start to wonder if you’re doing the same thing.
I have friends who have taken breaks from Facebook, deactivated their accounts temporarily to get away from online drama, or to stop themselves from being negatively affected by all the information that is unnaturally available to them 24/7, or to just “get off the grid.” But it’s always just temporary. Facebook conveniently makes it really easy for you to reactivate your account and get it back just as you had left it.
Facebook has made my generation painfully self-aware, to different degrees and to different effects. We wrote the book on online self-presentation and speak the language fluently. On your profile, you have some Chekov, Pynchon, Franzen, and some Sartre for good measure. TMZ? Probably not. Lots and lots of pictures of yourself, many of which involve you pouting your lips and/or accidentally being caught in a photo in your PJ’s (read booty shorts and tank top) with comments from people like “gorge!” or “damn girl.” Culturally aware? Check. Your status update is: “New Animal Collective—get it.” In the end it all just seems like a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing.
The worst part is I’m guilty too. In the process of writing this article I realized that I still had bands, movies, and books listed in my “Info” section, information I had provided when I first created my profile and probably updated only few times since then. I am embarrassed that I even had any of that up there in the first place, but give me some slack—I was 18 then, about to start college, new to the whole Facebook game and not yet completely jaded by it. I have since deleted all of this stuff from my profile, and it feels good. I don’t want to play into the whole social signifiers game.
Is Facebook to blame for all of this oversharing and posturing, or is it the people who use it? Obviously it’s both. It’s human nature to want to connect and share and have interactions with others, and yes, Facebook is a way of doing this, it’s just not the best way. It’s easy to get caught up in the constant stream of different people’s junk. Do I keep my Facebook tab open on my laptop? Yes. That doesn’t mean I have to always like it.
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