At first, Facebook was pretty awesome. I held out for a long time, mostly because I already lived near a bunch of my friends and didn’t need a virtual way to stay in touch with them. But I finally joined when literally every student organization at my school had abandoned the sweaty after-hours classroom scene and was exclusively active online. I wanted to get involved, so I bit the bullet and created an account.
At first, joining Facebook felt like waking up from a nap, the kind where the sun is still shining, birds happily chirping along the treetops, and it’s only, like, two PM, so you still have an entire, well-rested day ahead of you. Here were all of the people I loved in one place, talking about awesome stuff! All I had to do to access it was…NOTHING. It populated my friends from my email account and information just rolled in like a wave, refreshing itself constantly, bringing me more fresh gossip and old pictures. It was a one-stop nostalgia-flooded shop, and I was in love with it all.
After the initial euphoria, though, Facebook started to feel like real life. In real life, managing your interactions with people can be sort of a drag. Initially lured by the fancy promises of nonstop communication with the people I loved most in life, my Facebook experience eventually turned into a sea of blocking, hiding, and otherwise ignoring everyone except for the five people I already talk to regularly. It wasn’t that I didn’t like people; I was just starting to realize that I sort of didn’t have a lot to say to most of them.
It’s possible that I’m just a jerk.
But it’s also possible that Facebook contributes to vast amounts of friendship fatigue, that feeling you get when you get worn out by people simply because you are in constant, unrelenting contact with them. Because something we fail to acknowledge right now is that it’s totally possible to run out of things to say. I used to spend HOURS after school on the phone with my friends, rehashing the entire day we had just spent together, like some sort of live-action RPG of our own lives in real time. The conversation, which generally started with a “who’s dating who” litany of information, generally dissolved into complete and utter silence while we both lazily clicked through TV channels in our respective houses. Eventually, our parents would see us holding a phone in silence and drooling at the TV, and tell us to hang up. But Facebook doesn’t employ any babysitters, and when your parents find your account it’s like the worst thing ever, so I never hung up; I just spun around from one profile to the next, this wall to that wall, not really saying much of anything but constantly feeling the need to be plugged in to whatever was happening.
I keep it pretty close to the vest where friends are concerned. I’m friendly and I smile a lot, so I know that I’m lucky to have a bunch of acquaintances. But there are only like eight people in the entire world I’d call to pick me up when my car breaks down, or that I know would say, “Yes!” without hesitation if I invited them to an impromptu concert on a school night. Why does Facebook want me to call everyone I’ve ever met my friend? Friendship is sacred space, reserved for my one-phone-call-from-jail buddies. I did a really good job of keeping in contact with a few people after high school (before the internet, we just wrote letters and sent them around the world by pigeon or horseback), and by the time I signed up for Facebook I wasn’t feeling any sort of lack in the friendship department. The people I talked to regularly were on there…but so were about 200 people I definitely hadn’t spoken to in a decade, and really didn’t want to. It was fun to catch up with them for about five minutes, but then the reality of how different our lives actually were started to shine through and freak me out a little. For every one of their posts about going to church in the morning, I had one about coming home from a concert at three AM and how awesome it was to have a Double Double In-N-Out burger for breakfast. We had nothing in common—so why force the issue? Can we just be civil to each other and not be “friends”? What are the social politics on Facebook that make me feel like I have to accept and be friends with everyone who sends me a message—and isn’t that totally abnormal?
Facebook also brought a lot of drama into my life. Not that drama wouldn’t exist otherwise, but the immediacy and permanence of Facebook seems to make it really easy to mess up. I forgot to say “happy birthday” to someone once, and they flipped out about it, even though I forgot to wish them a happy birthday for at least four years before I joined Facebook. I accidentally posted a VERY PRIVATE MESSAGE about someone on my VERY PUBLIC WALL, and half of my friends were convinced I was the devil. Someone got mad at me for constantly rebuffing their invitations to join their Mafia Wars gang, even though I was like, “Wait a minute, we don’t even hang out in REAL LIFE, why are you so upset that I won’t be in your FAKE GANG?” It can be difficult to work your way back into someone’s good graces when the evidence of your misstep is in their face every time they log on.
I had a Facebook account for about a year before I finally quit. I think I quit because I wanted something more real and tangible about my friendships, even with the messy and dramatic parts. I don’t think Facebook is horrible; it just totally didn’t work for me, or improve the kind of friend I wanted to be. Facebook sort of flattened me out and revealed everything about my friends all at once, without ranking information in terms of import or surprise. I wanted to be surprised by people again.
When I finally deleted my account, my friendships got MUCH better, and much more intentional. I love talking to my friends! Since I’m not around to read an update every 10 minutes, I actually get to hear some great stories and details when we talk or email one another. I started picking up the phone to call people, and writing them letters—actual letters!—just because I was thinking about them. Even though they’re less frequent, the conversations I have now seem more meaningful without the distraction of Facebook constantly tempting me to write something, anything, about my life. ♦