My relationship with my Facebook account has come to resemble an unhappy marriage. It all started off so well: everything was fresh and new, there were always new features to discover, we were poking each other three times a day. Gradually, however, things began to get a little stale; a bit…samey. Cool, you had a really healthy salad for your lunch – looks great. Oh, you ran 5 miles before I even got out of bed and have the abs to prove it – good for you. Wow, are you and your boyfriend the most loved-up couple in the world? I think you just might be!
I had been in denial about our floundering relationship for a while, but things finally came to a head around Christmas season this year, when Facebook’s Most Smug came creeping out of the woodwork en masse to remind us all that real life doesn’t look as flawless without a filter. Suddenly, I was blinded by a barrage of perfectly manicured hands, all adorned with a beautiful ring and brandishing that catchphrase that we cynics have grown to abhor so very much: “he asked and I said ‘yes’!”. My timeline had turned tens of unique, interesting people into carbon copies, all trying to one-up each other in the happiness stakes.
It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, while having dinner with a friend that it dawned on me: Facebook and I were on the rocks. We were discussing the bizarre advent of tools to drag the past up at every opportunity: Throwback Thursday, Time Hop, Facebook Stories. Each one hell-bent on reminding us that we used to unnecessarily abbreviate every word, chronically over share, and make borderline offensive quips for the ‘lol’s (those same ‘lol’s that punctuated every one of our sentences in 2007, apparently). The conversation led me to look back through statuses I had posted over the years, and question for whose benefit they had been. My toes curled as I saw my 21 year old self wading into political debates I knew nothing about, competing for ‘likes’ and posting music videos that had been intended to impress someone or another. Was there a time when we were able to make decisions without an audience? I, for one, would probably have achieved a lot more had I spent less time worrying about which filter made me look most tanned.
Like an unhealthy relationship, Facebook forces us to put on a brave face. We need to be seen to be visiting the most exotic places, hanging out at the coolest parties, and living life fuller than anyone else. Keeping up with the Zuckerbergs. Nothing says “my life is fulfilling” quite like daily posts about quinoa-based lunches. Nor “my children don’t define me” quite like a profile photo featuring them and not you. And nothing says “I don’t take myself too seriously” quite like an album full of selfies. Worse still, Facebook brings out qualities in us reminiscent of the most damaging relationships: jealousy; narcissism; envy; obsession. We stalk our exes, passively aggressively de-friend, and start to believe that we truly know people we’ve never met. There’s nothing more awkward than greeting someone as though you know them, only to realise that your sole basis for knowing them was an evening of prolific Facebook stalking. But maybe that was just me. Last month. With the ex of my ex who didn’t know me. In Tesco buying wine, while clothed in full Indian dress. Except, you know what? She probably knew exactly who I was, because we’ve all done it. In the words of my friend: Facebook shows you parts of your life that you would otherwise be blissfully oblivious to in the real world.
This is the part where I should qualify all of this by saying that I am henceforth deleting my Facebook account and cutting all ties once and for all. But I’m not going to do that. Underneath all the anger and frustration, Facebook and I have had some happy times together. It totally had my back the time my camera broke and the only physical memories left of my 2-month holiday were the photos that I had been uploading as I went along. It allows me to stay in touch with friends all over the world, letting me stay a virtual part of their lives. It has helped me to build a network of couches to sleep on in almost every continent, and a combined knowledge-base that means I will always be able to find a decent bar in any city that I visit. On a regular basis I get to read the musings of people far more intelligent than I am on subjects that I should know more about, and occasionally I get to wade in on their conversations. Then there was the time I regretted not giving that person my number but was able to track them down, private investigator-style in about a minute (but unless you’re ‘Facebook offish’ it doesn’t count, right?). And sometimes, beyond all the clichés and enhanced photos, I get to witness genuinely happy moments in my friends’ lives.
We’re trying to work things out, but – like any relationship – there are peaks and troughs. There seems to be a common theme among my peers, which is a renewed sense of the importance of privacy. Maybe we’re on the verge of going full-circle and coming back to more traditional, tangible social values. It’s great to share, but some things are so much better in the flesh. The best friends are the ones sitting next to you, not the ones half-listening to your stories while they compose a status about how much fun you’re having.
Maybe one day someone will invent a meter to show everyone how much fun we’re having in real life. Until that day, there’s a cleverly designed, self-deprecating status with my name on it.
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