The Thin Blue Line

Like just everyone else, I had a Facebook account for god knows how long. For most of that time, I was supremely active on it. I would post funny videos, offer cute quips, share personal pictures. As I wasn’t one of those people who added literally everyone I had ever talked to in my life, my friend count was rather low, hovering in the high-100s They included acquaintances, high school friends, and relatives – the full spectrum of relationships. I would exchange messages, share links on people’s walls, and ‘like’ and comment on posts other people made. I even updated my personal details regularly – including favorite movies and television shows and such – and joined a few groups. Facebook became my go-to page: my wallpaper, my solitaire, my news.

I don’t doubt that I spent more time daily on Facebook than even most people my age. In part because of my personality and OCD tendencies, I was more invested in it than most healthy people. I immediately rechecked content I had posted to see if I had gotten any response, sometimes replacing it to get the phrasing just right, other times deleting it once I was more removed from the situation. I scrolled through my archives sporadically – going back years, removing items that had become broken links, no longer seemed funny, or came off as too self-absorbed or whatnot. I studiously picked photographs from my computer for a “best of” album to share. I remained ever vigilant, and in control of my content.

My discontent with Facebook emerged slowly. As an active provider of content (as a friend once classified me), the general lack of response for the vast majority of my posts became a little frustrating, if not altogether annoying. I was sharing quality material, goddammit, and not getting proper recognition. Did anyone care? The transience of Facebook content offered another challenge. Items that I posted would have the shelf life of perhaps an hour, then be relegated to the abyss of the internet forever. The site’s encompassing feature – a quality I once saw as a positive – now presented a barrier to establishing any sort of noteworthy online imprint. Original content (notes, status updates, etc.) were lost among reposted content (videos, links, so forth).

The growing lack of control over Facebook content became another thorn in my side. It became a chore to sort material on my timeline – both in terms of seeing what other people offered and – especially – in filtering what I wanted broadcast to them. I didn’t want a line every time I made tweaks to my profile details, or every time someone tagged me in a picture. I didn’t want other people to tag me in a picture at all. I didn’t want other people to know the new friends I added the moment I added them. I didn’t want to subscribe to a page for my favorite movie; I just wanted to indicate it was one. I wanted to compartmentalize each aspect of my Facebook profile. But the site kept pushing for interconnectivity. Facebook wanted everything under one umbrella.

With a lot of effort, it was possible to maintain some semblance of control over my profile – to contort privacy controls in a manner that fit my image of Facebook as social networking, versus Facebook’s image. But it seemed like these changes were constant, and every subsequent update would make it that much more difficult to keep up the facade. I blocked notifications from individual games and applications and people. I hid updates from page after page. I minimized the involuntary updates that stemmed from my own activity… though was never quite sure how effective my methods were. It was unsettling. As I became less and less visible, almost inadvertently, as part of the process, I also became less and less active.

But ultimately, the turning point in my relationship with the social media giant had more to do with offline developments than online developments. It was not until I moved across the country that I came to recognize the obvious negatives of Facebook. After all, my years on the site basically represented just one period of my life: my seven+ years in graduate school.* Moving – in real life – entailed all the social consequences thereof. I stayed in touch with close friends, sure, but came to develop a new, separate network in the Northeast: making a small number of friends, and a slightly larger number of acquaintances. It’s the transition I made from high school to college, from college to graduate school.

*I had few college friends, and my presence on the site was essentially exclusive to my graduate school network.

On Facebook, though, things remained stagnant. The vast majority of my Facebook friends were now former acquaintances. They were people who were nice enough, and friendly enough. We had even shared common experiences together, some more than others. But there were reasons why they weren’t the friends I stayed in touch with, why they weren’t the people I considered friends at all. And yet, as the months went by, I was inundated with the details of THEIR lives. I saw more pictures of them than I did of my own family members. I read about their day-to-day occurrences, knowing more about them than I had at any other point in our relationship. I was staying in touch, indirectly, with people I chose not to stay in touch with in real life.

That’s the point of Facebook, I suppose. But because my social network online had always overlapped with my social network offline, I never really quite saw it from that perspective. Certainly, I had an occasional update from a high school friend I never spoke to, or from a former graduate school colleague who had moved on with their life. But these were stragglers, exceptions. Most of my Facebook ‘friends’ were still people involved in my day-to-day life, to varying degrees. And it wasn’t until I moved myself and experienced the jolt in my real-life social network that I saw that differentiation. And as a person who is particularly selective about friends, the anachronistic nature of the Facebook account became more apparent.

As of March of this year, my affiliation with my graduate school formally ended. That social network was now officially a thing of the past. I returned to the area in March and again in August, as my family still lives in the vicinity. And each time, I informed my friends that I would be in town. I was able to meet up and spend time with almost all of them. We caught up, we hung out, we had a good time, as we are wont to do. During my August trip, I stopped by the school, and ended up running into a few familiar faces. These former acquaintances and I exchanged cordial greetings, provided broad sketches of our lives. And then we went about our respective ways.

Many of those former graduate school acquaintances are now ‘connections’ on LinkedIn. That’s the point of that website. Meanwhile, I still keep in touch with my friends. We’re still – simply put – friends. We exchange notes and videos and links and texts and phone calls. They’re my friends, obviously. In my new location. I’m working on developing new relationships, making new friends and meeting new acquaintances. But as of this last week, I permanently deleted my Facebook account. Why? Because I moved on. And after almost a full decade, I finally realized that runs counter to the entire purpose of Facebook.

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