It was nearly midnight and I’d finally finished studying for my last final exam. My best friend suggested grabbing a late-night dinner, but—bleary-eyed and tired after a week of final exams—I settled for the easier route: Chinese takeout and Facebook.
Catching up with my friends over Facebook felt infinitely easier than dragging myself out at midnight. Yet as I stared at my computer and scrolled through the various statuses (mostly humble-bragging or expressing some form of self-righteous political outrage), my mouse drifted away from the statuses and towards the “deactivate” button. I was, it seemed, on the brink of committing social heresy. For a moment, I felt free.
I chickened out. After clicking “deactivate,” Facebook asked if I really wanted to delete my account. “Your 1,260 friends will no longer be able to keep in touch with you,” it said.
This was Zuckerberg-ish for: “You’ll become a huge loser if you quit.”
My first thought as I gazed at the pictures of the friends who would allegedly miss me if I deserted Facebook was that this was all nonsense. Half of the pictures were of Facebook “friends,” not true friends. What’s more, I don’t and didn’t have 1,260 friends, but more like 30 or so. Deleting Facebook wouldn’t keep these people from speaking with me … would it?
Alas, Facebook won this battle. I would remain in Zuckerbergia. The anxiety-provoking thought—If I delete myself, won’t people assume I blocked them? (The horror!)—was simply too much. I liked a few statuses and went to sleep.
This all sounds dramatic, I know. Facebook’s just a tool. If I hated it so much, if I’d grown so tired of the statuses, the likes-driven competitions disguised as real conversations, I should have simply left? Right?
Probably. But I failed to quit Facebook because I felt like my Facebook “friendships” were actual friendships of a sort. Even those I barely knew represented people who could soon become true friends, if only I spoke to them more. Deleting Facebook would have meant deleting countless opportunities for new, true friendships—for the transformation of acquaintances into real-life companions.
While I didn’t delete Facebook, the gap between how many of my Facebook friends were actually friends versus how many were mere acquaintances struck me with some force.
Facebook shaped how I saw acquaintances I’d met only once. Yet, unlike deep friendships—where we know and accept our quirks and passions and flaws and manners of speech—many Facebook “friends,” some of whom I did in fact message a decent amount, seemed … incomplete. I didn’t know them, and they didn’t know me.
Our perceptions of one another were filtered, watered down, and presented in a neat little package—not unlike a political candidate at a national convention.
Facebook clearly has its benefits. But a part of me yearns for a (dimly remembered) time when we were more than the sum of our Facebook profiles’ parts, when there was more of an element of mystery to other people, when there wasn’t such pressure to package ourselves into flawless boxes. A part of me still believes that Facebook friends should be friends first and Facebook friends second.
And that if they are Facebook friends first, then they really aren’t friends at all.
Originally published, in different form, on Huffington Post. Republished with permission.
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