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April 15, 2014 / Brittany Hendrick

Seriously, Facebook — you and me, we’re fucking DONE, professionally

a dislikeWhat a nice coincidence! [at the time of starting this post] A new Lefsetz Letter landed in my inbox as I type this. The letter comes at a good time, because I was feeling freakishly alone in my thoughts, until a few minutes ago. It just goes to show the salvation of the Internet: how virtual strangers can unknowingly back you up better than those who interact with you in real life.

I’ve had good fortune connecting with strangers over the course of my “Internet life” (Minus a couple obligatory crazies. Goes without saying.). However, I’ve noticed that same goodwill waning on the non-stranger end. Yes, virtual strangers versus people who know me personally have demonstrated a preponderance of unwavering kindness.

How did this happen? Is it because we don’t use the Internet the same way we did 10 years ago? Is it because any idiot can get online now? Is it because Johnny-come-latelies have to catch up?

Yes. All of the above. And the reasons can be wrapped into one present: Facebook. Which is why, after almost 10 years, I’m finished with it.

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Facebook used to be about connecting with strangers. Networking, it was called, back in 2004, when I signed up for Facebook during my final year at GSU. It sounded like a good idea — a necessity, even, as I would be a fresh graduate in need a job.

Now Facebook is more like middle school, like one big circle jerk made up of the “popular” kids (and those who weren’t popular, but who can now forge their own microcosmic chance at social victory.). And if you choose not to participate in the circle jerk for whatever reason, you’re out. You’re forgotten. You’re the “other.” It’s not them, oh no — there must be something wrong with you.

We need to know you exist the same way we do! What do you mean you don’t want to post 20 status updates a day about stupid shit? What do you mean you don’t want to spend every fucking moment ‘liking’ every goddamn mundane thing just to stay on the radar?! What do you mean you’re not in to the same, exact things as we are?!”

To err from center also means you don’t even get to navigate your own social life — it’s dictated for you by self-proclaimed gatekeepers — or so they’d like to think — who probably never really liked you for being “you” in the first place.

But that doesn’t matter. I have more real friends than I know peripheral gatekeepers. So my social life really hasn’t suffered without Facebook. If I were that afraid of “missing out” on something, I’d reinstate my profile.

And don’t even get me started on privacy. The casualness and “tag-ability” of Facebook has misled people into thinking they can pillage your privacy and publicly post whatever bits of your personal life they please — without your permission!

On multiple occasions, information about me has come dangerously close to being revealed by the hands of others, in their elementary attempts at being cute or clever or whateverthefuck insecure people do to feel better about themselves in front of an audience. 

It’s sociopathic and sick! Not to mention selfish, juvenile and disrespectful.

Oddly, my collection of “stranger” friends feels less like a facade than the “real” people I’ve met in recent years.

Did Facebook do this to people? Did it create poor human behaviors? Or did Facebook merely awaken latent poor behaviors? We’ll revisit that thought, in a bit.

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Today, Lefsetz talks mostly about The Beatles, but he touches on some points that I typed out earlier, before his letter arrived.

Back when I thought the world — and people — were good, I was an unabashed early adopter. Latching on to emerging technology aligned with my personality, curiosity, capability to learn new things, and my propensity not to follow a crowd — all while oblivious to what others thought.

In elementary school, one of my best friends was the neighborhood nerd (what did that make me?). Ian, an older boy, whose messy bedroom I envied against the pink, frilly room my sister and I shared. Ian’s bedroom floor was strewn with LEGOs and K’Nex, a colorful contrast to an otherwise dim “boy” setting. Yet the true beacon of light shined through the clutter, on his desk: a Commodore 64.

Computers outside the school classroom Apple IIe and Mac were not foreign to me. My older brother had a Tandy, a 1985 Christmas present, but it was useless. No one was online yet, much less owned a computer. Students still wrote school essays by hand or typewriter. The only activities my siblings and I did on the Tandy was play knock-off arcade games or type word processing nonsense and either save it to a floppy-floppy disk or print it off the dot matrix for our own amusement.

Ian’s Commodore did all of that and more: it talked.

Oh how we loved to make the Stephen Hawking-sounding machine say “fuck” and “shit” with just a few keystrokes!

I was hooked.

1994, a family friend got Prodigy ISP. It. Was. So. Cool.

1995, my dad got AOL… and, once, I got in trouble for using too much hourly data.

I needed my own computer.

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Shortly thereafter, I got my own computer — an old 386 hand-me-down from the aforementioned Prodigy friend. The tower that started it all for me.

I took a lot of heat for my teenage online activities: bulletin boards (BBS), chat rooms, mIRC, email lists, instant messaging, and learning my way around the world wide web in general.

See, not everybody was doing it. Baby boomers didn’t understand it. And the “cool” kids wouldn’t dare be associated with it. Computers were for geeks. Surfing the web was for losers. That was fine by me, because I was having fun! It was the majority who were missing out.

While the uninitiated were perfectly happy being status quo, my world was getting bigger. Before Skype, I was making long-distance phone calls, free, over the Internet to California, Canada, Ohio. Before LOLCats, I was laughing my ass off to “All your base are belong to us” (“Somebody set us up the bomb!”) and cringing at Goatse in both photo and ASCII form (DO NOT search and click on that).

Today, online participation — dressed up as social media — is an insignificant chore. On Facebook, I’ve witnessed the tool take a sad turn. Now it’s a tool for manipulation, exclusion, revenge, stalking, self-aggrandizement, red herring fallacies, army-building, moral superiority… and false advertising. False self-esteem. False personality. False ethos. False compassion. False relationships. False life.

Facebook is merely a megaphone for the mentally ill.

Now, I don’t have anything against mentally ill people — some truly can’t help it. I’ve studied and read up on a lot of psychology, and I manage the mental health content at my workplace. So if you think my remarks are insensitive or ignorant, put a sock in your own mouth.

My problem is with those who know… or are maybe even obtusely aware… they have a mental and/or emotional problem and refuse to do anything about it, and instead allow their illness to manifest online (and offline) without fuck-all regard for anyone else.

Besides, don’t crab at me for the Facebook-mental illness dichotomy — because it’s already been analyzed and proven, see. Studies are emerging, that correlate social media usage with varieties of mental illness. Operative word: CORrelate.

An assertion from 1987, before all this social media nonsense, best hits the nail on the head: humans have a “possible self” and a “now self.” Facebook abusers don’t even have that — they have a “hoped-for possible self.” You can see, hear, taste, touch and smell the hoped-fors’ desperation through your monitor. You know which people they are.

Nothing is real on Facebook, yet everyone accepts each other’s personal claims as truth — after all, who’s going to question or corroborate what you say? And who’s going to notice when you later delete a post, false or otherwise, to cover your own ass? Everyone else is too busy crafting their own perfect, special snowflake status update — so to receive maximum attention — than to investigate the “truthiness” of yours. Ergo, Facebook is meaningless, and it has made my world feel smaller instead of bigger — the opposite of how the Internet used to make me feel.

Facebook mirrors grade school, except with taller people. It has stunted people emotionally. Underdeveloped child brains in grownup bodies.

So, I’m going to go ahead and say it: I’m too old for Facebook. Why, at 35, would I still be involved in the same fanciful things I did when I was 25? Why don’t I attend frat parties? Why don’t I drive recklessly? Why don’t I skip school? Why don’t I slam tequila shots?

I look to my parents as an example, too, and what they were doing in their 30s. Not fucking around in a puerile fashion, that’s for sure. My parents were bona fide grownups. They seemed to do OK in life. Even now, my dad still hasn’t given two fucks about Facebook; my mom has an account, but, eeehhh, she doesn’t give a fuck, either. Both at 67 years old, my parents can’t be bothered (neither can my older brother), and they still manage to lead full, interesting lives.

The early adopters have moved on.

Even my 15-year-old nephew and his peers have moved on.

So they meet again: the youth and the OGs (original geeks).

We’ve come full circle.

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So, what does all of this have to do with Lefsetz’s letter? He compares the Internet revolution to the Beatles revolution — how it changed the world, bonded people together. There was substance.

Now, thanks to social media, people and relationships don’t have substance… just lonely, pathetic hoped-for selves trying to make hoped-for relationships.

Which brings me back to my “stranger” friends.

Since 1996, I’ve been a member of an e-list, called Texture-l, for a band named Catherine Wheel. Back then, the band was active, we were young and the Internet was still relatively new. Forging relationships with list members was easy, meaningful — all we had were our email addresses. No one knew what the other person looked like. Your education, job and social status didn’t matter — all that mattered was the music.

Some of those email acquaintances turned into real-live friendships. We talked on the phone, visited each other’s cities, attended weddings, and, later, became Facebook friends because we truly wanted to keep in touch — this time with photos!

Now activity on the mailing list is nil, with the exception of a few burps about band members’ birthdays, and when someone finds a rare recording. The band is inactive and we are older. Even some of the memorable list members from back in the day haven’t posted anything in years.

So, when I ran into a dilemma the other night — I had to get my hands on Moose’s Jack EP for an upcoming radio project — I turned to the source of my oldest Internet relationships: Texture-l.

And it didn’t let me down.

A small part of me thought my request would fall on blind eyes — people are too busy to deal with these sorts of things — especially email — or they sold their Moose CDs long ago, or anyone who would have the EP isn’t a list member anymore.

Three people offered me the EP. For a pretty-much-dead e-list, that’s a lot of people.

I’ve never met any of those guys. One I’m Facebook friends with; the second exchanged public emails with me here and there, but we never traded maybe but a couple private emails; the third used to chat with me on mIRC, and I haven’t heard from him probably since 1999. Are we good friends with each other? No. It’s just that we’ve been a part of this thing for so long, almost 20 years. We’re still connected for a common cause.

Those guys’ gestures represented the Internet I knew and loved as a teenager.

So the current Facebook iteration confounds me. People abuse it. People lie to themselves, trick themselves (and others), about the true nature of their self and their relationships with people. It is a brand of dishonesty I’ll never comprehend or even attempt to put into practice. Maybe that’s the old-school Internet user in me.

I preferred Facebook when it was solely a networking tool for college students — it was truth, substance. Revolutionary — just like the Beatles and just like the advent of Internet.

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Netscape Navigator Gold 3.1 (my former favorite browser), Alta Vista (my former favorite search engine), RealAudio, RealPlayer, POP3, IMAP, Lycos, Hotbot, Excite, MetaCrawler, Infoseek, Usenet, chatroom RPGs, flame wars, shell accounts, “nuking”, Web TV, Winamp, Prodigy, LiveJournal, Geocities, Tripod, ICQ, AOL 15-minute timers, Microsoft Works, Linux, Windows 95, and so on.

These things made up the Internet I know. Uncharted territory pioneered by only the youth and those in the know — all geeks, all in it together. It was exciting to participate in, at the consumer level, an era that defined online etiquette, the exchange of information, and connections with people all over the globe.

Oh, and porn.

Photo: Kvarki1/CC-BY-SA-3.0

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2 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Anonymous / Jul 7 2014 9:40 am

    I miss web 1.0. I loved reading this. Thank you for the nostalgia ache.

    Like

    • Brittany Hendrick / Jul 7 2014 5:51 pm

      You’re welcome! And thank you for reading — it means a lot. 🙂

      Like

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