Earlier today I video chatted with my college roommate, a random pairing who to this day remains one of my best friends. At one point we ended up talking about Facebook. It came out when we were freshmen in college, the first year we knew each other, living in a tiny, freezing shoebox of a room and dealing with exams and communal laundry rooms and the necessity of reinventing ourselves away from home. We decided as a joke to marry each other (yes, this was back when Facebook only had three relationship options, believe it or not), and through the years and the jobs and the boyfriends we’ve never changed that status. My friend pointed out today that it’s been almost nine years.
Throughout that time, Facebook has changed innumerable times. As have I, I guess. And as the interface of the site has changed, so, too, has its content. Where once I saw stories of drunken hookups and exam stresses, now I see update upon update of engagements, marriages, ultrasounds, and baby’s first fill-in-the-blank. Maybe it started when Facebook became open to everyone—mothers, grandmothers, high school students, bosses—but Facebook is just a different beast now. It used to be exciting, thrilling even, to log on and check your notifications, see who had friend-requested you—and, let’s be honest, to photo-stalk your latest crush.
But as my friend pointed out today, I’ve been on Facebook for nearly nine years. That means—and this is entirely my fault for simply not doing it—that while my circle of actual friends has naturally pruned itself to the people I still care about and want to be in contact with, my virtual friend circle has done nothing of the sort. For some reason it seems childish to “unfriend” someone for such a trivial reason as the fact that you haven’t spoken to them in years (irony intended, in case it doesn’t come across online). So my feed is full of photos of babies whose parents I once took a class with in college…I think? or sat next to during lunch at the sorority house a couple of times.
It has the interesting effect of making me feel both a bit disgustedly superior and a bit ashamed. I know myself, and my values and thoughts are reflected in the people who have become and remain my good friends. These people and I are at fairly similar points in our lives. But my Facebook feed often reflects otherwise. It’s enough to make me want to deactivate my account sometimes, to stop piling on that internal, infernal pressure of ring, poofy white dress, squishy soft babies.
It also speaks to a larger problem, one I find myself considering even as I occasionally get sucked into the whole social-media world. That world relies so much on crowd sourcing, on “individual expression,” even if said expression is just telling the world what you ate for lunch or that you are JUSTSOMAD at your ex-boyfriend. But it lacks—or maybe we ourselves have developed to lack—the necessary filters to make that information meaningful. Facebook makes it easy to see everything, and to comment. But should you? Do we need to make it so easy to share our every thought, our every emotion, as soon as it occurs, to everyone we know (and sometimes people we don’t)? Lord knows I’ve been guilty of it more than once. I often regret it—but I just as often post some stupid joke or amusing headline and don’t really consider how many people will take the time out of their day to read it.
Sometimes it seems like social media makes communication so easy, it’s taking all the meaning out of the word. Just as the definition of “friend” changed when Facebook came along, “sharing” now means something else entirely. I am not always old-fashioned…but it does sometimes feel like the prevalence of social media has led to what can only be described as a plague of oversharing. When being a part of that world is a necessary component of your job, is there a way to curate it, to avoid the endless sonogram photos and inane vague status updates? Can you dip a toe in the pool without falling all the way in headfirst?