When I left university I deleted Facebook. I made a new one, to keep up with the 20 friends I actually wanted to stay in touch with, but I essentially severed ties with most of my uni acquaintances and the vast majority of people from school. Given how Facebook had inadvertantly forced me out of the closet many times, it was liberating to be anonymous, and even today I’m surprised how far-reaching the effects were.
As I began to more deeply explore my transness, I experimented with a name change. So any of the aforementioned deleted who actually wanted to find me again would be hard pressed to do so. I expected to be cut off from these people, but what I wasn’t expecting was to lose interest in Facebook in general. When you don’t have the 500-friends algorithm pumping out a clickbaity timeline, it’s just not very interesting. I soon stopped going to Facebook entirely, because I found it tedious.
And yet, recently I’ve been forced back on. For my profession, language teaching, many of the discussion and support groups are only on Facebook. Because many teachers are in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, the paradigm is different, and I’m worried that if I don’t use Facebook I’ll miss out on networking opportunities. Many of my close friends use Twitter, but there are those who don’t who I’d still like to remain in touch with, and Facebook is still the best way to do this.
And I hate that so much! I resent being forced to use a scammy platform that sells all my data, when the same discussions would be much more cordial and efficient on another platform. There’s simply too high a switching cost for the majority to move over.
Kids these days don’t even use Facebook. Around half of US teenagers don’t even have an account. They just use Snapchat and Instagram, the latter in particular having become the platform of choice. I don’t get this, either. I don’t like the zombie-like state of scrolling through reams of plumped and pristinified images, and I despise Snapchat’s byzantine design language.
It’s largely a generational thing. People in their 40s and above seem to uncritically love Facebook, or at least have difficulty in removing themselves from it. People of my age, the mid-millennials, while often very critical of Facebook, still use it as a way to keep in touch with friends that they don’t see very often. As awful as Facebook stalking is, without it it’s very easy to simply forget about people who you might otherwise at least keep some kind of relationship with. Of course, often it’s a parasocial relationship, and you’ll never talk to this person again in real life, but it’s still strangely comforting to see their photos every now and then. There’s also the fact that many people use Facebook to make life announcements. I recently found out a friend had not one, but two children, and I had had no idea because I rarely checked the big blue F.
In general, there’s been a shift away from timeline-based social media towards private messaging. WhatsApp is essentially a social media platform now. Facebook and Instagram messengers have taken over text messaging for many people. Discord has seen a meteoric rise in popularity in the last few years. I would be OK with this, except it all came after the death of the blog, on the heels of the death of RSS readers. While I like to hope that hobby blogging is back on the upswing, right now there’s a gaping chasm of genuine, quirky content, and emoji-filled chats with friends will never fill that.
The social media platform I use the most, Twitter, frustrates me in equal measure. It doesn’t reach the datamining heights of Facebook, but its creators aren’t exactly angels. There isn’t a single social media platform out there that isn’t inherently toxic in some way. Open source solutions like Mastodon are a step in the right direction, but as long as they’re imitating tech giants, they’ll never move away from this skeevy socialisation.
So I’m back on Facebook, and I’ve changed my name to my current legal one. I’m curious to see whether people from school will add me. I hated most of them, so it will be bittersweet at best, but who knows? Maybe I’ll even get back in touch with some of them. Maybe.