While attending what my elders called “voc-tech “in the mid 2000s, Facebook was just getting started. I was invested in this crazy idea called “Office Systems Technology”, believing some monogrammed slip of paper would seal my humble employment as a file clerk. I went into the small bookstore. It was due west, left of the stairs leading to the second floor of Louisiana Technical College. I met “Timothy”, a standard run-of the-mill WASP, with black hair.
If I squinted enough, he appeared almost Greco-Roman. Timothy, medium-height loomed proudly over a too short banister where the computer and cash machine were. Immediately, I worried that any questions I possessed might pull him out of the zombie-stare he levied at his Dell Notebook computer. He seemed infuriated or at least troubled given the deep lines in what I could make of his expression. I prolonged my concerns as long as I could. After abandoning the notion I anxiously omitted something, I gathered what I could confidently find and ambled to the place where he stood, bracing for what might be a hastily peppered conversation.
We’d get into this odd chat about some network that supposedly connected students that were in colleges across the country. Then, my school issued vouchers for textbooks. While he processed my order, he’d turn his computer screen tell me that his college was already connected with Facebook. I’d learn later that my institution was too small and too lesser-known to become “friends” with him or his school.
I did eventually gain the opportunity to join Facebook sometime around 2007. Then, the idea of friendship over the web was re-invented and exciting. Not long after, I met an aspiring singer and musician affiliated with my local community. Before that time, Facebook friends were family members, former teachers, school acquaintances and regrettably, romantic crushes. When Facebook popularized the concept of a WALL, the place where users could stick almost any social detritus imaginable, we all became fountains of reaction.
When users were cross with their exes, the “WALL” was the perfect Pink Floyd trope. We all loved using our walls to make personal statements. We’d have elaborate conversations (comment trails with blue thumb iconography symbolizing user support) with each other paying no mind that Facebook stood to profit from our tattered, torn, happy feelings and flops. When we “liked” something, it was extremely important on our “WALL”. When we hated something, our WALL was our greatest sponge of a post-it-note. Every experience became “another brick in the wall”. And because we were addicted to logging on we did not truly care what Facebook did with our stuff. Posting things to the wall became as ubiquitous as brushing our teeth. We’d tell our friends about every television program, party favor, and erupting tantrum. “The Wall” was Facebook’s first water cooler for people with too many words to contain in their brains. From my perspective, Facebook did effectively replace the AOL chat rooms of my high school youth. I just got flooded with positive energy in my pleasure center as I clicked to see things I typed, instantly appear on the internet.
After the popularity of the wall, Facebook began marketing “the feed”. “The feed” was a turbo version of the “WALL” concept that allowed users to see their “friends” buzz-worthy accomplishments in real-time. With this information, Facebook hoped “feeds” would encourage us to travel “our friend ecosystem” to spy on what other users we obsessed over were doing.
The concept, much like the WALL, was a more modified effort to drive users to continue logging on. As a more immersive cousin than the “WALL”, clicks and words were driven by user interest rather than user posts. The old Facebook had once relied on the amount of posts per hour or per day. If a user wanted friends, (users chain-linked to nearest and dearest users), posting on the ‘brick wall” or hoisting up some encouraging or disparaging words, drove traffic. Now came this “feed” and with it an arsenal of intricate, laborious, confusing, lists added over time. Facebook believed that giving us the power to prioritize who and what we saw was the perfect carrot to get us to stay with them.
More time went by; I began noticing that the feed made Facebook a less than inviting place. I thought posting would allow those I chose to see my posts when I wanted them to notice. Facebook’s network did not think I should have that choice. Over many months and years, I noticed the gulf between the times I shared material versus the time users tried to care.
I started to think that maybe the content I posted was not worthy enough. I began linking my profile with a blog I started. The linked relationship, over several months did not change my traffic numbers in the slightest. I tried posting more positive information. I shared interesting musicians and their songs consistently over the course of even more months. I linked my profile to colleagues and mentors that I respected. I shared news articles and published books that I thought were impactful to millions of people. And those millions relied on Facebook as a cross-platform “people aquarium” is it was. By now, King Gaming profited well from these people aquariums: fully interactive webs of users across the world teaming up to solve puzzles, play cards, answer trivia, and win rewards. We could get the illusion of teamwork, with King’s Candy Crush to interact with other users. We’d never have to see them. We’d just know they were somewhere in another part of the world conspiring with us to beat our scores, unlock assignments, and scale those contraptions called leader-boards.
I used to look forward to playing Farmville with my mother. At one point I had every Candy Crush iteration there was. When I finished enough college, I got better at conquering the levels. Words with Friends became tied to Facebook and also Hangin’ with Friends, a word game similar to it. Small software startups with funky game ideas flocked to Facebook’s user pool to build market-share with people aquariums.
The games became too numerous for me to catalog and play. So Facebook took the pain of that way. That blue and white F was a one-stop shop for the fraidy-cat user who struggled to remember which password combination fit what game. For a while, this practice eased my confusion. Over time I eventually stopped caring who played with me. After much thought, I understood that I resented Facebook’s ability to inflame my mood. As a writer and bookish man, I began to wonder if Facebook could connect me with other authors. For two years, I monitored my account to see if I’d get some publishing connections. That fantasy never went any place.
Increasingly, Facebook became a place for baby-boomers to connect with their colleagues, the site where millennials shared memes and live consultations, and the apex of societal scandal and election hacking. I also maintained an Instagram account for a number of years. Instagram began in 2010 and in 2012 Facebook bought it. My reason for maintaining Instagram has everything to do with how its users respond to my content. Although Facebook has adversely affected the reliability of Instagram and debatably alienated the people who founded it, it remains a viable aquarium for artists, visionaries, and spokespeople. The major difference that sets Instagram’s model above Facebook is the special way photographs are handled. It’s a bit easier to share photographs and videos with IG’s people. While there are similar issues with privacy, policy and policing the same issues that impact Facebook, Instagram seems to be more of a welcoming destination for youth that are trying to digest information in bite-size pieces. While IG is just as addictive, screenshots seem less threatening when placed on a roulette-wheel of drag and spin.
I may sound hypocritical when I say I can manage Instagram’s outbursts better than I could tolerate Facebook’s “problem”. I get to feel just a bit more engaged with an Instagram account. This is not because I have changed what I share. It is just because the pool of users is younger. When I do spot users older than I on Instagram, running away is not the first thing in mind. Perhaps users seem more apt to respond with a readable, writeable version of coherent thought. Conversations on Instagram seem to have the container needed to actually go someplace. Maybe I just like pictures more. But I have not missed my Facebook.com account quite as much as I thought I might.
I also discovered that if family members want to reach me, Facebook is not the place I would choose to send them. The smart-phone is a capable contact medium. The post office still sends letters. But we will not stalk one another on Facebook.com. Upon realizing Facebook was often subject of mounting privacy concerns, lawsuits, and petitions, I was done holding on to it. On Instagram, users seem just a tad more laidback, peaceful, and assured. So for now, I’m sticking it out. I left Facebook because the spirit of Facebook left me years before I cancelled.
Join me on Instagram at the handle: @cautioustonez
Thanks for reading.