I’ve never been a Facebook hater. Or a Mark Zuckerberg basher, though I did watch the documentary claiming he stole his product idea from Harvard University classmates.
I figure anyone who can turn a webpage into a $500 billion company boasting a quarter of the planet as customers has to be doing something right, Russia aside.
I don’t remember the day I signed up for Facebook, but Wednesday was the day I cut the cord. It wasn’t security concerns that did me in; rambling political insults from an old fraternity brother named Dave did the trick. Last I saw Dave he was wrapped head-to-toe in aluminum foil on West 4th Street with a bong tucked under each arm; I just couldn’t listen to the same spiel 35 years later.
I could have just blocked him, but that would have felt rude. So I thanked Dave instead in my mind and was done with it. Sayonara.
Minutes later, seized by a mad dash for liberty, I deleted LinkedIn. That was easy. I didn’t use it, but had it for 11 years. I just couldn’t figure out how to get rid of it. Not completely. Wish me luck this time. Please.
To say I’m grateful to Facebook would be an understatement. I was able to serve as a pallbearer to one of my closest childhood friends because of it. John was living fewer than 1,000 yards from my house when he died — bartending at a restaurant my wife frequented down the hill from our house. I had no idea. Without Facebook, I wouldn’t have been able to touch the wood of his casket, or see that his annoying little sister had grown up to be a brilliant and beautiful woman raising a family in Madrid.
I was able to have coffee with my fourth-grade crush because of Facebook. Turns out I’d never said anything to her before, other than, “Hi. OK. Bye.” Forty years later, we were able to talk and laugh without my turning red and running away. It was great seeing her, but I don’t think it would have worked for either of us in retrospect.
I’m having lunch this week with someone I reunited with after decades — we played brother and sister in a play in 1982 — and I’ve had countless happy interactions with others. But more and more, social media in general has begun to feel like an intrusive obligation.
I don’t even know half the people I friended. I said “yes” to their invitations out of fear I had met them somewhere and forgotten, so I’d get constant computer-generated messages like: “Frank Jackson wished you a happy birthday!” or “Frank Jackson congratulated you on your work anniversary!” I’d be, like, who is Frank Jackson? Will he be mad if I don’t write back?
So it was, “Thanks, Frank. Great to hear from you! Best to all — Bill.”
There’s something else, too. A daughter has fallen head-over-heels for Instagram. It’s doing something right as well, I suppose, with more than a billion active users. But I’ve begun to notice that she’s no longer experiencing things the way people once did. She’s becoming a filmmaker who records life experiences for other people, not for herself. It’s not ”Oh my gosh that’s the Eiffel Tower!” It’s “Don’t you dare push that button till I brush my hair.”
It’s the same with all the kids her age I meet. They’re creating PR campaigns for the world to see. Everything is awesome, but none of it is real. No one seems to post about feeling lonely or having trouble at home.
Maybe this is how future generations will grow up — always “on.” But I recall a different way of living, one that was smaller, quieter and that didn’t always have to be so darned interesting. I miss it, and hope it’s still there.
William F.B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.