Last week, Pew reported that 94 percent of teenagers are on Facebook, but that they are miserable about it. Then again, when are teenagers anything else? Pew’s focus groups of teens complained about the drama, said Twitter felt more natural, said that it seemed like a lot of effort to keep up with everyone you’d ever met, found the cliques and competition for friends offputting —
All right, teenagers. You have a point. And it doesn’t get better.
The trouble with Facebook is that 94 percent of people are there. Anything with 94 Percent of People involved ceases to have a personality and becomes a kind of public utility. There’s no broad generalization you can make about people who use flush toilets. Sure, toilets are a little odd, and they become quickly ridiculous when you stare at them long enough, the way a word used too often falls apart into meaningless letters under scrutiny, but we don’t think of them as peculiar. Everyone’s got one. The only thing weirder than having one of those funny porcelain thrones in your home would be not having one.
Facebook is like that, and not just because we deposit the same sort of thing in both. It used to define a particular crowd. But it’s no longer the bastion of college students and high schoolers avoiding parental scrutiny. Mom’s there. Heck, Velveeta Cheesy Skillets are there.
It’s just another space in which all the daily drama of actual life plays out. All the interactions that used only to be annoying to the people in the room with you at the time are now played out indelibly in text and pictures that can be seen from great distances by anyone who wants to take an afternoon and stalk you. Oscar Wilde complained about married couples who flirted with each other, saying that it was like washing clean linen in public. Well, just look at the wall exchanges of You Know The Couple I Mean. “Nothing is more irritating than not being invited to a party you wouldn’t be seen dead at,” Bill Vaughan said. On Facebook, that’s magnified to parties in entirely different states.
Facebook has been doing its best to approximate our actual social experience — that creepy foray into chairs aside. But what it forgot was that our actual social experience leaves much to be desired. After spending time with Other People smiling politely at news of what their sonograms are doing, we often want to rush from the room screaming wordlessly and bang our heads into something.
Hell is other people, updating their statuses with news that Yay The Strange Growth Checked Out Just Fine.
This is the point where someone says, “Well, if it’s that annoying, why don’t you unsubscribe?”
But you can’t.
You can’t unsubscribe from the yearbook. You can’t unsubscribe from high school. Online life is real life. Unlike Twitter and Tumblr, where you don’t have to Be Yourself all the time, nod politely when your boss says something, maintain at least the appearance of not wanting to spend all your time staring at GIFs, Facebook actually represents You, by definition.
It’s the big room you can’t leave. As Amanda Hess depressingly puts it: “Facebook is the living dead: the most popular, least relevant social network where teenagers and adults alike gather out of fear of missing out on things that don’t even make them happy.” It’s as vital as life, maybe, but also as irritating.
“Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” It’s the title of Mindy Kaling’s book, but it’s also what keeps us there. 94 percent of people jumped off a cliff, of course I’d jump. Even if I got stuck on Facebook forever when I landed.