I was a decade late to the party. This month, as Facebook turns 11, I am celebrating year one on the site. I've learned a lot - and not just from those Buzzfeed quizzes that turn up on my Newsfeed. Herewith, a few truths I've gleaned from my first year on Facebook.
1. Time has no meaning
I always thought time was a linear function. Yet, someone's anniversary dinner from June of 2010 will suddenly appear on my Newsfeed. How does this happen?
The Facebook algorithm has figured out how to distort our conception of time. I assume this is intentional. When a quick check-in turns into minutes, then hours, of scrolling through posts and articles, it's best to be deluded about how much time you just wasted.
2. Some people must do nothing at work
I have a few friends who post a lot. Which is totally fine, except I know these people have "real" jobs. When do they find the time?
Back when I used to have a real job, I remember walking in or out of my office and seeing my assistant make furtive moves to minimize an open application on her screen. I now know what that was. I also have an inkling of why some work assignments took longer for her to complete.
3. People really do love cats
Need I say more?
4. The uncurated life is not worth living
Facebook is about offering up a perfectly curated life. Some people are amazing at this: artists, marketing professionals, people who work at government jobs with little supervision.
Not long ago, a New York Times article "Facebook's Last Taboo:The Unhappy Marriage" noted that divorce is the unmentionable of the site. I couldn't agree more. Facebook is for posting the best version of yourself. Moreover, it's an escape. If we want depressing stories, we can watch the six o'clock news. At least I think we can; most of my news comes from Facebook so I have no idea if TV news still exists. Regardless, I love that I get the top stories of the day carefully curated for me by my friends, as well as funny posts, pop culture clips, and the previously mentioned quizzes.
5. The "Like" button is fraught
I had heard a lot about the lure of the "like," and how getting that little thumbs up could be addictive. It's true; the only thing worse than checking your latest post to see how many "likes" you have is worrying whether your friends who didn't "like" it actually didn't like it.
Of course, giving "likes" is just as complicated. Sometimes it feels as though you're straddling the thin line between sycophancy and snubbing. If you "like" every post, are you fawning too much? Conversely, if you don't "like" something, are you signaling indifference? Or worse, could it be mistaken for passive aggressive non-liking?
For example, if I don't press the button for someone's post about their three-book deal with HarperCollins, or their gorgeous child accepting his student of the year prize, could it be misconstrued as willful ignorance---as if I am consciously ignoring their success? What happens if you simply stayed off Facebook for a day or two and missed some posts? (FYI, I'm sure that's what happened.) This is the problem with online social interaction: it's not always easy to convey, or discern, real intention.
I try to be a judicious liker, acknowledging people but trying not to litter newsfeeds with my own "likes." As for my own posts, I've become more appreciative of the "likes" I receive, and less upset by those I don't---I'm sure the latter people just missed my post in their Newsfeed, right?
6. Facebook screws with our emotions
A few years ago, Facebook played its own version of Big Brother and manipulated the types of posts people received in their newsfeeds. The goal was to see how a user's state of mind affected his subsequent posts. When word of this "experiment" got out, Facebook was forced to apologize for toying with human emotions.
I may be new to this, but I didn't need a corporate admission to realize that Facebook screws with our emotions. All those pictures and posts of perfectly curated lives (see above) can't help but make you feel, at times, that you're missing out, left behind, or totally on the wrong track.
A year ago when I joined Facebook, I wondered, Will it make me happier? I've learned that the inputs and outcomes of this large-scale social experiment vary day by day. I've decided though, I'm sticking with it---because there's another way Facebook screws with my emotions. It's with the smiling faces of friends who have moved away or I've lost touch with; or the stunning work of art or brilliant piece of writing posted by a friend; or the picture of a grade school girlfriend, arms around her child who is the same age we were when we first met. These things make up for all the cats and quizzes, and they're the things that truly warrant a virtual thumbs up.