I just returned from Facebook and can confirm what a number of news sources are already reporting.
Facebook is a ghastly wasteland. Facebook is the hole you fell down when you were 15 and all your friends are there, so you’ve convinced yourself it’s fun.
The only people having a good time on Facebook are all over 40, George Takei or fans of Velveeta Cheesy Skillets. Perhaps these circles intersect at a single point.
Facebook is where your aunt is.
Facebook is the application of Stockholm syndrome to social life.
Ambrose Bierce must have had Facebook in mind when he rewrote the Declaration of Independence to read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, and the right to make that of another miserable by thrusting upon him an incalculable quantity of acquaintances; liberty, particularly the liberty to introduce persons to one another without first ascertaining if they are not already acquainted as enemies; and the pursuit of another’s happiness with a running pack of strangers.”
Facebook is the running pack of strangers.
It would be heaven if it were possible to leave.
This is a kind of misery I at first thought was peculiar to cruise ships. A place with a pool, a bar, a restaurant, all your friends, everything you could imagine? Sounds like heaven! Just one condition: you can’t get off.
This is the stuff of CNN specials. We’ve been on here so long we are forgetting what the mainland looked like.
We’ve recovered from poking. Farmville is a distant memory. We’ve groused about the need for a “Dislike” button for years now. Years. We’ve threatened to leave if they adjusted our privacy one more time. OK, one more time. OK, another time. OK, never.
The only trouble is that Facebook is 10 years old now, and we are all still here. That wasn’t what attracted us in the first place.
What makes a place cool when you are 16 is not who is there or what is there but who isn’t there: your parents. Also, Cottonelle brand. Hi, Cottonelle!
Now that’s exactly who uses it. Your parents. Your aunt. Your aunt’s friends. “Add me on Facebook,” middle-aged people tell you, at restaurants, and you shudder, remembering when this was something you had to hide from your parents and share with your friends, not vice versa.
Two things make a given place cool: You chose to be there, and you’re able to leave. Neither feels true at this point.
I’ve written about this before. Maybe you’ve shared it before. One of the things you talk about when you are trapped in a place with people for a very long time is how nice it would be to get out.
There have been numerous ads based on the premise that being able to trace your entire life on social media is a consummation devoutly to be wished. There you are as a child! There you are as an old man! Look, it’s grandpa’s first tweet! Aren’t you glad we saved all this?
It turns out that this is hell.
But the thought of leaving is terrifying.
The engine of Facebook is the fear of missing out. It’s applied with an almost scientific gusto. Try to leave, and Facebook will remind you that your friends will miss you. Everyone will miss out terribly. You wouldn’t want to miss out, would you?
Facebook is a way of feeling like you actually kept in touch with the people you only intended to keep in touch with. Facebook allows you to feel as though you are still friends with everyone you have ever met by neatly redefining the term “friend.”
But we know it’s false. You want my true friends? Check my chat logs for the people I talk to with more than just a flick of the index finger on the “Like” button. See who else appears in the pictures. Facebook can redefine the term, but it can’t redefine the feeling.
The first pictures of me on Facebook, I am in high school. I am wearing a long grey coat and looking vaguely optimistic. I didn’t realize I would be trapped in there for the next decade.
Then again, everyone else is in here with me — strangers, friends, former classmates, family, the occasional brand. 757 million users a day.
It’s all gotten to be uncannily like life.
If anything can doom Facebook, it’s this: Everyone you know from real life is there. You might as well just go out and live.
Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog at washingtonpost.com.