I have inexplicably made it to my 30s without poking, posting, commenting, friending or planning a single thing on Facebook. And I’m still here. I’m still standing. I am the 7%, and it has not been easy.
Before I continue, let me clarify something before you fact-check the previous statements: there is a Facebook page with my name linked to my e-mail address. But it’s a blank slate and was initially created by a friend of mine due to my persistent stubbornness. I haven’t filled out my profile. I haven’t spent hours searching out friends from high school. I haven’t replied to the 123 waiting friend requests. (Only a few of them are bitter.) Apparently at some point I Liked the Willy Wonka Candy Company. But trust me, it was not intentional.
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This is bizarre behavior for a millennial – even considering that I’m on the older side of my generation, roughly defined as those born between 1980 and 2000. I was born in 1982. I graduated high school in 2000 (which is where the term millennial originates because we were the first class to graduate in the new millennium) and grew up with Hotmail and ICQ and Sega, all of which later morphed into Gmail, IM and PS3. Since a teenager, I’ve known what it’s like to chat online, to forego CDs for MP3s, to slowly transform my physical world into a digital ecosystem. I know the challenges of being unemployed, of going back to school to get re-employed, of struggling to pay off student loans, of asking my parents for money. I know what it’s like to doubt the American Dream but still be optimistic that everything will work itself out. Yes, I grew up in a household where I was continually praised. I can be on my phone as much as the next millennial. I sometimes think my phone’s vibrating when it’s not (see: phantom vibration syndrome). And I like seeing that I’ve gotten a few more followers on Twitter. (I am on Twitter.) But I feel like a generational outlier simply because I don’t participate in the one thing I believe defines my generation: Facebook.
Around 2005, when the social networking site started worming its way into universities around the country, I slowly came to the realization that I wasn’t going to create an account. As a senior in college, I remember feeling indifferent about publicly stating that I liked The Beatles and the Rocky movies and Indiana basketball and that my relationship was complicated. It just wasn’t something that appealed to me. It felt peculiar.
The reasons why I never signed up are varied: I’m more private about my life than others my age, possibly because I was an only child; I often bristle at things seemingly everyone around me is doing, especially when they pressure me to do them (which was happening virtually every day in college when Facebook became ubiquitous); I usually don’t like talking about myself, which has made writing this column rather difficult; and frankly, there are some people who I don’t particularly feel like keeping in touch with.
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Basically, I’ve never been compelled to share details about my life to anyone with Internet access. And that’s how I viewed Facebook for years: as a tool merely to parade your life in front of others, as a truthy account of existence, like your own personal greatest hits, all of which have been auto-tuned. Apparently there are others out there like me, but it doesn’t seem that way. According to several polls, an estimated 93% of millennials use Facebook. (I’m sure you probably think it’s guys like me who somehow still approve of the job Congress is doing. I promise you, I don’t.)
A couple years ago, however, I started feeling differently about my conscientious objection.
In 2011, Facebook launched Timeline. It wasn’t merely an aesthetic design change. The entire ethos of the site shifted. Since Facebook’s founding, the social networking site had been about the here and now, the party recently attended, the dinner last eaten, the friends just made. But the redesign was more about the past than the present, and founder Mark Zuckerberg himself neatly summed up that shift.
“It’s how you can tell the whole story of your life on a single page,” Zuckerberg said when introducing Timeline. The whole story of your life on a single page. I soon realized I didn’t have that. In fact, I didn’t even have a single status update.
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Facebook’s redesign made the whole enterprise feel more like a running journal of one’s life rather than a platform to show off. It used to be merely about connecting with others (and it obviously still is), but it’s increasingly about individuals connecting with themselves rather than their friends. It’s now a thoughtful chronicle of one’s life that just happens to be public.
Or at least, that’s how I view it today, and I don’t have that. My neglected profile is there. Feel free to look me up. Just explore the space for a minute. It’s like walking through a haunted house in which nobody’s ever lived. Almost everyone in my generation, especially today’s teenagers, has a detailed account of their careers, their relationships, their personal milestones, hell, the very meals eaten each day, which used to be merely a function of survival but are now treated like online celebrities. But when I log into my account, it’s as if I never existed. I don’t have any political or religious views. I’ve never been in a relationship. I’ve yet to travel. I’m unemployed. As far as music, movies and books are concerned, I have no preferences. I’m social media’s version of lukewarm water.
Am I complaining? No, and I hope it doesn’t come off that way. Do I regret not signing up? Not yet. But the millennial funeral of the future will inevitably feature a digital screen with a running account of the deceased’s life thanks to Facebook. I have photos. I have videos. I have words about my life. I just have them stored as if I were part of Generation X, scattered here and there on my phone, on my computer, on paper, in shoeboxes even.
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I know I could still join. I realize that. I at least hope I’ll do a few more things in life that will be worthy of a Facebook update. Those parties I didn’t attend because I failed to get the Facebook invite? Those would’ve been fun. Seeing photos of the trips my friends go on and the weddings they’ll be having might be nice, too. But I doubt I’ll start. I’ve held out for eight years. I think I would’ve caved by now.
Honestly, those who do regularly use the site (and I’m talking about just about everybody here) impress me. It can be hard enough just getting through each day, much less extensively documenting it all. But in a sense, I feel like I’ve been more present in the present without it, more in tune to the moment rather than thinking about how best to capture it. I wouldn’t want Facebook to get in the way of all that, even if stalking my old childhood friends still sounds pretty awesome.
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