Facebook is ten years old. I’ve been there through most of its existence. I didn’t go to an Ivy League school, but I went to one of those second-tier places that got put on fast due to mingling bloodlines and social circles. I remember being proud of that. I signed up in October 2004, a month before I cast my first vote. A wasted Ralph Nader ballot and the birth of my profile page mark the beginnings of my adulthood. Today, slouching toward thirty, I’ve decided to look back to the earliest recesses of my Facebook wall to find the young man I was.
Instant pain. The first post came from my long distance high school girlfriend who I pined for more than she pined for me. It was meant, I think, to be a public reassurance that things would be okay. She called me baby and compared our connection to that of Pacey and Joey’s from Dawson’s Creek, tumultuous but ultimately preordained. She disappears from my wall after that. I’m stunned—it was just a one-post relationship. Her absence is filled with a barrage of posts from friends, each that I responded to quickly and with the same tone—look how well I’m doing!
“I’m Rick James, bitch.” There was a lot of that. Then there were Family Guy quotes, mostly from that pedophile character who’s always inviting children in for popsicles. A high school acquaintance made reference to Brad Pitt in Troy, which is just bizarre but must have carried meaning at the time. One friend referenced Ice-T’s episode of MTV Cribs. Another friend called me a “bitch, no for real, you’re a bitch,” but it was cool because he was just messing around. A really intense guy that I played high school baseball with told me that I liked dick in my ass.
Ten years later, what once seemed lightening fast, thrilling even, has settled into a space just beyond the scrapbook, where lives are saved and ignored but still there, waiting to offer us gentle shame whenever we remember to look. This is no great revelation; it’s the cycle. Technology is scary and new, then it’s exciting, then it’s dated.
There’s more. Someone noted that we both included Bobby Brown in our “Interests.” A dude who had my last name—we became Facebook-married for a while—posted to ask me to pick up Midol on the way home. Because we were married and isn’t that totally something a wife would say? Then another Chappelle quote, this one from a guy I don’t remember telling me to "never stop spitting hot fire." 2005 ends with a taunt: “Ew, you only have 23 wall posts?”
There is not a single interaction from my first year of Facebook that is worth remembering. Every one embarrasses me. Almost all of them are in some way racist, sexist or homophobic. Some, amazingly, are all three. Those that manage to be inoffensive veer instead toward sheer idiocy. Troy? I legitimately hate who I was then. I hate all the things I liked. I hate the fact that in my earliest tagged photos I’m wearing a long sleeve shirt under a T-shirt and sometimes I’m making the shocker gesture. What the fuck was I thinking?
The evidence is there on my screen: I was a hipster-racist alcoholic afraid of sincerely expressed homosocial affection, whose ideas of love and loss were exemplified by under-acted Joshua Jackson monologues. My friends and I couldn’t express any emotion or conduct any conversation without couching our perspectives in references that were stale even at the time, but that we seemed to think were forever edgy, enacting the nightmare that Dave Chappelle can’t wake up from. We were having a new kind of conversation; every one those references felt important.
Ten years later, what once seemed lightening fast, thrilling even, has settled into a space just beyond the scrapbook, where lives are saved and ignored but still there, waiting to offer us gentle shame whenever we remember to look. This is no great revelation; it’s the cycle. Technology is scary and new, then it’s exciting, then it’s dated. We are left with misplaced nostalgia—once, I had a Tamagachi; once, my Facebook wall began. Times were so simple then, on the empty prairie of early social networking.
It’s a ridiculous notion, but then there really is something innocent about these baby e-missives. Especially compared to what my Internet presence has become. Recently, Facebook offered me the chance to see a montage of my most important moments from 2013. It’s awful. They are entirely self-promotional. I post of upcoming readings and online publications. There’s always a link. These are my most important moments because they have been most liked and most commented on, usually with notes like, “right on!” and “killin’ it!” which I’m pretty sure are stand-ins for “go fuck yourself, you humble-braggy egomaniac” and “I’ll affirm this if you agree to affirm my upcoming post about my own professional achievement.” I write nothing that hasn’t been through multiple drafts. Sometimes I read them out loud to make sure they sound casual enough.
It didn’t occur to us that our missives would continue to exist or that we were speaking to anyone other than each other, privileged children in a tree fort we assumed would be ours forever. I was emo and overcompensating, unwittingly bigoted and unbelievably unfunny. And all that shit still exists, a former self for me to look at periodically and shudder.
People told me that Facebook is for old people, so mostly I use Twitter now. There, I retweet the occasional nice thing someone says about me or people I know. I chime in to say that I think Richard Sherman is awesome and that Grantland article is the worst. I search the entirety of Twitter’s consciousness to see if my name has been mentioned. Usually it has been, but people are referring to a heavy metal guitarist named Lucas Mann who apparently shreds so hard that, “if he ever fingers you, your pussy explodes.” I try to jump into conversations with writers and half-celebrities I’ve never met, but who occupy a visible and respected presence discussing literary and pop culture matters (retweet me one time, Roxane Gay) and watch my voice get lost. Sometimes I stare at my feed for hours as it scrolls by, never reading, just letting the interaction wash over me—profile pictures and retweet symbols, replies multiplying until they condense, everyone knowing that everything being said is soon to disappear.
I am writing this essay with Twitter in mind. I’m being paid to write it, yes, but let’s be real: my greatest potential reward is a few more followers, since the money sucks and there will be a handy link to my page at the bottom of the essay and my numbers are low. I’m already planning the note that will accompany my post. I will make some kind of meta joke because that’s apparently the angle I’ve decided on here. My editors’ will push as many people as possible to click on this page and then post it to Twitter, where others will see it, then click, then repost it, and that cycle will continue for two or three days until hopefully a quota of unique page views is met. Then it will fall off the ass end of the scroll and disappear. In a couple of weeks, I will feel a gnawing inside me, the sense that nothing of mine has been seen or affirmed in so long that I may as well not even exist.
I say this not to be anti-technology because there is something weirdly wonderful about the fact that, already, I can pine for the simpler days of Facebook like it’s a Brooklyn neighborhood I moved to first. We didn’t have any ambition other than to speak to each other through a new medium. It didn’t occur to us that our missives would continue to exist or that we were speaking to anyone other than each other, privileged children in a tree fort we assumed would be ours forever. I was emo and overcompensating, unwittingly bigoted and unbelievably unfunny. And all that shit still exists, a former self for me to look at periodically and shudder.
Maybe that will be Zuckerberg’s ultimate gift to us, now that his role as a man providing something new is long gone. He has saved a generation’s shame from before we ever thought to wonder, wait is this being saved? So, I urge you to celebrate Facebook’s birthday with appropriate respect. Go to your profile, scroll to the bottom, ask to see all the posts, look at yourself and say, damn, I was the worst.
Lucas Mann (@lucaswmann) is the author of Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.