I won’t be attending my 10-year high school reunion because my high school reunion happens every day on Facebook. And it’s boring as shit.
I’m not sure when I came to realize that Facebook would only become uneventful post-college. It must’ve happened by degrees. Slowly the photos of graduation and the ensuing parties gave way to status updates practically sweating anxiety about jobs or grad school. When those questions were answered in the form of positive interviews, offers, and acceptance letters, that’s when the boredom got in. Like carbon monoxide filling a home while the occupants sleep, the boredom manifested itself as complaints about the morning commute, or misspelled names on Starbucks’ cups, or the sudden appearance of gray hairs, or actually a really great pretzel jello recipe, or some surprising use of quinoa that all of your friends will enjoy. Engagement announcements for old classmates, the subsequent weddings and stock poses of those photos: the first dance, the cake cutting, the part where the younger attendees finally turn up and things get drunk. Then: sonograms. So many sonograms. Smudgy black and white almost-person smears. New life.
For those of us who were part of Facebook’s early classes, the people who joined as college freshman when the site was restricted to students with .edu emails, this is how it will go from now on. This is the way your virtual world dulls. No more party photos, no more status updates driven by thirst or fun drugs. What is there to look forward to but uploads of fingerpaints, kindergarten class recitals, yellow belt ceremonies, report cards? And, at night, when the kids are in bed, sad reports from the edge of Revolutionary Road Land, dispatches of suburban despair.
Not too long ago, a classmate of mine posted a status update about how hard it was to find friends as an adult, when high school and college friends fell away. How do you make friends when you only work part-time and spend the rest of the time with the baby? I read this, dismayed by the typos and the naked honesty.
I’m not sure when I came to realize that Facebook would only become uneventful post-college. It must’ve happened by degrees. Slowly the photos of graduation and the ensuing parties gave way to status updates practically sweating anxiety about jobs or grad school. When those questions were answered in the form of positive interviews, offers, and acceptance letters, that’s when the boredom got in.
How fucked up is that? How fucked up is it that my response to his cry into the digital void was to roll my eyes?
In a Time profile from December 2010, Mark Zuckerberg, the creator and CEO of Facebook, told Lev Grossman, his interviewer, “In the world, there’s trust. I think as humans we fundamentally parse the world through the people and relationships we have around us. So at its core, what we’re trying to do is map out all of those trust relationships, which you can call, colloquially, most of the time, friendships.”
Because I kept my head down in college and my privacy settings up, many of my Facebook friends come from the town I grew up in, Murrysville, PA, and my high school, Franklin Regional. These aren’t trust relationships in a micro sense, as I don’t interact with these people anymore, haven’t in many years, and in some cases had no meaningful contact with them when I still lived there. But in a macro sense they represent a very important and complex trust relationship, the one I am always checking and testing with my hometown. I cannot shake where I was born. It affects my speech; my language is tattooed and gives me away. (The way I pronounce some vowels has a distinct Western PA quality, and if I don’t concentrate I will say things like “gum band,” “pop,” “jagger bush.”) A big question of being a person is how you get out from under the circumstances of your birth, or how you embrace them. I’ve long struggled with it.
Maybe you’re wondering why I talk about home with some shame. Murrysville is a pretty racist, conservative place, positioned at the edge of Westmoreland and Allegheny county. (The KKK have been known to recruit in Export, an adjacent town.) Being right at the border of means that it’s just far enough from Pittsburgh that it doesn’t receive much metropolitan influence but is close enough that, by and large, everyone claims the city as theirs. They just don’t visit a lot. Still, they cultivate the city’s fixation on football. Murrysville is, on the whole, more affluent than Pittsburgh. Bored white kids who don’t encounter much beyond moneyed white adults who love the Steelers and being left alone. (Heroin has been a problem at the local McDonalds.)
I worked at getting out of Murrysville, and getting away from Pittsburgh, too. Most of the time, I don’t know remember how I managed to do it. I had so many chances to fuck it up when I was young. I could’ve accumulated enough DUIs to trap me in the place, like some people my age, or younger, did. Could’ve picked up a bad drug habit. Could’ve become a racist knucklehead and felt no desire to leave the largely white and insular community.
Each time I sign on to Facebook, there’s the chance that it might look like the conversations my dad tells me he overhears at the local diner, the one about getting President Obama out of the White House or about how this new health care makes everyone pay for a bunch of drug addicts in the Hill District (one of Pittsburgh’s historically black neighborhoods). I need this. I have to remind myself of what could’ve happened to me if the lottery of my birth hadn’t shaken out so well. No one gets to choose who they are born to, at what time, and in what place. Facebook reminds me of this every day, especially as the lives of so many of the people I grew up with continue to move down paths more and more distant from my own.
In that same Time profile, Grossman writes, “Zuckerberg’s vision is that after the Facebookization of the Web…wherever you go online, you’ll see your friends.”
The value in the opposite—not seeing friends, and therefore encountering views that are foreign to you—is almost too banal to mention at this point. You confuse the views of friends for a monolithic, all-encompassing ready-with-any-answer worldview.
My Facebook keeps me grounded among these very important close ties but non-friends. I think something else of fulfilling Zuckerberg’s more benevolent-sounding goal for me. That something would be New York. Self-obsessed, media-saturated, trend-humping New York, where the slogan goes something like, “Aren’t you glad you live in NYC and not America?” This is the New York I know and it can turn you into an asshole, a kind I could never have met in Murrysville.
I read something recently from a French writer named Didier Eribon. Writing about his own complicated relationship with Reims, the working-class and homophobic town of his birth, and his return there, he explained: “It was a rediscovery of that ‘region of myself’...from which I had worked so hard to escape: a social space I had kept at distance, a mental space in opposition to which I had constructed the person I had become, and yet which remained an essential part of my being.”
Facebook, and the near-decade I have spent logging on to it, have taught me that it is almost impossible to keep that social space out. It stops me from keeping out the reminders of my birthplace, and thus the reminders of who I am, even if who I am is only a negative reaction and retreat from that place. It’s for the best, I hope.
Ross Scarano is a deputy editor at Complex. Find him on Twitter at @RossScarano.