This is not an article about some recent epiphany - I left Facebook five years ago. Which is the distant past (they say one Facebook year is worth seven human years). This was during the chaotic, ill-chronicled Dark Ages - before the fall of MySpace - back when people wrote about themselves in the third person. I remember as it was just after I had crafted the update 'Chris Rooney would like to thank everyone for the birthday wishes'. Shortly after I realised the birthday wishes in question were perhaps the most insincere I had ever received. People I had not seen for years (also, people I had only met once, fleetingly) urged me to 'have a good one'.
It is probably uncharitable of me to diss the well wishers. What could be more innocuous than wishing someone a happy birthday? Not much. But it was the hollowness of the statement that got me, not its intention. That was the moment I decided to unplug from Zuckerberg's great mind-machine (it still took me several days, and lots of energy, to actually delete my account - chopping away at my connections like some kind of cyber woodsman in a fairy-tale thicket). The final push came - inevitably - from a friend request. It appeared in my inbox like a cancerous polyp, a tiny hateful mushroom. It was a friend request from an enemy. An enemy I had not seen for many years - but an enemy all the same. Was this request, which arrived without a covering message, some attempt at reconciliation? Probably not. Did he want to gain access to my network and inflict some psychological wound? Unlikely. Was he merely trying to harvest as many friends as possible? I'd say.
It wasn't just the inert camaraderie that bothered me about Facebook, it was the showing off. Facebook as a playground for vacuous attention seekers - this is nothing new. From the baby-bore to the despondent, vague-status poster, we are used to them. But they annoyed me (admittedly, more than they should have). Actual friends, so measured in the real world, were shallow buffoons online. People I admired were stuffing my mind with nonsense - posting photos of meals they were about to eat, wine they were about to drink; sunsets they'd observed, cakes they'd baked and children they'd made. It was the illusion of productivity - look what I've done, they'd scream, incessantly. Incidentally, this period was also the dawn of the sunny beach-legs - look where I am, or more to the point, look where you're not.
I felt as though I was trapped in a vortex of meaningless data. More importantly, however, I was starting to hate some of my friends. Actually hate them. My chums, once a source of joy, were now a source of pain. I wondered why they were doing it to themselves, moreover, I wondered why they were doing it to me. It was awful. Nevertheless, I could not stop watching. As the dour grungers the Smashing Pumpkins once sang despite all my rage I was still just a rat in a cage.
Then there was the spying. Some people like to joke about 'stalking' on Facebook. While this is a perfectly apt term, I always felt my behaviour was closer to that of a spy. A Cold War spy. I was the black-hatted man on the park bench, looking through the holes of the newspaper. Hours were cut from my life as I scanned photos of ex-girlfriends, looking for some evidence of misery, hoping for vindication. But of course, my old girlfriends were too clever for that. They knew better than to promote their failings. The first rule of social media is 'be positive'. And they refused to break it. Facebook is the shiny repository for our dreams, for the lives we want to lead. To show yourself as anything other than smiley and successful is to undermine your rationale for being there in the first place.
Apologists tell me Facebook is good for keeping in touch with friends. I have a lot of friends abroad - they say. This baffles me - how come everyone has 'a lot of friends abroad?' How do they accrue them? I have a couple - max - and I have travelled more than most. Nonetheless, I question the strength of these associations - merely glancing at someone's selfies does not a friendship make. I email my foreign friends. This is more than sufficient.
Which brings me to the Facebook reunion - a dormant friendship resurrected via social media. I had two such reunions. And they were both deeply unsatisfying. 'Jane' and I were great friends as teenagers. We drank together and dreamt of world travel. Over cans of Strongbow in the park, we told ourselves we were going to make it. We were urban bohemians - young adventurers. At the time of our reunion, however, I was an unremarkable office worker, and Jane was a struggling single mum. We were crushingly ordinary. We all are, of course. Hence the compulsion to present the mundane as the marvellous. Picnics in Technicolor, proscecco on the balcony, selfies at the festival. Our lives as the endless summer. I get it. I just don't want to be a part of it anymore.Suggest a correction