Mar 26 • 7M

Forgetting Facebook

One Memory at a Time

Bonnie Hawthorne
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My sister, Sue, getting caught by a sneaker wave during a freak high tide.

When I first saw Facebook in 2005—being used by an actual college student, the original user base—I thought it was dumb. Why would you want to see what your classmates—people you don’t really know—are up to? Over the course of that visit, I witnessed said college student spend hours glued to her computer, scrolling in the dark, mesmerized by this thing called [thefacebook]. I didn’t get it.

I finally joined in 2007 or 2008 because so many of my friends and coworkers had. (Interestingly, some of my dearest longtime friends never joined, so in many instances, my “Facebook friends” were really just that.)

Those early-ish days on social media were a blast. Brilliant people shared amazing thoughts and ideas alongside a ton of cat videos from this other cool thing called YouTube. Facebook was a true linear newsfeed then, so you could check back in an hour or a day and see all new topics, photos, movie reviews, pictures of food (so many pictures of food) from a variety of people—most of whom you had at least a vague connection with in real life.

Then the changes began. Each redesign was jarring, but after a week or so of complaining (followed by the inevitable “well, it’s free, so you don’t really get to bitch about it, now do you?”) we all adapted and soon couldn’t remember what had been changed. That is, until the ads became full-sized and seamlessly part of your newsfeed. That’s when concepts like “you are the product” started creeping into people’s consciousness.

As of this writing, I allegedly have 991 friends, down from probably 1300 at the peak in 2015. After the many revelations of fuckery, millions jumped ship. I know that several of these 991 remaining friends are dead, some are permanently locked out of their accounts, some just never bothered to delete but haven’t logged in for years. Through changes in the algorithm, attrition, who knows what other factors, I really only ever see the same 15 people when I log in. Most of those have joined me here, thankfully. I have no way of knowing how many others are actually still there.

After a rather obsessive period around the 2020 election, I retreated from Facebook in an attempt to regain some sanity. I soon found myself back on Twitter after a ten year hiatus. Twitter is arguably just as bad—or worse—but doesn’t suck me in the way Facebook did.

I no longer do much of anything on Facebook. I check a couple of professional and community groups, see if anyone has sent me a private message—despite years of pleading with people to stop doing that—and work at my ongoing project: slowly erasing my Facebook past, one memory at a time. For those unfamiliar, here’s an example of a multiyear Facebook memory: a creepy reminder that even though you’ve forgotten these posts, Facebook hasn’t.

March 10, 2020, 2019, 2016

These multiple memory days mean I failed to log in last year on March 10th, to delete everything. I’ve been doing this slo-mo erasure for a while. There are now many days where nothing shows up as a memory. Progress!

I have no idea if this memory deletion actually makes a dent in the server farm, but it feels low key proactive.

This memory has been on my desktop for over a year. I find it very poignant and apropos of my slow breakup with Facebook. I don’t know who wrote it—which is a thing that sucks about Facebook memes—attribution/credit is lacking both when the insight is brilliant and when it’s terrible and culture killing.

finito

Sadly, this goodbye can be applied to many of my “Facebook friends.” We don’t have each other in our Rolodexes, or “contacts.” We only existed together in a space that for many just feels yucky now.

Ironically, the guy whose stated goal was to make the world more open and connected managed to make it more closed and disconnected than it was before. Good job, Mark.

P.S. Here he is reimagined as someone with remorse. (Deeply fake, but amazing.)