When I arrived at Yale in that eons-ago fall of 2002, the word “facebook” referred only to an actual book with a blue cover that held the black-and-white photos of every member of the incoming class. I see that this book — officially titled Old Campus — is still offered every year, but I suspect that it is not the mainstay in freshmen dorm rooms that it was in my time.
Each student got his or her own copy of Old Campus, but our suite seemed to share one communally that became well-thumbed over the first semester of new classmates and new crushes, and, most importantly, the ever oppressive Freshman Screw. If you were particularly savvy or had a sibling who’d gone to Yale before, you knew that you should make this one photo count. If you (i.e. me) weren’t as aware of the power of photography, you learned to live with your semi-awkward photo, which everyone would use to match your face with your name in perpetuity, or at least for the next four years.
And then, toward the end of my sophomore year, this newfangled thing called The Facebook came along (yes, it was called The Facebook in those days), offering a whole new realm of possibility for semi-awkward photos and strident moments of self-identification and declaration. A few people I knew joined; I did not, not out of any philosophical stand, but simply because, at that point, it didn’t matter one way or the other. Months later, bored during summer break, I finally decided to see what this Facebook thing was all about. I joined, I annoyingly poked a few people, and then I let my account lie dormant for some time.
But somewhere between the end of my sophomore year (2004) and the year I graduated (2006), Facebook went from being a thing you poked a few people on to an all-pervasive form of life. And then, somewhere between my graduation and now, Facebook added status updates and the OED added the word “unfriend” — then the end was nigh.
And no, I don’t hunger to go back to the days of wood-burning stoves or horse-drawn wagons, and yes, I know that you and me both really must know when Friend X has a cough or Friend Y really likes Cherry Coke Zero. But it shocks me a little to think that when I was a freshman — which despite my joking was not so long ago — we used to look people up in a book and then call them on their room phone, and if they weren’t there, we would leave a message on their answering machine. And walls were exclusively structural support and poking was a physical act and if you didn’t want to be friends with someone anymore, you just stopped talking to them.
Writing this, I officially feel much older than 24, and like I might as well have gone to Yale in the age of working fireplaces and maids. But the point is that there was something nice about that primitive “facebook” of yore. Because no matter how horrifically awkward your photo was, it was the only horrifically awkward photo of you — and the only evidence of your life before Yale — that existed in the public sphere. Coming to college with just this one photo as your burden (or your boon) meant that you could be whoever you wanted to be once you set foot in New Haven, with no past wall posts or photos to prove otherwise.
Then again, things change. Time marches on. If you want to friend me, you can recognize my profile by the photo of the cranky-looking girl clinging to the past.
Claire Stanford ‘06 was an Arts and Living editor for the News board of 2006.