If you ever want your mind bent, try going through your Facebook history. If you don’t have a Facebook account, good job on getting into heaven.
Blame the throes of winter, or the mountains of schoolwork, or the behemoth known in some circles as A Job Search, but a few weeks ago I found myself in desperate need of positive reinforcement. Not feeling bold enough to post the Facebook status, “Hey everyone I’m in desperate need of positive reinforcement because life right now feels like a trash compactor,” I searched for a piece of my Facebook past. And I ended up finding a lot more.
Six years ago, when I was a sophomore in high school, two senior girls posted a video to my Facebook wall. The premise was cheeky — they pretended to have accidentally hit the record button and then talked to each other about me — but they said some wonderful things. When I first saw it, my heart lifted, and that night, I went to sleep smiling. Cut to present day: I knew they posted the video sometime in the spring of 2009, so I used Facebook’s timeline feature to bring up everything: high school friends’ posts, tagged photos and, most horrifyingly, old status updates. I trawled through months of myself at sixteen, unearthing every post (example gem: “didn’t get an extension for his English project??? WTF?!?!?!”). I cringed at every awkward interaction with my friends, every complaint about my French assignments. I couldn’t believe I talked the way I did – without context, my sarcasm revealed an extremely jaded and unlikable kid.
But was my embarrassment a function of my immaturity then or my present-day self-policing? My Facebook presence today is carefully curated, composed of advertisements for my improv shows (come to them!) and my pun-filled Tweets (follow me on Twitter!). I never get very personal. It’s gauche, it’s overbearing, no one wants to hear that.
This shift from my high school to my college self was gradual. As our generation grew up on social media, we evolved from one set of concerns to another. In the beginning, you had to watch out for creeps with fake accounts. Later, you had to watch out for yourself; the Internet had permanence, we discovered, and we had to avoid posting any unflattering or compromising content. (My mom’s rule: “Never post something you wouldn’t want on the front page of the New York Times.”) Today, the Internet isn’t so scary (everyone’s on it!), but it serves as a talking point in all those hand-wringing thinkpieces about the problem with millennials. There’s this idea that Kids These Days are narcissistic, and social media sites like Facebook and Instagram just indulge their gross desire to post pics of themselves double-fisting daiquiris in Cabo. This prompted someone like me to write, on Oct. 22, 2009, “I keep promising myself that each Thursday night will be better than the last … and they always get worse.” Oh, the hubris! Oh, the look-at-me! Oh, the … deeply human desire to be heard?
As I grimaced at my Facebook past, I considered blocking off three hours of my day to go through and hide each and every post. I was terrified that anyone could jump back in time and see my warts. But I stopped. First, because of laziness. Second, because I began to question my motives. What was so narcissistic about wanting to let my friends know how I was feeling? Even if my complaints were cheap calls for sympathy, what if I really needed it? I can’t remember how I felt when I posted every status, but given how generally trash-compacted I felt in high school, I wouldn’t put it past myself to be desperately honest to the world. Back then, the few likes I’d get on my statuses would ease my nerves. Looking at those likes today did too.
I never found the video — the girl who had posted it deactivated her account some time ago — and I eventually got out of my funk. I wondered what would have happened if I had posted something brutally honest about my feelings, something that didn’t hide behind wordplay or YouTube links. I wondered if my Facebook friends would sneer or empathize. Would they reach out to me in my time of need? I believe that they would, and I would do the same for them.