I’ve known Facebook since it was a baby. Facebook launched during my freshman year of college and I’ve been a member from the beginning. When it first came out, Facebook was so new and exciting and soon after its arrival, Tom and Myspace had a lot less friends. It felt like the entire campus joined the new site at once and we all felt so privileged to be a part of something that was for college students only.
That was close to a decade ago, and during that time I think I’ve experienced all the social interactions that Facebook has to offer. The excitement after logging on and seeing a new message or notification (especially when it was from someone you liked), finding an old friend who you thought had dropped off the Earth (digitally at least), new messages, pokes, being “Facebook official”, embarrassing picture tags, your first adult family member friend request and that crucial moment before you hit accept to check your account for anything incriminating. But there was also a downside to it as well: not having someone accept your friend request, wall arguments, the questions that come when some random girl or guy posts on your significant other’s wall, seeing the person you like enter into a relationship with someone else, or seeing your ex do the same, knowing that your relationship was over based upon an updated single status before you even had the chance to talk in real life.
So on my birthday, when I checked Facebook on my phone halfway through the day expecting to be greeted by notifications of birthday wall posts, I found none. Not one person had written a thing. I’d like to say that I didn’t care, but I did. I wanted to know why no one took the time to write two simple words. I wanted to know why my birthday wasn’t important enough for anyone to acknowledge. I told my friend who was with me at the time what was going on and the following conversation occurred:
Friend: “Dude, I don’t think you have your birthday on there.”
Me: “What? How is that even possible?”
My friend logged checked their account and sure enough, my birthday was nowhere to be seen. Things were starting to make sense, but I was still skeptical until I came home later that day, logged in through my laptop and checked the settings. My birthday was listed as “Do not show on timeline.” This was the first time this had ever happened; I didn’t even know this option existed. I don’t like to admit this, but at the time I felt relieved knowing that there was most likely a legitimate reason as to why I wasn’t spending my time sporadically liking happy birthday posts and responding with the typical “thank you” to each post throughout the day. After finding out what happened, I kept my birthday hidden, but there was still a part of me that felt like something was missing that day, at least when it came to my online social network.
I spent the next day recovering from the previous night’s activities which allowed me a lot of time to think about my birthday Facebook debacle the day before. Had I really become so involved and accustomed to Facebook that I was truly concerned with receiving recognition on there? Was it not enough for me that all of my friends had already texted/called/went out with me the night before to celebrate?
What I realized then was not only the extent of my own “addiction” to Facebook, but how it has shaped our society in general. Whether we like to admit it or not, Facebook has changed the way we interact. Yes, there are most likely a good number of people that none of what I’ve spoken about applies to, but for the people in my generation and the generations after, social media has become so intertwined in our personalities that we put such a high value on the interactions that occur through them. If nobody “liked” it, did it even happen?
I’m writing this article a year later, and while I’d like to say that I completely gave up all forms of social media and I haven’t logged onto Facebook since that time, it’s not the case. I made my birthday viewable this year but only at the whim of a friend who suggested I do it after I explained to them what had happened the year before (I think they secretly wanted no one to write on my wall so they could joke that it wasn’t because my birthday was hidden, it was because no one actually cared). I did learn however, how to adapt. In the time from then to now, a lot has happened. My friends and family throughout the country were introduced to my first child, I was able to reunite with one of my best friends growing up whose family moved away when we were kids, and I got to check out and was subsequently impressed by the highly detailed data Facebook makes available to companies to show how their Facebook pages are doing. All of this would not have been possible had it not been for Facebook.
My accidental liberation from Facebook wasn’t about giving up the service entirely; it was about learning the importance of things that truly mattered. Because in the grand scheme of things, whether or not we receive hundreds of “HBD” wishes only matters as much as we allow those three letters to.