Not to sound like a barbershop codger, but I remember the old internet where nerds could hide behind obscure usernames on Xanga or message boards, free from the prying eyes of the High School aristocracy. Even though none of the aforementioned aristocracy had even heard of the Kindertotenlieder and the mere thought of it would depress anyone else in my small, corn-crowded hometown, there were other nerds on the internet who shared my interest in Gustav Mahler. These nerds, by the way, were bona fide nerds, too — none of this geeky-hip Liz Lemony crap the kids have today. No, back then, it was uncool to be uncool. Saintly or nefarious, pure or pornographic, the internet was freedom.
Nowadays — Jesus, I really do sound like a Korean Vet in a barbershop! — the internet doesn’t feel as free, especially Facebook. I completely sympathize with Sara Scribner’s description of her issues with it:
I had to switch roles often on Facebook. Students at the school where I work would friend me, and then I would have to alter my comments. My boss friended me. Soon, I was jumping through a number of mental hoops, double-checking whether the “me” I broadcast was professional, upbeat, proper. It’s not easy to make all these projected selves cohere: My friends and family include folks from Southern evangelical Christianity, from the rap/rock critic subculture, from ’90s bohemia, from mommy-land, from the public-education universe. My guess is that most people on social media have some variation of this problem. In life, I entered each space separately; on Facebook, it all happened simultaneously.
I find myself doing that all the time, although, perhaps my friend’s list isn’t diverse as Ms. Scribner’s. I seldom write anything really personal as most everything from my humor to the stuff that seems personal is all really just universal, big picture stuff. Because of my conservative friends, I’m afraid to proclaim that I’m really a pacifist who wants strict gun control and completely socialized medicine. So on and so forth and vice versa.
Plus, as Ms. Scribner points out, there’s the whole Oh-My-God-I’m-Being-Left-Out feeling, which is the exact opposite of what I felt when I first dialed up the internet my freshman year of High School. Now, I can’t help but feel that since I’m neither pregnant nor married nor in a serious relationship nor in my quote-unquote chosen career field nor going on really expensive trips every few months nor Instagraming my dinner and am not cuter than my pseudo-ex’s new love, that somehow — somehow! — I’m missing out on the common human experience that is life. And thus, it whizzes by me with Instagram filters while I read lengthy Russian novels and spend evenings in front of a typewriter that’s out of correction tape.
This depresses me. And, then, I’ve got to wonder if any of my “friends” are looking at my page with the same depressed green eyes of envy, thinking my life is the best. That thought depresses me even more.
Facebook is not about living. It’s about appearing to live. It’s the black and white, wittier, perfect-teeth, smoke-screened presentation of ourselves to each other. It’s about hiding behind these carefully-selected images, then sanitizing them so as not to offend, and are, finally, broken down into an algorithm so advertisers can earn millions. On Facebook, we are embodied irony shackled to “ourselves” and the voices of those around us.
Most days, the fight to hear my own voice or see it on the page is hard, even if this voice sounds like an old man getting a shave and complaining about the price of a bag of feed. At least in a small-town barbershop a man could be a man and not have to explain himself to the person who once said he was “ZOMG SO FUNNY” at that one party, or to his former pseudo-ex. No, it is true, I don’t need their voices. I need the freedom to be.