Yesterday, to mark Facebook’s 10th birthday, my TC colleague Josh Constine wrote about life lived through the lens of Facebook – where all a person’s intimate ‘milestone’ moments, from birth to marriage to death, are strutted out on the social network’s stage.
Here’s an alternative perspective on Facebook’s significance, drawing on a recent Pew study that suggests the service has become a largely passive photo-portal for peering into others’ lives, rather than a significant contributor to the progress of one’s own.
I wake up with Northern Europe’s low winter light filtering through the blinds in my bedroom. The silence is near perfect. It’s too early to hear the week-day procession of parents ferrying their kids to the neighbourhood school.
The slamming concert of car doors and tearful wails of protest at another day wrenched from comforts of home and bed will filter through the single-glazed window panes into my office in a few hours.
Later still, the sounds of life going on elsewhere will shift from the front of the house to the back, drifting over the gardens from the school playground, as wave after wave of joyous shrieks — tears of parting and protest long forgotten.
For a moment I let my mind drift, indulging in a feeling of transitional limbo, allowing the silence before the work day begins to let me collect my thoughts.
Such waking moments of quietude and personal reflection don’t translate to social media. They leave no digital footprint to be tracked and traced. Their impact is internal, unquantifiable, yet undeniable.
My phone’s alarm sounds, pulling me parent-like in the direction of work. Demanding I open a few apps — Convo, Gmail, Twitter — to check in with colleagues and check in on the news cycle.
As I head for my office to start work proper, I close this entirely unchronicled chapter of my morning, lacking social commentary and with no incremental increase in the number of likes attached to my existence, without regret. I carry its reflectivity with me — intact and internal.
The demands of work pull me in multiple digital directions during the day, as I take calls, interview founders, spend time writing and researching, and converse with colleagues remotely. Some of this work leaves a public trace, of course, stamped with my byline. Other parts of it remain unpublished — but although hidden from view these bits are no less essential; the underpinnings reinforcing the (pen) tip of a writer’s output.
I use many digital tools to get work done — from Skype to WordPress to Chrome — but Facebook is rarely, if ever, one of them.
If I need to break off for a moment during the day to talk with a friend there are many choices on tap — Google Chat, Skype, SMS, email, Twitter — all ready to become the private go-between for shared personal communication that does not demand a public arena.
I don’t categorise my friends by the type of technology we use to communicate with. Or the amount of entertainment they provide for me. Or the opportunities that knowing them might open up in future. A friend is a friend is a friend is a friend. And not every friend is a Facebook friend.
These are people I know well enough IRL to have become friends with in the first place. There’s shared history between us. We have stuff to say to each other. None of us treats each other as an incremental number in a vanity tally. We like each other; we don’t need to like each others’ Facebook posts.
When there are events to arrange — birthdays, leaving drinks, dinners, coffees — some of these friends do use Facebook to send invitations. But they always text, tweet, IM or email a reminder too. I haven’t missed any social events I wanted to go to because I didn’t check into Facebook often enough.
At lunchtime I leave my computer to make a sandwich and some coffee. I watch the cats caper around the kitchen while the kettle boils, playing with off-cuts of the carpet remnant which was recently fitted upstairs. I take a photo of them playing on my phone — and email it to my mum, who views it on her iPad and emails me back. My mum and I are not Facebook friends.
Later still, as the work day draws to a close, I receive an SMS from someone truly spectacular. We’re not Facebook friends either, and never will be. We didn’t meet online. There’s zero photo-log of our relationship in existence anywhere in the cyber ether. Digitally, we don’t exist — unless you count email and SMS.
We carry on our conversation in person over dinner. The topics that fire our collective imagination become shared themes, embedding themselves in the language we use with each other, building a collective understanding between two individuals that draws us closer.
None of this communication happens over or on Facebook. None of the time we spend together has any place on Facebook. It remains a phaneron of our own.
And so another day ends, without any trace of Facebook.