I absolutely love Facebook and I’m not afraid to say it. Sometimes it seems like I’m the only one – everywhere I look, people are bitching about how much they hate Facebook, saying that it’s ‘a waste of time’ or ‘creepy.’ I just think it’s a great way to keep in regular contact with people who I haven’t seen for years. That said, I might just not mind things that bother other people, seeing as I’m a serial procrastinator and sort of a creepy guy in general.
But I’m also aware of the inherent danger of posting stuff about yourself on the Internet – or maybe I’m not, seeing as I’ve been posting stuff about myself on the Internet twice a week for five years now. I guess what I’m saying is that I try to manage what I put on Facebook. As a matter of principle I don’t post status updates that are out-of-context song lyrics or vague, passive aggressive, emo statements, and the last Photo Booth self shot I posted was a picture of me face deep in a bag of cheddar cheese – an activity I am proud of to this day.
Facebook gives me at least some opportunity to control how people see me. In real life I’m a lost cause – I’m clumsy, I can’t think on my feet, about half of my jokes fall flat, and there is the constant threat of flatulence. On Facebook, though, I have a chance to extensively consider and rework every joke and relentlessly scrutinize every picture for imperfections, so what makes it onto my profile roughly approximates the sort of person I want to be (a cross between Joe Biden and Liz Lemon) rather than the person I am (a cross between a nerd and a dweeb).
Fortunately, even in the 21st century and despite the best efforts of the NSA, real life isn’t being permanently recorded. If you say or do something stupid in real life and nobody records it, eventually people will forget about it. It’s kind of Zen – if a tree says ‘yolo’ in the forest and nobody puts it on the Internet, did it actually happen?
When you do something stupid on the Internet, though, that shit stays there forever. This is why I’m thankful every day that Facebook wasn’t around when I was in high school.
Social networking is amazing for a number of reasons, but one of the things I find most interesting about it is its ability to make all the worst parts of puberty more visible and completely unforgettable. If you don’t believe me, just go to any one of the websites cataloguing stupid shit people post on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram – you’re going to see a lot of screengrabs of teenagers doing stupid teenager stuff that they’ll be futilely trying to put behind them in a year or two.
Because who doesn’t want to forget at least some of the stuff they did in high school? Hell – if I could go back in time Looper style and kick my 15-year-old self’s ass I would completely do it. I’ve spent years trying to forget the things I said, did, and thought back then, and the class of 2007 are pretty much the last people who can realistically do that.
I was too much of an elitist for MySpace in high school, and Facebook only started accepting high schoolers by the second semester of my senior year, when the worst of the hormones were over with. Nobody had heard of Twitter and Instagram and Tumblr didn’t exist yet. Hell, iPhones didn’t even come out until after I’d graduated. Some of my most awkward years went entirely undocumented - I was lucky.
Thanks to hormones, a sizable chunk of teenagers are narcissistic, whiny assholes, and thanks to social networking today’s teenagers are the first to have a direct digital means through which to acquire attention. This results in creepy, awkward, and embarrassing antics which, unlike me and my friends’ creepy, awkward, and embarrassing antics, will be archived online to haunt them for all eternity.
The emo Facebook updates and the nauseating four panel Instagram posts are pretty terrible – they’re basically an open portal into a seething pit of angst and sexual frustration. And as much as I enjoy looking through that portal and relishing the fact that I don’t live in there anymore, I still feel kind of bad for these kids: I was able to leave all of that behind, but some of them could have one embarrassing moment that seemed like a good idea at the time circulating on the Internet for years. And sometimes the consequences are a little more serious than just embarrassment.
After the election, Jezebel helpfully posted screengrabs of some of the most virulently racist tweets about the guy who won the election and the fact that he was less white than the other 43 presidents. Outraged readers tracked down the racist tweeters’ identities and discovered that virtually all of them were high school students. This didn’t stop Jezebel readers from playing Internet free speech vigilante and contacting the students’ schools in pursuit of disciplinary action.
Racism, obviously, is a horrible thing, but if you expect anything particularly well reasoned or insightful to come out of a 15-year-old’s mouth you’re kind of setting yourself up for failure. I’m not saying that all 15-year-olds are horrible people all of the time; I’m saying that some of them are horrible a lot of the time, because being horrible is just a thing that happens when you're a teenager, and most teenagers grow out of it. What's sad is that one careless moment of being horrible could come back to haunt these kids years down the road when an employer or a grad school admissions official Googles their names.
Doing things that embarrass you is a big part of being a teenager. Unfortunately for today’s teenagers, it looks like being embarrassed by an extensive online archive of their formative years could be a big part of their adulthood.
Truman Capps takes a moment every day to be thankful that there are no Instagram pictures of him in high school wearing calf high socks, leather clogs, cargo shorts, and a marching band T-shirt.