Recently, a girl I knew from school – not a friend, you understand, just a Facebook friend – literally live-blogged her birth via an onslaught of Facebook statuses. My friends and I watched, fascinated, as she shared gory details about centimetres dilated and cramps and pessaries from her hospital bed, each status more stomach-clenching than the last. The day after the baby was born she added 238 photographs to an album in its name. One of them was a close up of the baby’s testicles. This appeared to aggravate one of her other Facebook-oversharing-friends into attacking her via Facebook, sparking a good old Facebook row (‘Ignore her hun, block & delete she’s just jealous’ – although why you would be jealous, unless you had a baby boy with no testicles, remains unexplained).
I learnt two things from this debacle; firstly that if I ever have a baby boy, I will try and look at it occasionally without the aid of a camera lens, and secondly, that Facebook is just awful these days. I have loved it and tried to keep that love alive for a very long time, but it is dying, and it’s death tolls make me sad.
My cousin was the first person who told me about Facebook. It was 2008, and I was in my first year at university; those heady, endless days of summer, Archers and Lemonade and battered poetry books and boys with long hair and nights out in denim skirts with leggings and ballet shoes. I signed up on my Dad’s old desktop and made my profile photo one of me and some friends in my union. I was making the oral sex sign (classy) and had blonde highlights that I thought made me look like Rachel Green, which they did, if you were squinting at me from really far away in the dark. By the next morning I had gained eight friends and a new addiction.
I stayed addicted for years. Myspace was too jazzy for me, too much noise and colour and the constant fear of accidentally blaring out Cute Is What We Aim For at full blast across a deadly silent library. Twitter was too verbose, too cool, too much pressure to be funny more than once a day. Instagram, when it came along, was vain and try hard. Snapchat made absolutely no sense at all. Facebook was, and until recently remained, my happy place.
Like MSN when I was sixteen, my relationships from 2008 and onwards played out across my Facebook page. The first boy I liked at university wrote jokey messages on my wall. I had a laptop with one of those separate Wifi sticks that you plugged into the USB port and I would move it round our dingy student house trying to find enough signal to reply. It was better than MSN because you could take a bit longer and so be a bit funnier. We didn’t work out. I cried when I saw that he was ‘In A Relationship’ with somebody else.
I took photographs just so that I could upload them. There was a 60-photograph-limit then so those early albums are carefully curated edits, pieces of my life; summer balls, nights out, weekends away – our teenage faces pressed close together, people I still love and people I don’t know at all, all carefully tagged together. When Facebook introduced statuses, they were prefixed with an ‘is’. I thought of everything in terms of statuses – ‘Catherine is walking into town to get ice cream.’ ‘Catherine is hungover and tired.’ ‘Catherine is finding it a bit weird how she now thinks in the third person.’ I tried harder to be funny, witty, inventive. I created statuses about my life – or did I create my life to make statuses? The lines blurred. Did I go on nights out just to take photographs? Did I go and see that band just so I could get Likes on a status? If I had a good time anyway, did it matter?
I met my husband in the third year of university. It took me three meetings before I was brave enough to add him on Facebook. He had another girlfriend then. We graduated. Facebook was the only string that held us together, the only reason we remembered each other. I noticed we liked the same music. He sent me a drunk text message – you know, your Facebook statuses are really funny. We messaged occasionally. I noticed his relationship status change. There was a gig, a band we both liked. Did I want to go? I did. Would it have happened without Facebook? It would not.
I don’t know why it changed, but slowly, without me noticing, Facebook started dying, and now here is all you can see on there:
1. People asking stupid questions that they could just Google (‘Will bleach get wine out of the carpet?’ Can’t you just ask your mum?)
2. Adverts that creep you out because how do they know you’re going to a wedding next week?
3. People sharing videos of clips from football games
4. Photographs of other people’s babies/cats
5. A comment saying ‘Jack Roberts liked a photo from T!TS DAILY’ and a picture of a girl doing the washing up in a G string, as if the Internet isn’t full enough of places for you to appreciate porn without your Aunt Carol and everyone you used to go to school with knowing you’re doing it
6. Inspirational quotes that Marylin Monroe might’ve once said.
Can’t we bring the good Facebook back? If I started making funny statuses again and sharing photos of my friends drunkenly eating burgers or doing shots of sambuca and saying ‘Maybe Attending’ to house parties I will definitely not be going to and setting my status as ‘Married’ to my best friend, who has been fraped and has her name set as ‘Julia Loves BarryManilow’ – if I did that, would we all did that, would Facebook be good again? Would I be 21 and carefree again?
Cate Cruse is hoping so.