As the story goes, “Thefacebook” was started by college sophomore Mark Zuckerberg in his dorm room at Harvard. From Harvard, it spread to other Boston universities, then the Ivy League, then universities nationwide, then high schools. You might have heard of it? It’s now the second most-visited website in the world. Facebook turns ten years old today, which makes it a geezer in the landscape of relevant social networks, an institution that’s stood the test of time in comparison to other internet graveyards. While teenagers may now find the site “boring” and too “adult,” as someone who had an account for the bulk of her adolescence, I’ll forever think of Facebook as my entry into a high-school experience — for better and for worse.
I signed up for a Facebook account as a freshman in high school, a few months after the site opened up to anybody with a valid email address. I only got one because I missed out on some crucial speech and debate news, and eventually gave in to the urgings of my classmates to join the Next Big Thing. But before I even logged on, I was already a bit jaded. Exposure to LiveJournal and MySpace had made me hyper-aware that people do cruel shit on the internet. My best friend was catfished on MySpace before there was even a word for it. Facebook brought the promise of legitimacy through real names, but it was not a promised land. Instead, it reflected high school. For me, there was no FOMO in watching former elementary school friends live out their Laguna Beach-aspirational existences — there was just genuine, actually missing out on typical suburban high school stuff. Facebook was an IRL echo chamber.
I used Facebook as an observer, my default setting in high school. I watched the popular kids post photos of their cross-faded adventures — which, not being friends with any of them, I still had access to — and yelled at my computer screen, “You put THAT on the internet? How stupid are you?” I rolled my eyes at friends’ paragraphs-long, emotional diatribes about evil teachers and general life suckage. I scoffed at webcam photos of scene kids from my P.E. class who made references to Gloomy Bear. I judged them for putting all this online, and sometimes I wonder if I’m a quicker, harsher critic of my peers because of it. But, in some ways, being exposed to all that information has made me a more sympathetic person.
Though I existed far outside the scopic economy of high school life, Facebook was a place to cyber-follow dramas and feel somewhat entwined in a life I’d otherwise know nothing about, or feel no connection to. And you do get a personal look into other people’s lives, to some degree. People’s Facebook representations of themselves never quite match up to who they are in real life, and seeing that disparity feels staggeringly intimate. Everyone’s performing, in some way.
I think we eventually reach this understanding regardless of technology. Of course, I can’t make definitive statements about how Facebook altered my young psyche, because a Facebook teenagerdom is the only one I’ve ever known. However, from my years-long experience as a digital native (sorry for the buzzword), Facebook draws out your preexisting personality traits, or draws attention to the places you feel are lacking. In the end, Facebook became an extension of my high school life, one I just happen to be able to peek back into every once in a while. I actually appreciate having my messy teenage existence so readily available for my own perusal. In some ways, it’s freeing. I’m not the same person I was when I started using Facebook over seven years ago, but it’s nice to keep high school me around, acne and DIY bangs and all. I’ve come a long way.