It was 2006. I’d heard of Facebook but I had never realised that I was the only person in the world who didn’t have an account. I had just moved to France as part of my course and a whole new social network opened up to me, but I had to be on Facebook to be a part of it. So I caved in and set up my page.
Within days I was more popular than I had ever been in my life. As long as I could remember someone’s full name after I’d met them, I had a friend for life. Everyone I’d gone to school with added me, anyone I’d ever sat next to on the train – they were all my poking new best friends.
Admittedly, I started to get a little hooked. Facebook was the first thing that I looked at when I woke up, just to see if I’d got a message or been tagged. Dangerously it was also the last thing I would look at at night, even if I had come home at 5am drunk and tired, I’d log in and send a few messages that I would come to regret in the morning.
One night, I visited a friend in a neighbouring hall of residence. We were drinking wine in pre-clubbing style and looking at people’s pictures on Facebook. She told me about a friend of hers. This friend was within the social group that we had created, of English students in a foreign country. She came to our nights out regularly and had built up some solid friendships with a few of the others. But there was an event created on Facebook to which she wasn’t invited. Instead of coming along anyway through an invite she received by word of mouth, she cried. She cried because someone had overlooked her generic name and forgotten to add her to the invitees, she cried for the friends that she thought she had but had lost, she cried for her loss of a social status that she believed she had built up. I wondered, how could an internet site, a few words on a colourful page, transient as the internet usually is, how could that upset someone to such an extent? I started to notice how people’s behaviour had been affected by the site. Even a very good and logical friend of mine would pick her outfits for a night out, specifically with Facebook photos in mind.
Two years on I was back in England, I’d fallen in love and I hadn’t checked Facebook for over a week. I graduated, got a job, moved in with my boyfriend and decided that Facebook really wasn’t needed anymore so I closed my account, promising myself that I would keep in touch with my real friends in person.
And then things went a little wrong. I went to a family event and my cousin was being a bit off with me. It turned out she thought that I’d just deleted her as a friend on Facebook because I was fed up with her messages. She had been searching through my brother’s friend list to see if I was still on there. I also found out I’d annoyed another friend because in leaving the site I had taken away the only photos where she had been sober. I apologised and said that I would e-mail them to her so she had them to keep. New work friends felt dismissed when asking to add me and then being informed that I’d left the site because I thought it represented the decline of real social skills.
But I did what I had intended and called up a friend and met for lunch. It was a much nicer way to catch up then just by exchanging a couple of messages. We chatted solidly for 2 hours and I can’t wait to do it again.
I must admit that I like the feeling that many acquaintances will wonder what happened and if I dropped off the face of the earth. I like that when I go to a computer my first thought isn’t to check Facebook. Leaving Facebook gives you that sense of freedom that you get when you’ve gone out without your mobile. I still have friends the only difference is that they are all real; I can get a physical hug when I need one, not a virtual one.