Facebook went bye-bye Monday afternoon. The most surprising thing is what I felt when I realized it was gone: absolutely nothing. Not relief, not panic — certainly not the help-me-I-can’t-breathe panic when, say, your computer won’t boot up. Honestly, I didn’t notice, at first.
But Twitter started ululating about Facebook disappearing. I wondered if anybody tried pounding the top of Facebook with the flat of their hand; that worked for my Kaypro. Mostly I was busy napping, having gotten my third COVID booster Sunday night. Running a 99.8 fever, the afternoon had already taken on that dreamy, home-from-school-with-Gumby quality.
Then again, I’m one of those rare people paid to use Facebook, sort of. It’s part of my job, anyway. I still remember the meeting — remember meetings? — where we were informed that we would join Facebook and we would like it. Building our brands. In keeping with my habit of missing the significance of every single important technological shift of my entire life, Facebook struck me as ludicrous.
“We’re a mass market publication,” I objected. “Why not make us go down to the street and strike up conversations with passersby while you’re at it?”
I soon discovered how wrong I was. Facebook is a resource, a tool. Forbes asked me to write a story about Barbie mutilation (it’s a thing; academic papers are written about it) and I faced the challenge of how to go about researching the story. Hanging around schoolyards, trying to talk to actual girls about cutting up their Barbie dolls seemed a Bad Idea.
Or ... I posted my interest on the subject line of Facebook, and was thrilled as potential subjects lined up. “Ooo, Facebook,” I thought. “It’s like having a legman.” Later, I was with the boys in Salt Lake City. We toured the Mormon Temple, exhausting my store of ideas of what to do there. Now what? I posted this query and someone on Facebook suggested we go to Ruth’s Diner. We did. Twice. Red trout and eggs and chocolate malt pudding. Yay, Facebook!
I began calling Facebook the “Hive Intelligence.” If I wanted to take the public’s temperature — well, a self-selective group, mostly white men about my age — I could feel Facebook’s pulse. Remember Luna Lovegood’s heartbreakingly perky line from Harry Potter? “It’s like having friends!”
Only it isn’t. Facebook is like having a 5,000-person Rotary meeting going on in your pocket. All the time. As a dynamic communication form, it was surpassed by Twitter years ago. If Twitter is a loud bar, Facebook is a nursing home TV lounge. Yes, 3 billion people belong, but then again, having a landline telephone used to be all the rage too. But eventually it fell away. Even Facebook seems to know this, which is why it hoovered up platforms like Instagram, which indeed is social media opium, with its pert shuffle dancers and Turkish contractors spreading plaster. Touch a glowing stick to the tarry chunk of Instagram in your bowl, and 20 minutes of life vanish up the pipe before you know it. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. But you don’t want to spend all day that way.
I don’t fully buy the destroying democracy aspect of Facebook, just because, like Dorothy’s ruby slippers, it only takes you places that you are already able to go. Never forget, the Germans pulled off World War II without social media. Facebook might condense, organize and inflate the pitchfork waving nuttery, the swirling whirlwind of acid malice spinning at the heart of the American character. But it was already there, long ago. As the nation that kept slavery going for 240 years with fountain pens and mail bags, I can’t see blaming our current woes on Facebook.
Then again, remember my asleep-at-the-switch quality regarding technology. Facebook could have never come back, and I’d be happy. Mostly. Yes, I might miss its, “This is what you did nine years ago!” quality, miss my dimwitted little pal who finds me vastly fascinating and is constantly tugging my shirtsleeve to tell me, But I’d get by. I hope we remember the collective shrug society made when the constant low-grade whining noise of Facebook fell blissfully silent for an afternoon. I don’t think I can voluntarily pitch the thing: it gets clicks. But I can use it far less than I do. And so can you.