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It’s 2am and, for the past hour, I’ve been reliving an entire decade of my life. As far as I can tell, it was a phenomenally stupid decade. If my Facebook pictures are anything to go by, I spent all of uni honking my friends’ boobs and putting things on my head. I then spent my early- to mid-20s dressed stupidly, in the company of a lot of people I now can barely remember. My God, the Hat Phase. There I am in a fedora at Pride; skinnier and better-looking, but clearly having a hard time establishing my “look”.
This is the longest I’ve spent on Facebook in about four years. Finally, I’ve decided to delete it. In my 30s, it’s started to stress me out that my profile still exists. Drunk pictures of me on display for people I haven’t thought about in a decade. Whatever teenage me saw worthy of a status update just out there, searchable, findable, obscured only by privacy settings that I don’t fully understand.
It’s hard to say exactly what turned me off the platform in the first place, but I remember when it started to get a bit stinky. It was like it was going sour. It started to resemble a digital creche for boomers and people in pyramid schemes, run by the dead-eyed and passionless Mark Zuckerberg – an individual about as cool as a middle-aged geography teacher in a backwards cap, rapping about saying no to cigarettes. It was all just a bit depressing. Scrolling through Twitter, I at least feel something (usually searing rage). But Facebook seemed like an eternal 2010: indifferent, comfortable and twee.
And the less time I spent on Facebook, the more notifications I seemed to get. I started to get notifications for everything. A girl I’d met in a toilet queue eight years ago was selling a drying rack. Someone I was at school with and didn’t particularly like was attending a prison-themed club night. And these things I needed to know, because Zuckerberg was palpably desperate for my attention. Perhaps even more so now with the “Meta” rebrand, and the dogged insistence of a move, en masse, to the “metaverse”.
But the task at hand – now – is to remain on this godforsaken platform, until I’ve dragged and dropped every picture worth saving on to my desktop. I remember switching from Myspace to Facebook in around 2007, when I was 18. Facebook seemed a little more grown up. It was sleeker, and there was much less room for the kind of customisation that would result in sudden bedazzlement by a moving background and a blast of Mr Brightside. But with its “poke” function and this newfangled idea of posting your “status”, Facebook somehow managed to convince us all it was fun.
I shared life-changing events on Facebook. I posted about new jobs and relationships. I came out on my “wall”. One of my last statuses was in 2017, when my mum died. And yet, when I look through the thousands of pictures of me on the platform, they’re full of people I struggle to name now. Even at birthday parties, people crop up who make me wonder if I’m looking at my life in an alternate universe. “Who the hell is that?” I keep on saying to myself. In part, this may be a glaring testament to just how bad I am at maintaining friendships. I’m one of the only people I know, for example, who has now lost touch with everyone they knew at university.
It’s not all misspent time, of course. I find myself tearing up a bit at the photos of an Interrailing trip I went on with my uni housemates when I was 19. There we are, posing on a bridge in Budapest, and – on a hot day – standing right in the Louvre fountain. The inside jokes start flooding back.
Facebook, I’m realising, encapsulates the “banter” that defined the era of 2007-2012 like almost nothing else. Which maybe isn’t surprising for a social media site that started off as a place for students to rate their female classmates’ attractiveness. When it went mainstream, it carried forward that founding philosophy of creepiness like the Olympic torch. In a time where your friends would tag you in pictures where you’re practically dying of alcohol poisoning, this was the last moment in which social media was more id than ego. It was Fomo-inducing, but rarely aspirational.
Before clicking the final “delete” on my page, I scroll through my hidden messages – those from people I’m not friends with. One from a man I don’t know, from 2016, simply says: “bitch”. I briefly consider replying, before realising just how much of a depressing act that would be.
There’s nothing left for me here, I think to myself, as I say goodbye to a digital decade.
Eleanor Margolis is a columnist for the i newspaper and Diva