Yesterday, I read two articles about Facebook, which I’ve now been on for almost seven years. The first was a Pew report that gauged the social media attitudes of 802 teenagers. Called “Teens, Social Media, and Privacy,” the article found that the average 13- to 18-year-old shares much of himself on Facebook, but he tends to limit the information that gets to everyone, because, maybe, he has created a reputation incompatible with that Instagram where he’s holding a joint, or that poorly edited Tupac line he’s thrown into Favorite Quotes. This unwillingness to show identical private and public lives (as Facebook wants you to do) has led to teenagers' expressing a disillusionment with the social network. Money quote: “Focus group discussions with teens show that they have waning enthusiasm for Facebook, disliking the increasing adult presence, people sharing excessively, and stressful ‘drama,’ but they keep using it because participation is an important part of overall teenage socializing.”
In other words, few teens really want to be on Facebook. Just like no one wants to always be available, 24/7, for a phone call from your younger brother, Facebook has become both a nuisance and a social obligation. A begrudging necessity. These 13- to 18-year-olds have grown up with the tool, and it’s now an “important part of overall teenage socializing.” Meaning, they're trapped. They can’t leave. Think of what the others would say.
The second article I read was about a group of people who have long fascinated me: The Amish. As any fan of the Amish knows, devout mid-teens go through a period of religion-sponsored rebellion called “Rumspringa,” when they cut loose, party, embrace technology, and, finally, wear a zipper or two. This period of exploration, unfortunately, has an end date: At Rumspringa’s end, the teens are asked whether they want to leave the faith or be baptized. 90% toss the zippers.1
Many Amish teens, who haven't seen a computer before Rumspringa, are currently embracing Facebook (more, even, than the Mike’s Hard and the wine coolers). “Every [Amish teen] is on Facebook,” writes Buzzfeed’s Justine Sharrock. “They use tech and social networking with purpose bordering on urgency. When I asked Noah what’s different about how the Amish use Facebook, he suggested that they use it more so than non-Amish do. It’s critical for a Rumspringa social life.”
Facebook's albums are filled with teenagers dressed like 19th-century farmers, and selfies of girls who write “Loving my life” or “YOLO” underneath their bonnets. They profess to wanting to find a spouse through the technology. It’s all pretty weird and hilarious—the Amish have discovered the Internet in an unexpected way, like your grandmother sending you a reaction GIF—and it reminds me, a lot, of what Facebook was like a few years ago.
Before it began its second life as the Arab Spring-inducing, social change-or-whatever thing it is today, Facebook was a diversion. It was birthed from a drunken Mark Zuckerberg, who, one Tuesday night, used photos from the online facebooks of nine Harvard houses to create a Harvard Hot or Not called Facesmash. Facesmash pulled in 22,000 photo-views in its first four hours, disrupted the school, and created a campus celebrity out of Zuck, who would very soon use its underpinnings—namely, a focus on sex and hookup culture–to create a college social network that allowed you to “poke” girls you wanted to sleep with, or tell other users whether you were looking for “a random play” or “whatever [you] could get.” Facebook then had a mischievous quality. You got a lot of enjoyment out of adding friends, especially people you kind of knew and kind of wanted to know more, and you always felt like you were in a club, as dumb as that sounds. The Social Network was fictional, but it got the exclusivity of The Facebook right.
And, in farmtowns across western Pennsylvania, Amish teens are currently experiencing what most of us felt around 2007. This is, roughly, the excitement that comes before a new thing on the Internet becomes hated.
No one I know professes to enjoy Facebook anymore. No one. The complaints are legion, and too numerous to really go into deeply here. (There’s "FOMO," the employer surveillance, the constant stress that something from your private life will be seen by a grandparent. Among many other factors.) It induces stress constantly. I’d be willing to bet that many users even stress about who’s writing on their fucking wall during their birthdays. As the network has morphed from enjoyable diversion into all-consuming goliath, it's become a hated necessity. Only the most wide-eyed Internet innocents can like it.
Which is why these two articles matter. I'm beginning to think it's silly to constantly belly-ache about Facebook, or to critique it in the hopes that it'll get better. It won't. It never will. Once a convenience exists in our lives for an extended period of time, we just can't appreciate it. Facebook has been there for around six years for a lot of people, nearly a decade for others.2 Think back to the last time you were grateful for something Time Warner Cable did. Or your local movie theater. Or your washer and dryer. We will never approach Zuck's drunken creation like we did six years ago, or like the Amish do now. Its problems deserve, then, about as much of your concern as your fax machine's.
Facebook sucks now. It’ll always suck. That's how old conveniences work. Stop whining about it. (You first.)
1This was all memorably portrayed in the terrible and awesome 2004 TV show Amish in the City, which was light-years better than that fraudulent Breaking Amish.
2I don't think it's a coincidence that Facebook's 2006 decision to open up to anyone with an email address coincides with the last time the currently shit-on Arrested Development was on the air. Absence makes the heart go fonder—omnipresence just makes you angry.