On Facebook, life begins at conception. “We’re expecting!”, your parents post. You don’t have fingers but you’re already accruing likes. A shared sonogram means hundreds have seen you before you’ve even opened your eyes. You have a Facebook presence despite lacking a physical one.
Think about that for a second. Like it or not, in 10 years Facebook has changed everything. Each phase of this life is playing out right now across a billion people.
You exist in limbo until you turn 13. Your parents can post whatever they want about you, but you’re not supposed to sign up. But perhaps your curiosity wins out, so you fake your age and create a profile. Quite possibly the first in a long series of adolescent rebellions and lies about your age.
From then on, every action you take and thought you think will be accompanied by a little background decision to be made: “Should I share this on Facebook?” Every sunset, surprise, and sexy face. Yes, you are thirteen years old and deciding which photo you look least ugly in so you can set it as your profile picture. When your parents walk in, you switch to another website or hit enter over and over until your chat history climbs out of view.
Each person you meet must be classified. To friend, or not to friend? Will their life provide enough entertainment? Will this weak tie generate opportunities down the road? Will connecting online make you more likely to connect offline again someday? The decision is not yours alone. It is theirs, but also society’s. The social contract demands courtesy. Accept their friendship, don’t break their heart. Then you’ll spend five seconds every year from then on either deciding not to wish them a happy birthday, or doing so as efficiently as possible.
You grow to become an actor in the success theater. Put on a good show and people will think you’re beautiful and accomplished. Refuse to take the stage and acquaintances will forget about you. Implode in the spotlight and they’ll all think you’re broken or desperate for sympathy. Your real friends will see through the statuses, though, and ask how you’re doing…really.
Eventually, something truly spectacular will happen to you. Rather than share it intimately with those geographically and socially closest to you, you will share some shadow or slideshow of your story with all your friends.
And they will congratulate you. They will like and fawn and comment and cheer and share your moment. And while you haven’t seen most of them in quite some time, their little tokens of appreciation will fill you with pride and joy and gratitude. These clicks can never recreate a hug, but that doesn’t make them worthless. Those resentful of your good fortune will scoff. And though you’ll never know exactly whose blood was boiled by your luck, a smug smirk will consume the corner of your mouth because you showed them, finally.
You’ll one day meet someone so attractive you can hardly wait to escape their presence so you can stalk their every publicly available tidbit of information. You never got their phone number, but with a combination of savvy search parameters you’ll pluck them from the billion-human haystack. You’ll message them something flirty you’d have been too scared to say on the phone and you’ll become “friends.” Before your first date, you’ll know all their favorite bands, the places they’ve travelled, and what their ex looks like. You’ll learn more about them alone than you could in a half-dozen dinners together. You’ll meet up having never heard their voice since that initial encounter. And you’ll fall in love with someone you would have lost but instead you found because you both live a Facebook life.
Your relationship will be condensed into a series of moments. A vacation together, a formal party, an anniversary dinner. No one will know about the fights over work/life balance or the creeping worry they’ll get bored of you, because those don’t make likeable posts. But you’ll send stickers to convey the complex emotions when you’re at a loss for words, and they’ll understand what you mean. You will accumulate a Timeline full of happy memories, and when you scroll through, you remember why you fell so hard in the first place.
You’ll create a secret Facebook event to set everything up. Friends with telephoto lenses stationed halfway across the park, a serendipitous string quartet. You know this moment isn’t just for you two. It’s a public expression that you’ll do anything to make them happy. You get down on one knee and the photos are being uploaded before they can even stop crying to say “yes.” You hold hands as you change your relationship status to “Engaged.”
You will see ads for wedding photographers, for caterers, for florists. You will seek nothing because the intent you’ve revealed and the money in your pocket are enough to make marketers salivate with the thrill of the chase. You will send a “Save The Date” via Facebook but not the invitations because this is special. You won’t change your relationship status to “married” at the altar because that’s tacky, but will do it as soon as you two are alone together. A modern consummation.
You will be anxious because people will share photos from the wedding with the friends you just weren’t close enough with to invite. They will be offended but comment “wow, looks like so much fun” and you will feel awful, but you’ll all get over it.
Soon it will be you posting that you’re expecting. The birth will see you struggle to reconcile experiencing the moment first-hand and documenting it for friends. No matter what anyone tells you, you’ll swear everything your child does is monumental and worth sharing. Your friends will privately loathe this but publicly humor you with “aww cute” and “they’re growing up so fast.”
Then one day your kid will join Facebook and you’ll have to choose if you’re their “friend” or not. You’ll be terrified they’re on there sharing sexed-up selfies and fodder for identity theft. You’ll demand to see their profile and realize they’re just talking about how much homework sucks. It will take you a while to realize that the scandalous stuff now goes down in other apps, not Facebook.
You’ll embarrass your kid by commenting on their posts. When some snot-nosed brat bullies your kid in their statuses, you’ll calmly message their parents telling them to teach their children better netiquette. But you’ll also seek revenge by reporting the little jerk to Facebook, hoping it’ll shut down their account and assassinate their digital existence.
And when you grow old, your family will ask their friends to keep you in their prayers. But when you pass, you won’t disappear. Your profile will become a memorial page, a shrine to the moments of your life that you converted from atoms to bits. And once again, you will have a Facebook presence without a physical one.