This may sound strange, considering you are reading this on WordPress and may have linked here through my Twitter account, but I am not a huge fan of social networking. It’s just not for me. I post here and on Twitter using an alias, and try to keep my real identity obfuscated (though it has leaked through a couple times). I don’t have Facebook or Instagram accounts. I have no idea how Snapchat works. I have a LinkedIn page that I only seem to use when I’m looking for a new job, and pretty much ignore otherwise.
But I tried to be social once upon a time. I used to go into chat rooms on AOL and Compuserve long ago. I had a Firefly page when I was in college (a story for another time). I flirted with BBS boards and mIRC chat rooms for a few years, but it wasn’t until MySpace that I truly tried to commit to a social networking platform, and it would turn me off to social networking for many years after.
I first signed up for MySpace in my late twenties. In many ways, it was an attempt to stay cool and relevant with new technology. A lot of people were talking about it, and I decided to give it a try. Some of my friends were already on it, so it seemed okay. I created a page, then started sending out invites to the people I already knew were on there. I developed unfriended “Tom,” developed the appropriate “top 8” of my friends, and agonized over my profile. And there I was, out there for the internet to consume. “Hey everybody, here’s a list of my favorite books and over here is a list of my favorite TV shows.” I attempted my first selfie to get a better profile picture. I took a lot of shit for my selfie since it was taken in my back yard, and was obviously just for the purpose of a profile pic. I uploaded some more photos. It all seemed so innocent and fun, even if I didn’t really understand the point. My only friends were people who were friends with me in real life. I was putting out no new information to anyone. It was a vanity exercise. I didn’t have to use the built in messenger service, since I could just call any of these people, or I would see them at work. But there I was, profile page and all, on a social network site.
It felt about the same as when I was on Firefly. Most of my time was devoted to crafting the perfect profile page to encapsulate the me I wanted the world to think I was. I used the limited html knowledge I had picked up years earlier when I had a Geocities page to change the color scheme. I tried to only list the books and music and movies that I thought made me look cool. I tried to be clever in my profile. I didn’t work on it everyday, but it was something that I browsed at least once a day to see if anyone liked my page. Again, total vanity exercise.
The main thing I did on MySpace was look up new music. I didn’t have to rely on the radio and personal recommendations from friends anymore. I could look up all sorts of new artists, and listen to samples of their music, and friend them, and be in the know what they were working on. I picked up a lot of new bands this way, most notably Dr. Steel. While wandering around looking for all things steampunk, I found my way to his MySpace page. I listened to the tracks he had up and was really interested. I even added some of them to the player on my page (another feature I scrutinized over for hours to make sure I had the right playlist being but out to the masses). MySpace was a great place to discover music. I used it a lot to check out opening bands for concerts I was going to. I first heard DeVotchKa that way, as well as less mentioned bands I found like Eisbrecher, The Dead Kenny G’s, Architecture in Helsinki and Stolen Babies. All of those artists are still a part of my collection, and all of them were first discovered by wandering around MySpace.
There was another side to MySpace that I didn’t enjoy, though. So, in the beginning, the only people I got friend requests from were people I talked to in real life. It was just an online representation of my real group of friends and aquaintences. But then I started getting requests from other people. The total strangers I could handle. Some were bots, and they were easy to just deny or ignore. Others seemed interesting, and we shared some common interests, but I wasn’t really in the mindset to start making a bunch of online friends. I’m not good at communication, especially keeping up with it. For years, online me has been an avatar, a “persona” that only utilizes the parts of me that I want people to think are awesome. But I don’t have the energy to keep that lie up long enough to create any kind of real relationship with a total stranger online, so I just don’t. No, the total strangers were not the problem. The problem was the people from high school reaching out to me all of a sudden.
It started with one or two people I knew from high school. They weren’t really close friends, but they were people I was friendly with when I was there. I accepted a couple of their friend requests. We sent a few messages back and forth, the simple “where do you live” and “what do you do” icebreakers. It was fine, but I really didn’t want to re-tell all of the events of the previous ten years to give them enough context to have a conversation about my current state of affairs. I just didn’t care enough. But then a funny thing happened. I started getting friend requests from people in high school that I was definitely not friends with, and in some cases people that, while they didn’t directly bully or antagonize me, were always cold or dismissive of me. Why did these people want to be my friend. We didn’t talk then, why start now? Some of them actually got offended when I didn’t accept.
When I left high school, I made a lot of empty promises to stay in touch with people. In reality, I only ever planned on keeping in contact with a handful of people. I did not enjoy high school, why would I want constant reminders by continuing to talk to high school friends? I’m nostalgic about a lot of things. High school is not on that list. So if I didn’t make efforts to stay in touch, I thought people would understand that it wasn’t an over-site and that it wasn’t because stamps and long-distance phone calls cost too much, it was because I didn’t think we had anything left to offer each other. This may sound petty, but I’ve never been a highly social person. I like a small, tight knit group of friends more than I like meeting new people. But, here were all these high school acquaintances, looking to rekindle friendships that never existed in the first place. I just didn’t get it, and just got more and more annoyed by it.
Worse was when I became what I disliked. With the knowledge that these people had found me somehow, be it through a mutual “friend” or through a group (I was automatically added to a group for the high school when I mentioned it in my profile) or just through the search function. In my curiosity to figure out how I was being discovered by people who didn’t know a damn thing about me besides my name, I ended up going down the same rabbit hole that brought these faces from my past to me. I started searching for people from my past that I would actually want to hear from. However, figuring that if they hadn’t found me, that maybe I was to them what these other people were to me, I never attempted to friend them. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t stalk them just a bit. It became a real issue. I started comparing my life to theirs, started trying to decide if I had made the right choices a decade ago when I lost or cut contact with them. I started playing endless rounds of the “what if?” game. It was not healthy. I became more concerned with past decisions and what was going on with people I wasn’t talking to than I was with current decisions and what my real friends were doing.
So I stopped. I left my page to slowly rot, not updating it or even logging in unless I had to (some bands didn’t have a page in the “music” section which was public and only had a “personal” page which was private to non-MySpace users). As MySpace started to decline and Facebook started to rise, I switched over and created a Facebook account. The same thing happened. I was contacted by a couple of people from high school, people I could care less about. I didn’t want to get into that again.
That’s when I cancelled both accounts. I went through the trouble to completely cancel them, not just put them on hold. I found that both MySpace and Facebook really didn’t want you to leave. They were so sure that your decision was just a temporary lapse in judgement that their real cancellation options were buried in several levels of menus and not obviously accessible, and they required several verification before they would let it happen. Even after jumping through all of those hoops, my pages would still remain active for a couple of weeks in case I “changed my mind.” I didn’t. Social Networking is fascinating, and a useful tool in our society. But mostly, it’s not for me. I have Twitter, which I use as more of a news aggregator than a platform to express my every thought and action. I have this blog, too. Other than that, my social networking is mostly done in real life. This bit of technology is leaving me behind, and I’m okay with that.