It’s strange to think that it’s been barely a decade since we became friends. Now I check on you more diligently than I check on my mother. You know some of my deepest darkest secrets. You know what kind of Indian dish I would be or which city suits my personality. (Please let it be Paris.) You can predict what I will be interested in. You are like my BFF, my Jeeves, my Dopamine fix, the real reason I have not written a second novel.
Now you are 15. Fifteen is very middle-aged in app years and Facebook, we both know it, you are losing that cool edge you once had.
As we celebrate your birthday, I’d like to tell you about all the ways in which you’ve changed my life.
You’ve changed what a friend means. I thought friends were people you hung out with, shared a laugh or two with, people you actually knew. Facebook, you’ve taught me that a friend is anyone who sends you a friend request. Once you accept the request you are miraculously friends. You know each other’s birthdays even if you have no idea who the other person is, where she lives, what she does. It’s amazing. Sometimes, I scroll through my friend list and wonder “Who is this person?” It’s someone I’ve never met, never interacted with, and never exchanged messages with. But then I see we have 73 mutual friends and I feel reassured.
Also, I’ve learned, thanks to you, that friends are collectables. Like stamps. The more friends you have, the more successful you are. The other day someone said, “Sent you a friend request some years ago. Looking for your immediate action in this regard.” I felt important for a moment. Then I tried to befriend someone and she said, “Sorry I have reached my maximum. I will have to unfriend someone to accept you.” I felt small again. So, I promptly changed my profile picture hoping to feel better by getting at least 100 likes. By the way, Facebook friend poachers, who snoop around their friends’ friend lists trying to pick up friends, don’t think we can’t see you.
Dear Facebook, you do realise you’ve changed how we think about vacations, about meals, about moments with family and friends. Nothing happens unless it’s in a Facebook album with the correct hashtag. Nothing happens until it gets “liked” because like is the new love. We even liked the announcements about parents and pets dying because it was easier than typing “hugs and condolences”. Now thankfully you’ve given us sad emojis and angry emojis and Wow emojis to make our emotional life that much richer. Thanks, Facebook, for feeling our pain.
But perhaps the biggest way in which you’ve changed our lives, Facebook, is by making us think deeply about what’s personal and what’s public. You have taught us that we must share, nay overshare. We don’t care about gobs of personal data we let third-person apps get access to because we really want to know whether we are an English Shepherd or a boxer or a beagle.
Some of us process endlessly about whatever mini-crisis we are in the middle of and demand Facebook hugs as if that would make us all feel virtually better. Some of us feel our significant others don’t know we love them unless we post those kootchie-cooing couple pictures clicked on a beach.
And then those writers who want to post every Goodreads review, you should not try so hard! There are those who Photoshop their Facebook lives to such glossy perfection that the rest of us want to go and drown ourselves in a bucket of water. Yes, yes I drag out my vacation pics for a month beyond the vacation, because my life is admittedly quite boring otherwise.
And now, it turns out those crrrazzzy party pics of you drinking and having a good time might cost you a job or a college admission because someone else is trawling Facebook investigating your social life.
Facebook, you are being accused of being a patsy for those who want to spread fake news. Poor Mark Zuckerberg has been hauled up before the US Congress. Even in India, they are rapping social media on the knuckles. I know you are trying to get stricter and flag dubious news sources. You are turning into a nanny. Where’s the fun in that? The cool kids are not on Facebook anymore. They are tired of the ads. They are tik-toking and snapchatting and instagramming and goodness knows what else.
We all knew that the day our uncles and aunts got on Facebook, it was a warning sign. The day we accepted their friend requests, it was the death knell. Now my mother (who is not on Facebook) knows of it. She thinks it’s like a newspaper. You must go read that, she tells an aunt, it’s on Facebook. Soon, I know my aunt will complain because she can’t find it. But it’s on Facebook, my mother will tell her.
I realise, Facebook, you need to know a lot about us, what we are like, what we do, what we click on. You are a prisoner of the ads that flood your feed. Actually, that leads me to something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about. I love you dearly but sometimes it gets a little weird to think you are there watching every breath I take, every move I make. I exchange an email with someone somewhere and boom you suggest him as my friend. Sometimes, I feel you are listening in on my conversations. As a kid I had an invisible friend I liked to talk to. You are my invisible friend now, just slightly creepier.
Dear Facebook, it’s true that you know me better than most of my friends. It’s true that I’ve become too dependent on you. If I left you, I would not know how to reach many real friends anymore. Entire chunks of my life, vacations, lovers, meals would disappear in a flash. You know too much about me. But I should tell you that just because I read a lot of stories about Donald Trump, it doesn’t mean I want one of those MAGA (Make America Great Again) baseball caps from the Trump store. And that, dear Facebook, is the difference between real friends and Fakebook friends.
Thank you for all those birthdays you reminded me about. Thanks for all those videos you painstakingly made, celebrating the birthdays and friend anniversaries of “friends” I never cared about. The least I could do is wish you on your 15th birthday.
Sandip Roy is a journalist, commentator and author.
Check out My543, our comprehensive report card of all Lok Sabha MPs.