Although you don’t know me, you may share my woe: I’m addicted to Facebook, and it’s killing my soul. No longer am I able to scroll through my NewsFeed without a corresponding upsurge of anger inside me, but eminently able, nonetheless, to continue to scroll, to mortify my flesh. There I sit (in the sepsis of my solipsistic times), tottering away at a screen filled with stills of far-flung holidays, photogenic weddings, the filter-bleached writhing of another public coupling. It’s a full-fledged dependency, engendered and enlivened by a stupid, vicarious FOMO: invariably I’ll scroll down my Feed till I find the post last seen, and, moving upward, proceed to fill myself in. Yes, it’s obscene; but it’s especially bad since my “Like” quota dropped to an all-time low. Oh, how?
Toward the end of last year, a good, a problematically good friend and I found ourselves in contention for the same full-time position at work. His getting the job was a fait accompli, one which I took with the customary good grace: rejecting their offer of continued temp work, I announced my intention to leave and teach English in London, spurred not by any personal desire to do so – having never laid awake at night and yearned for days spent in some run-down reformatory in a drizzly borough in an alien city, quelling riots, deflecting chavs – but rather, I suspect, by the reel of photos of European holidays that constitutes my NewsFeed. An acquaintance of mine, a committed pinger, had been posting pictures of his tireless revelry, his hostel hijinks and his questionable company, and there my quivering finger might have poised above his baby face, beaming, as it did, from the latest exotic locale: yes, I must have thought to myself, if he can teach in London, then so can I.
My announcement announced, arrangements were made for my Farewell Do, my Big Bon Voyage. And henceforth – though I hate to admit it – proceeded my Big F.U… for I was a chronic cyber-prankster. I was a Facebook farceur.
My method, in my hay day (when I was racking up “Likes” like rappers greenbacks in their musical memoirs) was to start off with some straight-seeming declaration – say, “I’m going to London!”, perhaps – then, through a series of increasingly absurd statuses, pull off something like a mocking reproval of anyone stupid enough (read: insufficiently abreast of my affairs) to have ever believed a word I’d said. It was a method that had its genesis in a happy happenstance: in the formative days of my farceur’s apprenticeship, a friend (who, unsurprisingly, is currently in Canada, was last seen in a photo in a hammock with a lady) wrote, and posted for all to see, the news that I was now “a proud dad”. And this was nothing new – was a comment, in fact, on my existing chicanery – but because it was so seemingly earnest, apparently untouched by irony, it garnered a sharper, more generous attention than my own overtly fanciful fare. Suddenly, congratulations were coming in with the faux-enthusiasm that only estranged, disinterested Facebook friends can muster. It was a marvellous feat, a social comment, and I made sure to capitalise on it.
Three days later my status read:
“David Roberts is missing his little man :’-( It’s Simon’s first day at school today. They grow up so fast.”
The big rug-puller was a hectic epic, and remains, today, my most beloved status. It began:
“In the first sentence, David’s non-existent son Simon has already left primary and is priming himself for high school, at which point a sub-clause discloses that David’s equally non-existent wife – a brilliant intellectual and bra model both – is having her second phantom pregnancy, Simon having been her first…”
…Which was all swell fun, a mischievous kick, and all taken well by my unseen audience. Unbridled fun, and so instantaneously brought about, all of it so airily, unthinkingly done: I never saw the reaction of the people I pranked, or could easily dismiss their rejoinders, their comments. Indeed, such fun was all this arse-about that one might say I got carried away. One might say that I became, in slipping real-time, the splitting image of my Facebook persona. And meanwhile there grew an unmistakable impatience with all this unremitting shtick…
But there remained an avid fan-base to whose dwindled and day-by-day disenchanted members I continued to feel I owed something. In their interest (insofar as they were the extension of my burgeoning ego), my daily and nightly antics became more frantic, heedless, hedonistic. I haven’t space here to reproduce the statuses that span what amounts to a public meltdown performed in a ridiculously private sphere of mostly acquaintances equipped, by this point, with a fervent anti-David sentiment. And still, because the whole thing was ridiculous, a snarkier but just-as-disingenuous projection of a life to stand, in rank and file, with the other projections being ceaselessly NewsFed to my Facebook ‘friends’, that seething mass – because of all of this, a last-ditch status like the following, written while alone in a bar, failed to raise concern, and, what seemed far worse, accrued no more than a measly two “Likes”:
“David Roberts doesn’t know why his reminiscence is lit with some transcendental glow, but lo: there he is, but a year beforehand, and young, an eternal eager-beaver and mistaken, misunderstood performance artist (whose project, his life, is a work-in-progress), sidling up to a seat just aft of a lass in limbo (her eyes at half-mast in tribute, perhaps, to her graveyard of slain brain-cells), and saying, so it slips out the side of his mouth, “I was here, but a year in the past” etcetera, that infernal and asinine rigmarole. (And around and around and around we go.)”
What this was trying to explain, but was, amid the maelstrom of established bullshit, unable to explain, to begin to explain, was that since this FB palaver had kicked off I’d gradually lost my grasp on who I was in the wider, unmediated world. My colleagues had held that farewell months before and, since I’d convinced myself with, yes, no more than Facebook statuses that I was bound for London Town – since, in essence, reality no longer mattered, like that of the extended bender on which I was wasting the money meant for the trip I didn’t want to take – I’d reasoned that the consequences of my non-attendance would be pace my Facebook non-engagement: I’d never have to answer to their confusion, their annoyance, because they would not see me, and I would not see them.
Then London, rudely, didn’t happen. At first I’d laughed it off: I’d Facebook checked in at the airport with my grand goodbyes as I sat in the squalor of my Sydney apartment. “Have fun!” chimed the last of my credulous friends, instilling in me equal parts tenderness and contempt: Don’t they know by now that nothing means a damn? And then, as I hung perilously above rock bottom, I was offered, unbelievably, temp work at my old workplace. And nobody there could believe a word I said.
Oh, but don’t worry: I’m doing fine. I’m on the way out again, though I don’t hold my breath for a farewell this time. And FB? To this date, my last status reads:
“David Roberts is writing, for publication on his blog, a piece which discusses how Facebook stole his soul and destroyed his life.”
Ugh: you know what? Not even that’s true. The last status proper, the true last status reads:
“David Roberts did it! He’s finally” – get this; oh this one’s gold – “he’s finally well-adjusted!”