I have no idea how many hours of my life I've wasted on Facebook. When I wake up each morning, with my laptop sitting on the edge of my futon, I check it. Before I've thought about brushing my teeth, I have already seen the photographs of my brother's new apartment in San Francisco and discovered the evidence of my friend's tumultuous breakup: she changed her relationship status from "In a Relationship" to "Single" to "It's Complicated," all while I was sleeping. As best I can figure, since joining the site in 2004 when I was a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis, I've been logging on a dozen times a day. When I should have been studying or working, I found myself instead doing tasks like flipping through 400 photos of myself online, debating whether I wanted the picture where I have food in my hair to be on display to the world. (I decided to leave it: while it's not the most attractive pose, I think it indicates that I am a laid-back, good-humored person.)
I spend an inordinate amount of time like this, worrying about what's in my online profile. When I graduated from college this May, I decided it was time for a Facebook makeover. Looking to present a more "professional" image, I stripped my profile of many of my collegiate interests—you'll no longer know from Facebook that I'm obsessed with penguins—and I purged my membership in questionable Facebook groups such as "Scotland? Sounds more like Hotland" (tamer than it sounds). I know I'm not the only one constantly revamping my cyber-image: according to my Facebook account, 109 of my friends have changed something over the past two days. One friend added "goofy dads" to her interests, and another let it be known that he "falls asleep easily" and "loses things all the time."
What is with all this time we've spent, thinking about ourselves and creating well-planned lists of our interests? Facebook is much worse than e-mail, cell phones, instant messaging and the other devices that keep me constantly connected. It nurses every self-indulgent urge I could possibly have. I hate that Facebook encourages me to home in on each of my idiosyncrasies—that I like running in Central Park, for example, or that my favorite forms of punctuation are the dash and semicolon—and broadcast them to a largely uninterested world. I have a sneaking suspicion that very few people want to know that I am particularly fond of bagels. And no one really cares when I change my Facebook status, a fill-in-the-blank feature where users can let people know what they're up to at any moment. Mine is currently set to "Sarah is trying to write an article about Facebook ... but is ironically too distracted by Facebook." The network is as much about obsessing over the dull details of my life as it as about connecting with others.
As a recent college graduate, with my friends scattered across the globe, I understand the communicative value of Facebook. Right now, I have 469 "friends"—though I admit many of these virtual relationships are tenuous at best. Still, I would be hard-pressed to give up my four-year-long membership or leave Facebook out of my early morning routine. But who knows what I'm missing out on in the real world while sitting at my laptop, debating whether penguins or bagels are more respectable?