Nov. 24 2010 10:19 AM

Life before Facebook is better than I remembered it

I think it’s official: I’m a curmudgeonly old person. I listen almost exclusively to NPR. I recount, daily, how there were naps and no homework when I was in kindergarten. I sometimes drink coffee with my lunch. I can’t see well at night, and while I don’t have to put my teeth in a jar before going to bed, I’ve decided that Facebook is the Devil.

And so it was that without much pain at all, I found and hit the “deactivate” button on my account a couple of weeks ago. I was promptly bombarded with a well-executed, if ineffective, guilt trip: Rachel **** will miss you if you leave! Steve ***** will miss you if you leave! Joe ***** will miss you if you leave! And so on and so on.

I was unmoved: As it happens, I was going to be drinking beers that very night, live and in-person, with all the friends who were going to be missing me. At least they’d have the opportunity to pine for me face-to-face.

Less than one week after freeing myself of the cloying self-promotion, inane inner dialogue and regurgitated thoughts that define Facebook, I heard Mark Zuckerberg talking on NPR about his latest endeavor to take over the world. Of his new e-mail-ish method of communication, he said: “All your IMs, messages, e-mails, SMSs go into that, and you have one history, and you can kind of go through it forever, right? And that’s going to

be really cool because five years from now, you’re going to just have this full, rich history of all of the communication that you have with each of your friends and the people around you.”

A “full, rich history of all of the communication that you have with each of your friends and the people around you”? “Really cool”? Oh my God, you guys. Is this dude stuck in high school? Humans are so doomed.

Who wants a transcription of their life?

Not me, thanks. The transcribed existence is not cool. What it is is thoroughly disturbing. And let’s face it: Zuckerberg, of all people, should know that the only folks interested in his version of a “full, rich history” are lawyers.

Here’s the thing: What makes life full and rich is not a public announcement of every headache, twitch, itch, crane, peacock or firefly pose successfully (or not successfully) accomplished. Namaste. It is not the status update about your sit-ups, push-ups, break-ups, breakdowns, kisses, orgasms, orgies and subsequent afterglow and taggedphoto documentation of all of it.

It’s not the countless wasted hours of swirly-eyed reading about all these things done or not done by your friends or “friends” or boyfriends or exes or childhood playground playmates whom you haven’t seen in 30 years.

It’s not the quick, heartfelt posting of “Happy Birthday, You!” on the wall of a friend whose memory in your mind’s eye is, more often than not, way better than the reality of who they turned out to be, the poor schmuck.

It’s not the use of what Grant Barrett of A Way With Words calls “paralinguistic restitution”—those little clues also known as <3 and J and LOL—in an endless effort to convey that which would otherwise be conveyed through a conversation held by two people in the same physical space.

And a full, rich history is definitely not navigating the dangerous quagmire of drama that arises when the <3s and Js fail to fill in the blanks after a simple status update is woefully misinterpreted.

What it is—this “full, rich history”—is what you build with the people in your real life, with whom you spend real time, to whom you send real birthday cards and for whom you buy real cocktails. It’s what you have with people who know your phone number—if not by memory, then by contact list—and use it.

It’s what you have with a person you can (and want to) touch and hug and laugh to the point of tears with over some joke that isn’t going to be recorded for all eternity, and, believe me, that joke isn’t going to be half as funny five years from now, with a few emoticons tacked onto the end reminding you to LOL.

A full and rich history is what you build when you look a friend or a neighbor or a parent or a child in the eyes and connect and discover and truly understand the complexity of being human. What makes life full and rich is the exact opposite of Zuckerberg’s wonderfully, permanently, litigiously tracked “forever” interactions. The brilliance and glory in a full and rich life is, of course, the fleetingness of it all. The impermanence of now. It’s the knowledge that there is an end in store for all of us, even—though they would deny it—for those who live today in prostration for an eternal tomorrow, an endless string of sunny days to be spent at the Great Big Shopping Mall in the Sky.

It’s all temporary, so you’d better get busy and smell the roses. Or, spend your time texting to your Facebook wall, “I’m at the zoo with the monkeys!” while the monkeys fling shit at your oblivious face, turned down as it is, focused on your smart phone.

This constant exposure and revealing and sharing and recording and general vomiting of every single second of our lives—an ongoing habit shared by 500 million of us with a now-insatiable need for constant validation— isn’t meaningful. It’s gross.

And that’s why I quit. Because I want to be less gross. So far, so good. But we can revisit this status update when my teeth begin to fall out.

If you want to know what Aaryn is doing with her life these days, call her. Or get old-fashioned and write to her at and