I might be the only member of my generation who still uses Facebook. I don’t have BeReal or Snapchat and I haven’t posted on Instagram since March, but it’ll be a cold day in hell before I stop logging into Facebook each day to check which cousins are pregnant and which primary school classmates are in prison. The halcyon days of honest opinions and FarmVille invitations are long since gone, but I still find a certain comfort in scrolling through the deserted platform and remembering the names and faces of people I used to call friends.
Without my parents’ permission, I set up my first account in 2011, under a pseudonym inspired by my favourite characters from Gossip Girl and Grey’s Anatomy. I had a generic purple smartphone with 130MB of storage and no front-facing camera, and I worshipped it for the online world it unlocked. Because I was the type of teenager compelled to post her every waking thought on the Internet, I am greeted every morning with an archival curation of Facebook memories with the surety of an advent calendar chocolate in December.
These memories used to be a source of shame. As I tried to develop the aloofness and apathy of a seventeen-year-old iconoclast, I was embarrassed by my earnestness and vulnerability; my willingness to share with hundreds of virtual strangers how sad I was feeling on any given day. Call it sentimental or call me a history student, but I have come to appreciate this virtual time capsule. It’s reasonable to assume a correlation between my enduring attachment to this digital scrapbook and the fact that I have never thrown out a birthday card or a hard-earned Brownie badge.
My Facebook memories immortalise the “complicated relationship” I was in at twelve years old. It was the summer of Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again”, and when I hear Charlie Puth’s saccharine warbles I think of the sunny afternoons my so-called boyfriend and I spent in the shops searching for bottles of Coke with our names on them. We met in person only a handful of times and I’m not sure if we ever made direct eye contact, but I still remember my heart beating faster every time his texts lit up my phone screen, and I chase that feeling in relationships now.
Recently I was reminded of my thirteenth birthday wish list. In pride of place was Taylor Swift’s “1989” album. Later this month, I will listen to the re-recorded version with the same friends I dissected the initial release with. When we were in school, our SPHE teacher imparted upon us the moral parable of the 14 months she went without seeing her school friends because as adults, they were all too busy. We laughed. We thought we were immune. We couldn’t conceptualise a time beyond our guaranteed gatherings in the classroom or the canteen. Now, one of us lives in Paris and another in London, and our daily lunchroom liturgies have been replaced with ten-minute catch-ups over coffee every three months. When it comes out, we will host a listening party for “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” on WhatsApp. Ten years ago, we watched ‘Stand By Me’ in the assembly hall, and I am reminded now of the closing lines: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”
Facebook memories also allow me to recognise which parts of my personality are immutable. In “Tag Your Friends” challenges I was usually labelled as clever and talkative and creative — and, on more than one occasion, a self-righteous vegetarian — all words my friends would use to describe me now. While I hope I’m not as impatient or as self-absorbed as I was when I was twelve, it’s heartening to believe that I have a core essence that won’t change even if the circumstances and the people around me do.
Many of the statuses that resurface in the ‘Memories’ tab are inside jokes between me and my brothers, unintelligible to anyone other than us. I don’t live at home anymore and I probably never will again. While I could call my brothers tonight for a pint or a lend of a tenner, the evenings we’ll spend together ordering takeaway or playing Grand Theft Auto are now limited. The unremarkable nothingness of lounging on opposite sofas or laughing in the back of the car is the space in which shared language develops, and these rhythmic reminders of decade-old status updates act as a safeguard against the erosion of adulthood.
Mostly, my Facebook memories make me feel grateful. There was a time when my entire life was contained in the stretch of road between George’s Street and Lower Rathmines. As my inbox floods with reminders of birthday parties and teen discos and competitions for concert tickets, I realise how much my world has expanded since then. How much I have travelled, how many friends I have made. How many things went horribly wrong and how many far-fetched fantasies came true. While I know I’ll never forget the landmarks of my life, my Facebook memories keep me in touch with the mundanities that shaped me in equal measure: the late-night conversations, the nervous excitement before exams, the midnight movie releases and the relief of returning home from the airport. It all adds up.