Three weeks into your first year of college, several things seem to happen all at once: That first test forces you to realize that your college classes are, in fact, harder than the ones you took in high school. You finally become comfortable walking down the hall of your co-ed dorm in a bathrobe. The steady stream of Facebook friend requests you received starting at orientation and through the first week of classes trickles to a stop, leaving you to gaze at the now-multiplied number of your ‘friends’: two, three, four times as many Facebook friends as you had coming into college. You’ll have met these people in class, at parties, in organizational meetings, or you won’t have ‘met’ them at all. Some you’ll block, some you’ll stalk, but together they’ll form an audience that will half-consciously listen to you talk in white and blue text for the next four years.
In many ways, Facebook makes the college experience easier. With disarming efficiency, the site allows students to sort their ever-growing nets of new contacts into convenient categories: the people I know from this class, the people I know from this club. Likewise, Facebook photo albums preserve and separate life events both mundane and monumental, from high school graduation to that one night spent on Sixth Street. Facebook keeps you running in the correct loops by bombarding you with the most shocking news, engaging music video or time-wasting meme. A single timeline pans from your birth to your terrible middle-school haircut to your present successes. And should its plunging stock lead you to doubt the almighty site’s current power, I dare you to run a campaign — for election to student government, city council or to get Betty White on SNL — without the social-media giant.
But, for all of Facebook’s admitted advantages, its detractions — of which there are more than its time-wasting power — should cause users, especially young ones, to pause. It’s not just that you don’t need Facebook for college. You can get your memes on Reddit, communicate with your study group via Google Docs and plan a party through e-mail; that much is obvious. But what’s really dangerous about Facebook, what should make people, especially college students, reconsider their membership, is that Facebook allows a person to spend more time creating their identity than actually finding it. Facebook confuses the act of re-posting an article with reading and thinking deeply about that article. Likewise, Facebook confuses a photo album of frolicking at Barton Springs with the actual enjoyment of a day at Barton Springs. For many, Facebook confuses maintaining the words “in a relationship” with actually evaluating and understanding the relationship they are in and the person they are in it with.
In college, your self-definition can twist, shatter and re-form anew within an alarmingly short period of time. Consequently, a Facebook status from three weeks ago can make you want to spear yourself on the piercing embarrassment you feel at re-reading it. There are the un-afflicted of us who use Facebook sparingly, checking in once a week and rarely looking at other people’s profiles. For us, Facebook is neither a distracting nor destructive force. But Facebook causes the majority of young people to mistake the slim vines of comment threads and wall posts for the thick complexities of our root-like lives.
When you click the de-activate button, Facebook conjures up images of friends who will “miss” your virtual presence. Like a pandering politician unaware he’s addressing members of the opposing party, Facebook’s choices make clear its cluelessness — inevitably, the friends it chooses for this guilt trip are: your camp counselor from seven years ago, that kid from your middle school, an unfriendly second cousin, that girl from Spanish class you hate. As we all prepare to flood campus yet again this fall, I hope more students consider the final click and let their Facebook fall into inactivity.
Wright is a Plan II and biology major from San Antonio.