So a study this month has linked heavy Facebook use to socially aggressive narcissism, citing evidence that we’re becoming increasingly self-absorbed, exhibitionist and vain, our friendships shallow and our need for attention ever more obsessive. Society is dead said Thatcher, and nearly three decades on we’ve relegated the teeming millions around us to a supporting cast of nodding heads and pixels, people whose only role is to register positive click signals to massage our esteem.
But that doesn’t bother me. At least when people are pixels I can make them go away. What riles me about Facebook is that it’s a platform built on lies – that encouragement, intrinsic to the format, to police your own self-image so ruthlessly that it becomes meaningless, a fiction of Laugh Out Louds and grainy self-shots in nightclubs. That’s 845 million people, each maintaining a profile that doesn’t so much reflect their real self as churn it through a purifier, like sewage at a treatment centre straining away the faeces.
Which is wrong, because it’s that which makes us interesting. Not literally – unless you’re a coprophile – but the imperfections. Timeline has got it all backwards: we don’t want the highlights, carefully sifted and sanitized, all staged shots of false jollity at family gatherings and a pretense that graduation meant something. It’s the embarrassments we’re after, the stuff we try to airbrush or hurriedly gloss over with a tight and practiced smile. Throwing hammers at a brother’s head from a tree house (aged fourteen). Spending every Saturday cycling twenty miles with friends to stake out the front door of two particularly hot American twins (aged sixteen). Masturbating ferociously into a hedge (no comment).
Our profiles should read less like Disney narratives and more like criminal records. Those professional wedding pictures? We’d all rather see your nan swaddled in her own vomit around 11pm. I’m sure your child is great and all, but do we really need another picture of them eating a banana? Much better would be a short video of your drained and haunted face at 3am after three sleepless days, renouncing utterly the beauty of parenthood as you weep noiselessly into a bowl. Arguments, transcribed like a courtroom record with every bitter recrimination and sexual slur not just left in but highlighted in bold and hyperlinked to video wherever possible. Endless lists where we cite our dearest hopes and dreams and the exact point when we felt each one of them die.
It would be good for us, this honesty. Like the Self-Criticisms under Chairman Mao we’ll all feel cleansed, free from the relentless pressure to cast our every day as being something other than the crushing mundanity that we all know it is. No more heading out for an epic cycling adventure on the Peaks: instead it’s a Tuesday morning and I’m unemployed and fat, with nothing better to do but pedal mindlessly through – let’s be honest – some pretty boring terrain. The highlight will be when I buy an ice-cream.
Let’s get rid of the hyperbole, shall we, and present life as it actually is: a steady beige flecked with bouts of heavy drinking and a lot of time worrying about that lump on your side. And hey, that’s fine – let’s laugh about it. And if we’re going to claim that passing a driving test was a ‘life event’ then we should also be adding in our first car crash, our speeding tickets and the time we stole – note the passive voice – a book of guitar tablature for Pearl Jam’s Ten from a shop in Eastbourne. I once coughed up so much phlegm it came out like rope: it’s right up there with my wedding day in terms of life significance.
What we need is to get away from Trending lists populated by our ill-informed opinions on whichever malnourished D-list cipher Mail Online has decided should matter that day: instead let’s have a global league table of all the fuck-ups, bodily malfunctions and despairing inner monologues of the last 24 hours. If someone has a bowel movement so testing that it causes bruising, it should be searchable. A friend sneezing in a queue and creating a constellation of snot on the person in front’s hair – that’s far more interesting than their son’s Christening. If you’re sat watching the slow passage of a particularly corrosive fart making its way through a crowded train, you should film it. It’s important. Bung it up online as the key moment in March 2012 and be proud of your achievement.
If Facebook really is to be our entire lives online then we need to stop manufacturing them into saccharine U-rated assemblages of sunlight and makeup. And then maybe we’ll start seeing that everybody is pretty bored most of the time, disappointed and scared and a little bit angry, and then we can stop competing and start, I don’t know, actually talking to each other again.