I know I can’t be the only one who gets a thrill through their veins when they see the red circle on their Facebook app icon. I can’t be the only one who impatiently taps, waits for the list to load. I can’t be the only one who feels that flood of — what is it, disappointment? frustration? annoyance? — when it’s not a true notification, just a birthday reminder.
God I hate those birthday reminders. Who does Facebook think it is, determining which of my 402 Facebook friends I am close enough to want to wish a happy birthday on Facebook? I probably follow a quarter of them purely for the amusement of spying on their post-high school or post-college lives vicariously through my Facebook feed. (I bet you do that, too. I’m not the only person who does this.) (I don’t want to turn off those notifications though, sometimes I do want to remember a few people’s birthdays amidst the noise.)
Comments are our digital fingerprints across the web, as are our social networking pages, our blogs, our websites. They are the marks we leave on the internet, the indications of our presence that we leave behind. Servers will outlive you. Your fingerprints will blaze on, dropping off here and there from inactivity and server failures, but they’ll blaze on nonetheless.
In a way, I’ve left many fingerprints. I Google my name and see things I put on the web when I was twelve. They make me grimace now. In a way, I don’t leave many of them, especially outside of the realm of Facebook. When I do, I often have an ulterior motive of sorts. Here’s what I think, and a link to my site.
They didn’t used to be that way. Back when everything seemed so serious, we hoarded Xanga comments, we treasured Diaryland comments. I wrote a lot more then. When I think back to those earlier days on the internet, it’s tinged yellow, a pleasant if distant memory. The internet was a lot smaller back then. It felt like my tiny corner of the internet meant more.
In my job I see how huge the internet is. For every decent post on the internet, there is a flood of absolute garbage. Some of it is even created automatically, algorithmically, a mechanized trick to fool a machine.
Now we have tools to protect us from the automaticness of it all. Gmail filters out my spam and Akismet filters my spam comments. So I don’t have to slog through Ugg advertisements and pharma nonsense to see the comments left by a real person.
Back when the internet was yellow, I built my first website at age 10 or 11 using this silly program with a cartoon spider on the front of the box. My website had four or five pages and the layout was a cartoon treehouse. (I was fascinated by treehouses when I was little.) The website had a comment form, and when I started checking email (I was ten, why would I check my email, who emails ten year olds?) I was dismayed to discover that dozens of people had filled out the silly survey of a contact form I had created, dozens of people had something to say to me and I’d never replied! I was an unpopular child, I agonized over all those misplaced messages, I combed through my inbox and replied to every one. In each response, I apologized profusely for the delay. I don’t think I ever got any replies. I checked my email regularly from then on. I don’t know if I’ve gone more than a few days since age ten or eleven without checking my email.
Comments aren’t a private thing anymore. They’re not something people just do. Now, people share, people curate. On Facebook, the comments on your status prove your worth, the number of likes skyrocketing your updates in your feed with the assumption that a status garnering more comments is more important. Comments are made so other people see that you have something to say, and it will trigger that rush when the recipient sees the red circle on their Facebook app, and in turn maybe they’ll comment on something of yours, pass on the notifications, the dopamine.
Still, with all this interconnectivity and the tweets and the Instagrams and the likes and the pins I find myself longing for those earnest moments of connection across a comment form, here is one ten year old who has also discovered this tool called the internet that will totally change the way we communicate, this is something I have to say, and it doesn’t matter if I get a link or others agree with me or I show my nonconformity, it’s just something I wanted to drop from my thoughts into yours.