Modern nostalgia in the Facebook era

Facebook created a sense of nostalgia; it’s both a place where things happened, and a box that keeps them there. 


Molly McHugh

Internet Culture

Published Feb 4, 2014   Updated May 31, 2021, 7:22 pm CDT

When Facebook was new, we had to start defining the language around it. Was it a place? Did things happen in it or on it? Could we make it a verb it, as in “I’m Facebooking,” or were we “on Facebook”?

There’s no AP guide to Facebook phrasing, of course, but the early adopters and power users among us (both of which sound gross, but must be acknowledged as true) know what’s wrong and right. When our aunts tell us they’re “using the Facebook,” or something happened “in my Facebook,” we have to suppress smiles. How quaint, we think (because we’re jerks).

But because we discuss Facebook often and have collected memories there, the way we talk about it matters. It’s created a sense of nostalgia; it’s both a place where things happened and a box that keeps them there. It’s the alley behind the college bar where you would take smoke breaks with your friends and the old shoebox where you store photos of those moments. It’s the letters you would trade with your ex-boyfriend and the underwear drawer where you hide them.

Facebook is 10 years old now, and according to my personal lookback video the team was so nice to create for just me, I’ve been using it for eight. Facebook has mastered the emotionally manipulative video thing, and this one is no exception. Seconds in, and back, back I go into the vault of memories that Facebook both created and stored for me.

I remember when I was first introducing to photo-tagging.

It was my freshman year of college, and I went to a house party with my boyfriend and some upperclassmen I knew from high school. To say I was tipsy is a lie; I was obliterated. But it was the first time I was at a party that no one’s parents could happen upon, and where my own wouldn’t wonder when I was coming home. No lies had to be told (“I’m sleeping at Amy’s, dad”), no excuses made the next day (“I’m just tired from staying up late watching movies”).

The next day, I logged into this relatively new social network, and there in all their glory and horror were photos from the party. The evolution of my drunkenness could be traced across them. I wobbled between amused and ashamed. What was this witchery? How could you tag my face? But you could, and it immediately became clear to me the power you could wield with a digital camera and Facebook.

I remember my first Facebook break-up.

My high school boyfriend and I—shockingly—did not make it through sophomore year, and the torment of going back and forth with that little “In a relationship with” button seemed to go on for a month. It seemed like Facebook was such a necessary, official way of documenting your status, and to leave it blank was a nonoption. We’d toggle between an “Open relationship,” “It’s complicated,” and finally “Single.” Each time it changed, the comments flooded in. They ranged from consoling to confused, and the wave of them was so strong and terrible that each time I changed my status during that month, I’d click it and sign out of Facebook for a minimum of 24 hours.

It was after this that I decided to never-ever-ever mark myself as in any relationship on Facebook; save yourself the trouble, next generation. I have lived that hell for you.

I remember my first Facebook stalking sessions.

It still makes me cringe, how I would find someone of interest—not necessarily a crush, just anyone who for some reason captured my attention—and learn everything about them I could. And then, if that information became in anyway relevant, I could unload it at a moment’s notice. It would just stay stored in my brain, pieces of precious data. Oh, you want to know who the girl that sits next to your boyfriend in Psych dated in high school? One moment while I search the vault. That ridiculously good looking guy in Econ? Allow me to tell you what he did last weekend.

I cannot be the only one whose brain occasionally still flits across bits of this recon.

I remember the first time I decided to clean all that mess up.

I was nearing graduation and more and more relatives were friending me. The mass flood of family friend requests and impending job necessity motivated me to purge. Do I really need to be in four Facebook groups about cheese? Are “cats” really one of my favorite things? Are the people I met at freshman orientation that important? No, maybe, and no. A mass deleting of trivialities ensued, later followed by a hiding of all pre-Timeline posts.

I remember my first Facebook-related fight.

It was a horrible mess in which I was a third-party player. Two of my closest friends had had a strange falling out, and one deleted the other on Facebook. When the deleted party found out, her feelings were understandably hurt, and my involvement in this deletion was brought into question. Such things sound so silly, and anytime you hear someone talk about blocking a person, or deleting an old friend, you almost want to hush them and tell them how trivial what they’re saying is… but then when you actually watch it happen see people hurt by it, it means something. Which is a really nice way of saying it matters once it happens to me because I’m selfish.

But these things were all a long time ago. I don’t use Facebook like this anymore, and it doesn’t play third party to my moments, or even host the most important among them. It’s been a good eight years for me, 10 for you, Facebook.

I guess I still don’t know if you’re a place or a thing that I do, but it doesn’t really matter. All I know is that you’re a piece of nostalgia I won’t ever be able to completely bury.

Photo by x-ray delta one/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

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*First Published: Feb 4, 2014, 4:58 pm CST