May 23, 2018
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Facebook nation: You can never leave

By Alexandra Petri, The Washington Post

I am a citizen of the world’s third most populous country — closing in on 700 million, to be exact.

We have our own language (English/Pirate English), our own currency (Likes), our own flag.

Every few years we threaten to leave. “I don’t like the way things are going,” we say. “Stop rearranging everything without telling or asking me.”

But they stop us at the border, every time, holding all our loved ones hostage. “You want this memory, don’t you?” they ask. “And this picture! And how will you ‘like’ things when you leave?”

We shudder. And we stay.

The country’s name is Facebook. Its nationals? Friends. Citizenship in this country allows us to be at home anywhere in the world.

It’s the one country where people actively try to keep their parents from immigrating after them. “Nonsense, mother,” we insist. “You have everything you need where you are.”

Once you’re in, you’re everyone’s friend. There’s a national food, the What You Are Having For Breakfast. The national art form? The profile picture. The national motto? “Everyone cares what you are doing all the time.”

Since immigrating in high school, I’ve had no desire to leave. Why would I? Everything I need is here. My friends. People I hardly know — also friends — who agree with me that Fox should Keep “America’s Most Wanted” on the air, or that “For every 940,000 people who join this group, one will be mauled by bears.”

This is not the way the country has always looked. The topography changes, swiftly, when you least expect it. Midway through the night, your rights are rearranged. Suddenly everyone and his Internet-equipped dog can see everything you post — unless you dash off to change your settings. Facebook privacy? It’s the new jumbo shrimp.

Tuesday night they slipped in a new program, facial recognition software that suggests tagging pictures of yourself that had previously slipped below the radar.

We complained. But we stayed put.

We don’t want to be untagged and released into the wild. All our friends live in the zoo.

Facebook is a country founded on the fear that undergirds all modern life: the suspicion that everyone you like is off somewhere else having more fun than you are, that you will turn around and miss it. And as it turns out, this is true, because you are spending all your time on Facebook.

The funny thing about Facebook is that it is turning our real friends into virtual ones. Did I go to your birthday party? No, but I wrote a nice note on your wall saying that I approved of it. Did you come to my shower? No, but you responded “maybe attending.” Did you call me to see how I was? No, but you “liked” my status update.

The story of the woman who tattooed her Facebook friends on her arm may be false, but it’s true  — Facebook is making us wear more and more of our lives on our sleeves.

It reduces most human communication to the level of a press release. It is actively making us less capable of interaction. We are training ourselves not to comprehend the rich symphony of nonverbal cues that used to comprise human interaction. “He’s smiling at me,” we type. “What can it mean?”

“I wish there were a like button in real life,” we scream.

Have we already forgotten?

We keep forgetting that we are the product, not the consumer. If someone is offering you a carrot you did not pay for, chances are that there is a stick somewhere.

Facebook retains our loyalty because what we receive in exchange can never be lost. All the memories and photographs and intangible accretions of friendship have been neatly packaged where we can visit them on our iPhones from anywhere.

Leave it all with us, Facebook hisses, and you’ll never need to worry again. If your house burns down, we’ll keep your pictures safe. If your cat dies, we’ll erect a shrine. If your friends move across the country, we’ll tell you what they’re doing every day.

“You can take it with you,” Facebook says. “We are your passport to the past, your home away from home, the country where you will always be welcome.”

“What’s the catch?” we ask.

“And it’s free,” they say.

“What’s the catch?”

Sometimes a voice whispers in my ear that we can carry it with us everywhere because it amounts to nothing. But what do disembodied voices know?

So this week when I noticed all those undiscovered pictures were set to be tagged, I simply shrugged and rolled over. Complain? Why should I? Quit? Never.

Why bother running? You’ll never make it past the border.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog at

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