The irresistible allure of Facebook debauchery

Revealing past: Returning to Facebook after four years must feel much like the archaeologist who discovered the ruins of Pompeii, writes Rebecca Davis. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

Revealing past: Returning to Facebook after four years must feel much like the archaeologist who discovered the ruins of Pompeii, writes Rebecca Davis. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)


I recently rejoined Facebook after an absence of four years. Why? Oh, any number of reasons. I felt like I was getting too much done in my day without it.
I felt there weren’t enough engagement photo shoots in my life.

I wanted more opportunity to publicly expose my problematic politics and risk my job. I was thirsting to know which Harry Potter character my standard seven maths classmate most resembled in personality.

Take your pick from those motivations, and countless more. Let’s just be clear that my return to Facebook was definitely, categorically not in order to join a certain sleazy dating site that only works when linked to your Facebook profile.

It was not without trepidation that I reactivated my profile. For a start, the whole notion of reactivation is weird. My profile had been there all the time, you see. Lying dormant but biding its time, like the Azanian People’s Liberation Army.

As a result, logging in again – with a reset password, obviously; I’m not a password Rain Man – felt like opening a time capsule from 2012.

Everyone romanticises the idea of a time capsule. At school, I remember a gravitas-laden ceremony in which we pupils interred contemporary treasures for future generations to marvel at.

It was the late 1990s, which I do not recall as a cultural golden age. I cannot imagine schoolgirls from the future unwrapping Vengaboys CDs with shaking hands, and poring over the lyrics like a holy script: Boom boom boom boom/ I want you in my room.

At the time, though, everyone seemed certain that the recipients of our buried treasures would be pretty stoked.

Imagine digging up a time capsule today buried with pride 50 years ago in South Africa? People wouldn’t exactly be cooing with delight over the contents, would they? If you’re going to commit the most significant cultural and social totems of your era to the ground for future discovery, it’s probably best it happens during a historical period that you’re pretty confident will stand up to future scrutiny.

If we throw together a global time capsule right now, it would be most accurate if it contained some anti-refugee posters, a few sawn-off rhino horns and Donald Trump’s weave. That doesn’t exactly make one beam with self-satisfaction, does it?

Anyway, the point is that reactivating my Facebook profile after four years felt comparable to finding the fossilised remains of a bygone era. I imagine the Italian architect who stumbled on the ancient ruins of Pompeii must have felt very similar, except that I was more prepared to look history in the eye.

Another difference might be that Pompeii circa 79CE, though a famed destination for pleasure-seekers, would appear to be a slightly less hedonistic society than my Facebook world circa 2012.

My first act was to whip through all my photos and delete anything with a whiff of “dodgy party dress-up theme”. Those were more ignorant times, my friends, at least for me.

My second act was to administer a murderous “friend” cull, since it emerges that four years is more than long enough for you to forget the faces of at least half the people you once called pals.

Having carried out these necessary precautions, I ventured on to Facebook proper – the main drag.

I must report that I found it an utterly alien universe. I have been on Facebook so long that I can remember when the notion of a timeline didn’t even exist – one simply visited one’s friend’s walls to post inane messages.

But it’s not the technological changes to the site that I’m referring to. No, it’s the fact that back in the day I distinctly recall Facebook being a locus of actual discussion. Some of it was unpleasant, of course. There would always be some loser from your high school jumping on a comment thread to ruin things for everyone. But still, in my possibly rose-tinged memories, okes were having conversations.

Within the period of four years, Facebook’s function seems to have entirely shifted. Now, almost literally the only things on my timeline are photos and links. The only occasions on which this seems to change are Hallmark days, where people apparently unload themselves of months of pent-up verbosity. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Women’s Day: thousands of words are spilled on Facebook on these days.

This Father’s Day, I read the endless outpourings of wild adoration to dads with a sense of disbelief. I turned to my friend Michael. “I’m sorry. Nobody likes their dad this much,” I said. (I do like my dad very much, by the way, but I generally keep it to myself.) “Oh,” Michael said. “You’ll learn. This is what Facebook is for now.”

The really horrifying thing is how difficult it is to resist being drawn into the madness. I have only been back on Facebook for about three weeks, and I’m rapidly becoming the Kim Kardashian of South African columnists. I selfie. I filter. I’m hungry for the “likes”. I’m considering having a baby just in order to photograph it.

Truly, the End Times are near.

Rebecca Davis

Rebecca Davis

Rebecca Davis has a master’s in English literature from Rhodes and a master’s in linguistics from Oxford University, UK. After a stint at the Oxford English Dictionary, she returned to South Africa, where she has been writing stories and columns for various publications, including the M&G. Her first book, Best White (And Other Anxious Delusions), came out in 2015. Read more from Rebecca Davis

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