Naledi Yaziyo writes about the thrill and threat of Facebook and the curated online persona.
I love the intimacy of Facebook. I love it when my friends write on my wall or tag me in pictures
or mention me in their status updates. I love the public validation, I love how it affirms my place in other people’s lives – I love it so much I get high just from the notification.
Facebook affection has the quality of the long speech given by your favorite aunt at your graduation. It is your mother handing you the key at your 21st. It has the quality of the eulogy, except you are still alive to hear your best friend tell it. It is not a quick note, it retains the quality of the love letter but better because you know others are reading over your shoulder. They know you are loved so they want to love you too.
Try to imagine my excitement last month when a friend of mine tagged me on her status update to congratulate me on a major life event. I responded immediately on receiving the notification, which is huge for me because most times I wait a day or two to be sure it doesn’t look like I am always on Facebook.
I hurriedly typed up something lengthy and heartfelt in the comments, reminding my friend that the moment was as much hers as it was mine. I reviewed three times, first re-reading as myself and then stepping outside myself to read as somebody else and then finally checking for spelling errors.
I thought I wrote beautifully but my friend did not think so.
When I retrieved the phone from under my pillow first thing in the morning to unwrap my overnight notifications, her disapproving text lay waiting in my inbox. She was deeply disappointed that I would write the things I wrote about her on a public platform. There were people on her timeline who did not know that vulnerable side of her. I should have been mature enough to know that it was a part of herself she did not wish to share with the world.
I felt profound shame at my actions so I quickly took a screen grab before she could delete her original post about how proud she was of me. The sadistic part of me felt rewarded at the idea that I was among the few who had access to an otherwise hidden side of her. The dark side of me did not care how she felt because either way, I had the screen grab of her declaration of eternal friendship.
My friend was right of course, I had forgotten the gospel of public life which is to always remember that you are a brand. I got so carried away with the intimacy I forgot about the bigger picture, the image and the narrative. Public life demands consistency; the narrative must be coherent; the image must not be too filtered and the bigger picture must fit its prescribed dimensions. My friend reminded me of the gospel just as I stood in danger of backsliding into my juvenile first year Facebook tendencies and I am grateful. Backsliding is a constant danger for me because I know that if I did not care about my public profile, my timeline would be sensational.
I like to tell myself I would be a Nonzwakazi Dayimani type of social media sensation. I would be irreverent, completely unbothered by intellectual people’s opinion of my social media footprint. I would talk about my loneliness and anxiety without rewriting them as stories of triumph. I would not be magical. I would be such a mess you might fear sitting next to me on the bus, afraid the rawness of my Facebook emotions might spill over into real life. I would tell dirty jokes and ‘like’ dirty things and never hide them from my timeline. I would post nudes.
As it turns out, I am a seasoned hypocrite and a consummate professional in the art of timeline curation. So, I settle for sharing articles on current events while following salacious accounts from a distance. I am careful to never weigh in with a comment on any of the posts unless the account is run by an admin who posts anonymous comments from secret contributors who whisper to him via DM.
Naledi Yaziyo grew up in Cape Town. She is currently barely coping with impostor syndrome at Duke University where she is on a Fulbright Scholarship. Her interests vary but her latest obsession is childhood, her own and those of other black girls everywhere.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect The Daily Vox’s editorial policy.
Featured image via Unsplash