Depression

To Be or Not to Be… on Facebook

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When I first joined Facebook back on September 26, 2004, the site was still exclusively for college students. I had to register with my USC email, an address that has been defunct for almost a decade but still remains my log-in, in order to prove my collegiate status. I can’t remember the specifics of this particular day, about a month into my freshman year, but I’m pretty sure my thought process went something like this – Hmmm, The Facebook… sounds like an online yearbook… What the heck, everyone else is doing it, I’ll give it a go.* And so I signed up, happily choosing a profile picture, perfunctorily filling in details like my birthday and what classes I was taking, and completely ignorant of how it would one day control my entire existence.

Okay, maybe Facebook doesn’t control my entire existence, but sometimes it kind of feels that way. Like, a lot. Even though I consider myself a casual user – updating my status every day or two or three, posting pictures when I travel, promoting my blog – I still spend far more time on the site than I would care to admit. I can’t remember the last time a day went by without me scrolling through my newsfeed at least once (okay, five times). Maybe two years ago? Three? It’s a far cry from those early Facebook days back in 2004, when the first post on my wall didn’t come until May 10, 2005. On that hallowed day, a Mr. Matthew Jurow, a fellow Trojan I remember as being tall and having dark hair, wrote:

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Such a humble beginning to the page that would eventually become my public journal to the world! No likes, no comments (those didn’t come along until mid-October 2008), just a couple of grammatically horrific lines with an asterisk representing a holiday icon.** Those were simpler times.

Nowadays, my Facebook page is inundated with a million and one things, from video clips of American Ninja Warrior (Kacy killed it!) to advertisements for dating sites (yes, I’m on Match.com, no, I don’t want to join 18 other sites) to “friend’s birthdays” (I’ve still yet to give a gift – sorry!). There’s messenger, there’s Trending, there’s Pages and Groups and Events and apps. There’s not just one but TWO newsfeeds, as if it’s not enough for me to see that Devon has changed his profile picture, I must also be informed in real time that Anthony has posted on Sarah’s wall (!!). On good ol’ Facebook, there’s never a dull moment! Oh wait…

When I add up all of the hours I’ve spent mindlessly scrolling through useless, unedifying status updates from people I might not even recognize on the street, it makes my head spin. How many works of classic literature might I have consumed, or Fellini films? How many science experiments could I have conducted, or poems could I have written?*** The time I’ve wasted – that so many of us have wasted – is appalling, and quite frankly, an affront to the human race. Somewhere I can hear my impassioned junior year English teacher ranting on top of a desk about Facebook’s contribution to the decline of civilization: “Have you no intelligence?! Have you no SENSE?!

Worse than the time wasted is the time spent dovetailing into depression. There’s been more than one night where I’ve returned home, one martini too many to read The New Yorker or a Hitchens’ essay, and traveled down the Facebook rabbit hole of despair. Christina got married! Stephan is saving children in Africa! Courtney has an insanely flat stomach! Suddenly, I’ve made every wrong decision in my life and everybody else somehow holds the answers to the universe. Never mind that I haven’t seen Christina in ten years, or that Stephan just got over malaria, or Courtney happens to have calorie-defying genetics. The reality is only one person commented on my photo from the Hollywood Hills party I was just at and a mere 8 people liked my witty commentary on LA drivers this morning, but 180 people liked Anthony’s post on Sarah’s wall. Woe is me! The world is a cruel, cruel place!

If the above weren’t reason enough to consider deleting my page (which they are), then this last one definitely is: Facebook’s “Big Brother”-like presence. Over the past several years, they’ve been right up there throwing punches with the NSA, and each new development proves scarier than the last. Are they really selling our information to companies? Are they actually recording our conversations through our iPhone apps? Are they secretly turning us all into robots??? So many questions, so few answers. When the NYTimes has started looking to Facebook pages to do their reporting (see: profiles of victims from Malaysia Airlines flight 17), you know we’re in trouble. It’s pretty easy to imagine a not-too distant future akin to the one imagined by Dave Eggers in The Circle, in which one technology company controls everything. I know I’ve got three Apple screens and four social media sites in front of me right now!

But, all that being said…

I’m keeping my Facebook page. Like Hamlet, I’m opting out of technological suicide, and instead facing the slings and arrows of newsfeed black holes, FOMO, and terrifying surveillance. “Why?” You ask. Because for all of its negative qualities, I still love Facebook. If it weren’t for Facebook, I never would have hung out with Chamrong in Phnom Penh, or rented Frederic’s apartment in Paris, or reconnected with my friend Shannon from USC. I’ve hired DPs through Facebook, gotten meetings from it, stayed in touch with relatives I might otherwise drifted away from. As a guy I recently spoke to put it, “it’s great for the weak ties,” and those weak ties are important – for work, for travel, for dating, for stalking. Heck, there’s a very high chance you wouldn’t even be reading this if it weren’t for Facebook, and we all know how important my blog is!****

At the end of the day, I get to choose my relationship with Facebook. It’s me who is responsible for the time I spend, for the feelings I have looking at other people’s pages and photos and updates, for what I decide to post. If I’m uncomfortable with Facebook having access to certain photos or commentaries of mine, then I don’t have to share them on the site. In some ways, Facebook is teaching me how to use more discretion, how to check my own impulses, how to reframe some beliefs that aren’t serving me. Like a mirror, it’s reflecting back to me my own tendencies, for better or worse. I mean, is Facebook really causing my depression, or is it booze-fueled jealousy and a high school mentality turning the site into a popularity contest? For me, I admit, it’s the latter.

These are just my personal feelings on Facebook. As with anything, everyone will have their own unique perspective, shaped by their experiences, beliefs, upbringing, etc. I have nothing but respect for those who have chosen to deactivate, or never sign up. I could no more imagine my Dad on Facebook than purple pigs doing back flips, and he’s one of my favorite people in the world. So whether you choose to be, or not to be on Facebook, I’ll “like” you anyway. Happy posting!

 

*Yes, it was called The Facebook back then. Kudos to Mark Zuckerburg for dropping that little article. How creepy if we still called it The Facebook.

**Hard to believe this man, with his horrible punctuation and spelling, is now a postdoctoral associate. But congrats, Matt, guy I haven’t spoken to in 9 years.

*** 5 novels, 8 ½ Fellini films, 0 science experiments, and 25 shitty poems.

****Not important at all.

*****Sorry for the asterisks. Couldn’t figure out how to do superscripts in WordPress. #technologicallychallenged

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Home Sweet Los Angeles

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I sink into an inevitable depression every time I return from traveling. It’s one of the ramifications of being abroad – in getting to experience the world in a larger sense, my own small life back home takes on a glow of insignificance. It’s like being shown a buffet of all the best offerings of cuisines from Thailand to Turkey to Timbuktu, and then being told I will only be served chicken and steamed vegetables for the rest of my life (or until I can afford that next plane ticket). Not that I don’t like chicken and steamed vegetables. In fact, after three weeks of subsisting almost entirely on carbs, meat, beer, and wine, chicken and steamed vegetables sound like downright heaven. But as the bloat subsides, so does their appeal, and pretty soon I’m left hungering for one more slice of jamón ibérico, one more pain du chocolat, one little stein of Austrian brew…

Knowing this about myself, I made a concerted effort this time around to change my mentality. Even before I left Europe, I devoted a small chunk of time on a Seine river bike ride planning my return strategy. I would take my newly acquired rosé-colored glasses and use them to see afresh the city where I had spent my entire adulthood. I would write a blog about Los Angeles illuminating all of the things I had missed before in my day-to-day complacency – architectural details on downtown buildings, neighborhood coffee shops with handcrafted soy candles, funky galleries featuring hip young artists. There were angels somewhere out there in LaLaLand, and I was going to locate them. For too many years I had been decompressing from travel the wrong way – lamenting the end of my exotic experience instead of embracing the beginning of a new perspective. Well, not this time! I told myself, pedaling fiercely along the cobblestones of Île de la Cité. This time I’m coming home happy! And you wanna know something? I did. I came home happy.

For about 36 hours.

I touched down on the evening of July 11th, a huge smile across my face. Mostly I was relieved to survive yet one more harrowing excursion in a big chunk of metal hurtling through thin air 30,000 feet above the ground. But I also found myself in awe over the golden light basking the urban sprawl. I’d forgotten just how expansive Los Angeles was, how many places I had yet to explore, people to meet, restaurants and shops and museums to patronize. The mountains beckoned me to come hike them, the ocean to run along its sandy beaches. There were so many wonderful things to do in my hometown, and with the new enthusiasm Europe had gifted me with, I would do them all!

But not that first night. That first night I would just drive home with my friend, try and form coherent sentences about my trip, pick up a few groceries, then collapse on my bed. My bed. Of all the things I’d left behind over the past month, my bed was probably the thing I had missed most. Aside from the Carlton, most of the beds I had been sleeping on hardly deserved their title. They had been more like… cots. I snuggled up with my teddy bear, turned off the light, and passed the eff out.

I was so excited to begin rediscovering Los Angeles that I woke up that first morning at 4:30. (Alright, fine, I had jet lag, but I was trying to reframe things.) I made a damn good gingerbread cappuccino, watched the sunrise, spent a couple of hours on one of my stories for my acting class, worked out while watching the pilot of The Leftovers. It felt good to be back, and it was nice having the time to myself, knowing everyone was still asleep and I didn’t have to reach out quite yet. I was enjoying the quiet.

Around 10am, I decided it was finally reasonable to start texting people. The malaise had begun to creep in after only 5 hours, and I knew I needed to act fast. Luckily, my friend Jairo quickly picked up the ball I was dropping, and invited me down to his place in Culver City to go for a bike ride along the beach. He showed me his regular route, a wonderful pedestrian path stretching essentially from his backyard all the way down to Redondo Beach, and we conquered a solid 25 miles, broken up by margarita pit stops. We got back to his place around 6, took a little nap, then headed out to Malibu for an outdoor screening of Back to the Future for a friend’s birthday. It was exactly the kind of LA outing I had had in mind only a few days before in Paris. Ahhh, Paris…

The next day was a little harder. The World Cup and my friend Hannah helped alleviate things a bit, but I could feel the quicksand of depression beneath my feet. By 6pm, I grew so tired of flailing around in it that I gave up. I left the lovely people at the porch party I was at and returned home, exhausted, sad, defeated. Why was I already crossing over into the dark side? How was it possible that I was already becoming jaded?

Over the next 48 hours, I tumbled head first into the black hole I’d been so afraid of. There were flashes of glorious light – throwing a spinning descending angel on the pole at S Factor, tap backs with the beautiful Jenny C. at SoulCycle, the insightful lecture from my profound mentor Diana Castle at The Imagined Life – but it couldn’t seem to stop the plummet. What was I doing in Los Angeles? What was I doing with my life? Who am I, what am I, why am I? I skipped from news article to news article, website to website, put 20 books on hold at the library. I read 15 pages of Romeo & Juliet, then 10 of the Silicon Valley pilot, then 5 from a Richard Linklater script. There was so much to do and see and read and watch and people and places and restaurants and plays and artworks and and and – – –What was I going to write?!

I felt crushed by the weight of my own desire for experience, immobilized by the sheer vastness of the world and the shortness of life. My body ached, my mind ached, my heart ached. I was mad at myself for not being stronger, for succumbing to my old tendencies, my old insecurities. Why hadn’t I been able to bring Europe home with me? Where was that joie de vivre? I laid my head down and cried…

I woke up several hours later to the sound of my phone vibrating. It was a text from a friend, asking about dinner that night. I rubbed my eyes and took a few deep breaths, still groggy. I listened to the whir of the washing machines coming from next door, the soft Spanish murmurs of two neighbors on the other side of the fence. Laughter erupted between them, a joke I would never understand. I smiled, thinking of the various languages I had just been immersed in the last few weeks, the places I had been. Six different cities in 24 days. No wonder I’m exhausted, I thought, reliving the culturally-packed days and fun-filled sleepless nights. No wonder it’s hard to readjust. I forgave myself for the nap, the tears, the tumbling existential thoughts, and picked up the phone.

Sure, what time? I texted back, and watched the three little dots on the screen. 7, any preferences on place? I thought about it for a moment, then responded. No, not really. The dots reappeared, then- great, let’s do Sugarfish. I grinned, immediately excited by the prospect of one of my favorite sushi restaurants. That sounds amazing, I replied. See you at 7.

I reached across my bed, grabbed my computer, and opened it up, finally ready to get to work. Maybe Los Angeles doesn’t have centuries old boulevards, beautiful parks brimming with roses, and awesome public transportation, but at least it has more than chicken and steamed vegetables.