What Facebook And Stalin Have In Common


A few days ago I was at work, meandering around the internet, and I stumbled onto some shlock humor website that had a photo montage of a girl doing an elaborate renovation to make her bathroom into a Nintendo homage. Which was cute, whatever, it was well done. But I thought I recognized the girl in the photos as a law school classmate. We hadn’t spoken since graduation, three and a half years ago. So I copied the link and hopped on Facebook to send her the simplest message I could think of: “Is this you? [Link].”

That’s when the trouble started. During one of the 19 or so renovations that Facebook has undergone in the last year, they changed the message screen so that instead of showing a blank message box, it shows your entire message history. So, here’s the entire, five-year-old history that I got to relive instantaneously when I innocently logged onto Facebook.

The Girl and I met in the fall of our second year of law school at transfer student orientation. I had a Bob Dylan collection, she had a better one; I told jokes, she told funnier ones. We became very good friends.

And then a horrible, grotesque thing happened: I fell in love with her. It was like throwing up: coulda done without that tequila shot; oh, that’s not sitting well; holy hell, where’s the bathroom? Love. I wasn’t happy about it, but what can you do? When you’re gonna puke, you’re gonna puke.

Of course, by then she was dating another guy. I knew him. A nice enough guy. He just wasn’t me, that’s all. So I waited for their thing to run its course. And I held out for a few weeks, but when you’re gonna puke . . . you know. I had to tell her.

I gave her what amounted to a love letter — a stream of consciousness thing that I wrote in the middle of the night. It didn’t start “Dear ____” and end “Love, Adam” but it made the same point. It was utterly bizarre, and I never did it before or since, but I did it then.

I gave it to her, she read it, and she emailed me: Why do you love me? She was genuinely bewildered. I emailed her back: I love you because you’re smart and funny and confident. She wrote me back: You obviously don’t know me at all — I’m not any of those things; I’m actually OCD and terrified of the other humans and, despite the OCD, a really disgusting slob, to boot. And I wrote back: Oh.

Gradually, I came to accept that her public persona was wildly different from her real personality, and that I had projected a lot of things onto her that weren’t really there. I had fallen in love with a person who didn’t exist.

We tried to stay friends but it was awkward. Eventually, we stopped talking.

A year later, I was dating another girl, she was dating another guy, and we were beginning, with difficulty, to regain speaking terms. We were planning to see the Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There together, when it came out.

But there was this guy, Iago.

Iago was 40 when he started law school — fat, bald, beady-eyed, hook-nosed, a music industry washout trying to reboot as a lawyer; a nasty, self-styled Machiavellian; a perfect storm of law school clichés that I would never have believed really existed until he screwed with my life for no reason.

Iago’s idea of fun (or maybe sex — I don’t know, he was unwell) was to befriend all of the cute girls in law school who he was too old and ugly to screw, and then when he found out that they were dating guys in law school who were less disgusting than him, he would try to break up the relationships by filling the girl’s head with rumors and slander.

Iago went to work on this girl I was dating to convince her to dump me. And it was working. One day she called me to say that Iago told her that last year I had fallen in love with some other law student and wrote that girl a love letter and USC girl was mortified and how could I do that to her? She and I broke up a few weeks later – that’s another story. (As a side-note, I’d just like to point out that the characters in this drama were 27, 26, 40 and 22 — in case anyone is under the mistaken impression that it’s possible to ever be done with high school.)

Anyway, that was how I found out that the Girl had either told Iago about the love letter, or at least told enough people for the story to get back to him. I couldn’t ask her about it directly – what could she say, and how could I believe her? I might as well accuse her of murder. In any case, I was furious. The Girl and I stopped talking again. I saw the Bob Dylan movie without her (didn’t quite live up to the soundtrack), ran into her in the law school hallway soon after and told her I’d seen the movie alone. She looked genuinely disappointed. That was four years ago.

And then last week, I saw a picture of a girl in a Nintendo bathroom, decided to send her a message, opened Facebook and was shotgun blasted in the chest with the entire history of this sad mess.

Plus, after I sent my message, “Is this you? [Link],” I realized: I was subjecting the Girl to the same misery that I had just endured. She would get the message, open it up, and see the same pathetic history of our sad mini-drama. Why would she respond under those circumstances? Why did I even bother sending her the message? Why did this have to be so hard? Why hadn’t Facebook moved on, like everyone else? What the hell, Facebook?

Email doesn’t throw the past in your face. Email lets the past bury itself, the way nature intended.

Not Facebook. Faulkner said, “The past is not dead, it is not even past.” That should be Facebook’s corporate motto. Facebook is organized in such a way that there is no past: everything that has ever happened is happening, all the time, right now.

Only a socially inept dork like Mark Zuckerberg would think this is a good idea. On December 2nd she said she couldn’t come on the ski trip; on December 4th you said you loved her; on December 12th you sent her a picture of you on a snowboard; on December 15th she said she needed to talk; after that there are no more messages; that was two years ago. Yes, I remember — thank you, Facebook. Would you like to send her a message? Well, not anymore. Prick.

Which brings me to Joseph Stalin. In the 1920s, when Stalin was a little puppy Communist, he kept a file on every member of the Soviet Communist Party. The other commies thought he was crazy – they called him Comrade Card Index.

But then the Communists started purging Party members for disloyalty: “That Guy is destroying the Party! Right, everybody?” And all the junior Communists looking to take That Guy’s place said, “Sure! Totally! Screw That Guy!” So they killed That Guy. Then Stalin went through his cards, and found all Those Guys in the Party who had ever associated with That Guy. And they killed Those Guys, too, for guilt by association. And then they did another round. And so it went, until everyone lived or died by the cards. And Stalin had the cards, so Stalin had the power. And that’s how Comrade Card Index became one of the most brutal dictators of the 20th Century.

Facebook has become Stalin’s card index. We are each keeping our own KGB file, extremely detailed, beautifully organized, universally accessible, and controlled by a weird, pasty-faced indoor kid who’s afraid of girls.

To my knowledge, there has never been a time in history when every person on earth had such a file and kept it in public. Maybe that means the end of secrets, but somehow I doubt it. So maybe Facebook changes nothing. Maybe posting your birthday and a couple of photos on the internet doesn’t mean jack. But historically, keeping detailed files of personal information has been very dangerous.

Now, that’s not a novel observation – I’ve read that kind of Cold War era paranoia about Facebook plenty of places. But I never cared, because I have a good track record with Facebook. Facebook has helped me get laid on more than one occasion. Without it, my fiancée and I would never have made it to the first date.

But Facebook has sinned against me. I expected it to let the past be the past, and it didn’t.  And that has led me to reassess the whole thing, even consider quitting.

And then a funny thing happened. The Girl wrote me back, a very nice message: yes, it was her in the picture, thanks for noticing; congrats on my engagement. So I wrote her back: thanks, glad you’re doing well, enjoy your new poopatorium. Our first conversation in almost four years.

So, now I like Facebook again. It’s a good way to keep in touch with your comrades.

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