On Sunday, March 25, 2007 at 7:30pm PDT, I become friends with Nic Anderson. Nic and I are, in fact, already friends. We've been working together for more than three years. But this is the moment when our friendship becomes real in the eyes of Facebook. This is the moment my timeline begins. This is the moment I fall into the rabbit hole.
I don't realize I'm falling at first. I think I'm merely doing research for work. I think I'm merely preparing for the brainstorming meeting Nic is holding the next day, the meeting where we'll be discussing Facebook, our company's new client.
I don't realize I'm falling at first because my first impression leaves me unimpressed. "Why would anyone share their private thoughts publicly?" I ask Nic the next day. "Why would you want to poke someone?" "Why is this relevant to anyone other than college students?"
I don't realize I'm falling when all throughout that next year and a half, I log in every few days and start to fill in the sentence "Julie Felner is_____."
Julie Felner is sleepy but happy.
Julie Felner is in Anaheim today.
Julie Felner is not in Anaheim today!
Julie Felner is searching for the perfect cracker.
Julie Felner is searching for the perfect words.
Julie Felner is annoyed that she is the same person she was at age 6. Has there been no progress?
Julie Felner is wondering if other people use their status updates as a replacement for therapy.
By Wednesday, November 26, 2008 at 9:51pm PST, when I reconnect with my old college friend Nina, I seem to understand that the rabbit hole is now my home. I am welcoming suspicious visitors like Nina, explaining my theory of the 5 stages of Facebook:
1) Skepticism—where you say, "This thing is stupid. I don't get it."
2) Seduction—where your interest is piqued and you find yourself drawn in almost despite yourself
3) Silliness—where you start doing absurd things that an adult should be embarrassed by, like super-poking people and taking likeness polls and writing bad movie trivia quizzes
4) Saturation—where you start to feel a hangover from all the silliness and contemplate going cold turkey
5) Status quo—where it just becomes another normal, daily communication ritual, like checking email or calling someone on the phone.
"Give in to it," I tell her. "There's more good than bad." (I really did believe that then, just like Mark Zuckerberg really does believe that now.)
Over the next 8 years, I will build a whole universe within the rabbit hole. I will write the story of my life on its walls. I will forge new tribes and find old ones I had lost. Sometimes I will smile when friends say they're leaving, knowing they'll be back. Every now and then, I will encounter a holdout—someone who's never even peeked inside, much less fallen through—and I will ask myself, "Do they know something I don't know...or do I know something they don't know?" I will only spend a few seconds pondering this question before assuring myself that it's the latter.
All of this changes on Saturday, November 12, 2016 at 8:18am PST. This is when I realize that the air in the rabbit hole has turned acrid. This is the moment I begin to climb out. I don't announce a permanent departure. (I learned my lesson from those friends who sheepishly crawled back in after defiantly decamping to Google Plus.) I just let people know I'm logging off "for a little while."
But that little while turns into a few days. And then a few weeks. And then a few months. Slowly, my friendships start to follow an actual rhythm and not an algorithm. People come in and out of my consciousness based on my own mind, memory, and associations. I remember what it's like to actually miss people. It feels as if my relationships have come off life support. Some are able to breathe, at last, on their own; others are slowly dying—because perhaps they were not meant to survive in the first place.
And now, it's been exactly a year.
So, tonight I said goodbye to the rabbit hole for good. I didn't tell people I was leaving. Because that's the thing about the rabbit hole. You can't actually leave if you stop to say goodbye.