I burst through the doors of my home, into a world without Facebook, and I breathed my first real breath in over a decade.
We have been freed.
I looked up into the sky, yelled out in jubilation and dropped to my knees as the tears of joy started streaming across my face. Finally, I could ignore friend requests without fear of retribution. I grinned from ear to ear, knowing I’d be able to sleep soundly for the first time in years, without the paralyzing fear of someone discovering that photo of me dressed as a Playboy Bunny in college.
Down the block, I noticed a nearby rose bush in bloom and quickly snapped a picture and mentally thought up a caption that I knew I’d never have to workshop to perfection, “Today, we all stop and smell the roses.”
I kept walking for a second, but then doubled back for a selfie. (Just in case.)
One by one, people started to emerge from their homes, looking up at the sun for the first time in weeks, if not months. We greeted each other warmly, gave hugs. Someone brought out a tray of fresh cookies and handed them out as we sat out on our stoops and wondered what to do in a WWF. (That’s, “world without Facebook,” which apparently had started trending on some sub-reddit threads and Discord channels.)
“It’s nice to meet you,” I overheard a long-time resident say to another building tenant. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”
“I’ve lived here since 1996,” he replied.
“What a small world, me too!”
“OMG LOL. If I could like that comment a hundred times I would!” someone shouted on the street to their friend. Clearly this would not be an easy shift for everyone.
How grotesque and beautiful, I thought, to have to get all of your interactions with strangers right on the first try. It made we wish I’d taken the time to screenshot all of my Instagram Top Nine each December. Ah well, you live, you learn.
A Facebook employee who had been working from home all year wondered aloud what to do with the sudden free time in their workday.
“Maybe now that I left the house I finally should get vaccinated,” he mused out loud to a friend.
“Shh…be careful what you say around here,” his friend replied, lowering his voice. “Literally everyone on the planet is a ticking time bomb when it comes to this topic. Do you want this conversation to go viral?”
So this is what it’s like to have a fresh start. To be released from the jail cell of our tiny blue screens and incessant red notifications. From the pings and likes, clicks and comments, reels and rolls, facts that aren’t facts, objective opinions.
“Goodbye to all that,” I Tweeted out triumphantly, channeling my inner Nora Ephron.
What came to mind in that moment was the great escape at the end of the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, when the main character crawls through half a mile of sewage in the most epic prison escape of all time. A thought struck me: Maybe I should flee to Mexico, too. After all, who would know I’m gone? Also: Would it even be worth leaving if I never had a place to post photos?
I pulled out my phone to start a WhatsApp conversation with my old roommates before catching myself in the Catch-22. “OMG you are so hilarious!” I imagined those tiny text bubbles egging me on as I realized, somewhat fondly, that I may never experience a single “like” again.
But no matter. Without the social media giants controlling my every thought, I felt all-powerful. Invincible. Today, I thought, I can be anyone I want. Who’s it going to be?
I looked around the block to see who was trending to gain inspiration from the everyday. A woman had amassed a small crowd around the steps of her brownstone as she prepared to speak. Wow. I inhaled sharply and pinched myself to be sure. A real-life influencer.
“Without Facebook,” she began, “We can finally take back our lives, take back our data, and take back control. We have the opportunity for a fresh start, a new beginning for what connection can look like without addiction. We can engage without delusion, participate without selling out.”
A few dozen people had started to assemble. Someone started live-streaming video snippets to TikTok but was quickly discouraged by a few judgmental looks. A small fight broke out in the crowd over someone’s phone who still had a cached feed of the top Instagram hashtags of the day. I heard someone else whisper, “What hashtag are we using for this?”
“Today,” continued the speaker. “We can do anything. Forge new identities. Create a new Internet, one that we’re proud of. Where should we start? Who is with me?”
A timid hand went up in the front row from an elderly woman who’d been quietly fumbling in her purse. She fished out her iPhone and held it up high above her head. A murmur set out among the crowd.
This was it, I thought. I’m watching the beginning of the end. When humans take back control of what’s rightfully theirs. Let’s crack our screens and smash the technology once and for all. Let’s forfeit our cyber personas and let go of the digital drugs in our pockets. This moment would go down in history as the tipping point. Day one of the rest of our lives.
She passed her phone through the crowd, into the hands of the speaker up front.
“Can you help me reset my password?”