It began in 2006. Or perhaps I should say 2004?
If we start in 2005, as a compromise, I can likely pinpoint the moment. I sat in the computer lab in the downtown location of the Columbus Public Library. It was the midpoint of a summer church camp experience, and we took a field trip to the library to pass the days of the season. During one of our thirty-minute sessions, my friends and I chatted about a website called Black Planet.
Intrigued, I went to the website to determine the eligibility criteria. Just be 13? Oh, that would be perfect. I was either approaching or had just passed my fourteenth birthday.
Based on the username that I chose, I imagine that it was the former.
Man, I was such an imaginative child. Fine because I thought I was cute, genius because I just knew I was intelligent, and 13 to commemorate my age at the time.
As soon as I finalized my profile, the creative wonders of Black Planet followed. One could change the design of their page, add music to it, find the pages of friends, and post one’s biography. What wasn’t to love in the mind of a self-aggrandizing teenager?
My Black Planet page remained active for a few years, though it was soon followed by a Myspace account. The revolution seemed to continue with this new medium. One could put their top friends on display for the world to see, add pictures of cars & models to convey one’s interests, and post on the pages of others to see what was going on. Did I mention that music that was also a thing on Black Planet found itself on Myspace as well?
It’s worth mentioning that people born in the year 2000 or later might actually be familiar with Black Planet, given Solange’s recent attempt to revive the platform.
All of this was good until something called Facebook came around. Once I heard of it, I likely began lurking around it, waiting for its exclusive walls to fall. Some may recall – others may not – that in the early days of Facebook, one needed a college email account to join. However, the policy must’ve shifted in the fall of 2006, when I joined.
I imagine if you’re reading this, you likely came to it from Facebook. As you scrolled past Thanksgiving family photos, recipes from BuzzFeed, and a Facebook status from your great aunt, you likely found this. As ubiquitous as this platform is in our lives, there was a time when kids used it as a text messaging service. It is so funny to go back to the 2006-2009 version of Andrew as told by Facebook, and I guess this serves as an invitation for you to go and see for yourselves. Just don’t hold the worst content against me, please?
Right as I reached the prime Facebook years, I headed off to college, waited a few years, and then signed up for a new site called Twitter. I joined as @moderngriot around 2011, inspired by some of my African Studies classes in undergrad. Don’t worry, I deleted that one, though I’m sure some tech savvy people could resurrect that profile from the far corners of the Internet.
Add Instagram in 2012, and then you have the current trifecta. Following a period during which I thought I could preserve some anonymity on social media, I decided to go by @andrewrhairston on all three platforms a few years ago. These days, it’s not too hard to find my full name through any of the three sites. Even considering the overlap, I have thousands of friends & followers through the three mediums – which is a fascinating thought.
By reflecting on my use of social media, I must address the various problems that frequently come up on these cultural mainstays. A non-exhaustive list includes the general amount of privacy that one gives up by engaging with the platforms, credible allegations of housing discrimination against Black people through Facebook advertisements, misinformation that resulted in 45’s election in 2016, the omnipresence of Neo-Nazis on all of the platforms, & issues with how truthful politicians can or cannot be in their advertisements.
Personally, I recall making an internal vow to not post Instagram stories when they were introduced to the platform. I downloaded Snapchat* for a second, but then I deleted it just as quickly. I was concerned that it’d create a Black Mirror-type of opportunity to overshare, and Instagram stories seemed to present a similar scenario. Then a birthday trip to Nashville arose in July 2018, and my dear friend Amber showed me how the tool could be used for impactful storytelling. I now fully see where she was coming from; these days, I probably average one story per week.
As I write this, it’s been astounding to sit back and think about my transformation, as well as that of social media, over the past fifteen years. What started as a way to jest with friends and express childhood crushes has developed into a way to learn of earthly transition & mourn in solidarity with the families of the departed, publicly. My late grandmother was the only one of my grandparents to have a Facebook, and it brings warm memories to visit her “Remembering” page on the site. As I grow older with grace, it’s heartwarming to look back on the tangible evidence of that progression.
Even with all of the concerns I listed, I doubt I’m leaving the platforms anytime soon. They are helpful to me – in sharing moments with the people I love, grieving with folks when someone passes away, and – through creative ways – sharing my vision for a racially just world. I get to dote on the little ones entering the world from friends & family, share humorous musing through tweets & my stories, raise money for causes near to my heart, and – maybe most importantly – refine my writing by sharing it through these platforms. Despite the vitriol & toxicity that can exist on them, it is worth – for now – interacting with them to sustain the connections I’ve built throughout my life, forge authentic new ones, and share a good laugh or two. It’s the least that we all deserve in this world.
– Andrew Hairston
*A very honorable mention to Vine, which existed on my phone for about six weeks in the summer of 2013. Amber’s tutelage also led me to that platform, though it didn’t quite stick. Vine walked so TikTok could run.