“There are more dead people than living. And their numbers are increasing. The living are getting rarer.”
- Eugene Ionesco, playwright
People hate the Facebook Timeline.
While many of Facebook’s most prominent changes over the years have caused a lot of hand wringing, none of them have caused as visceral a response as the Timeline.
Why is that?
Timelines are used most often in history as a way to display chronological events. It is a simple way to list important moments in history or in a person’s life. But as we all know, history is mostly the study of the past. Not to be morbid, but a study of the dead.
Timelines have a beginning and an end. And, let’s face it, nobody wants to be reminded of that there’s an end. The discomfort we get about Facebook’s Timeline is that it is an in-your-face reminder of our own mortality. Placing pins – photos, status updates, links, etc. – on our own pathway to death.
When we die will someone place a photograph of our tombstone on Facebook?
Will all the ridiculous crap that we’ve posted over the years – from a B-52s music video to the snarky remarks we made about our sister’s ugly shoes in 2002 – be all that’s left to remind people of who we were? Do we really want Facebook to be the monument of our life?
Because most of us think of Facebook as a tool – a communications platform to connect with people in the moment – not as a permanent record of our humanity. Nobody I know wants Facebook to be so… serious (please give me credit for not using the word grave here). So defining of our character.
Didn’t we all like Facebook better when it was kind of informal and casual?
But what happens to our digital lives when we die is something that Facebook needs to consider. Just do the math. According to the CIA World Factbook, 8.12 people in the world die for every 1,000 each year. There are more than 800 million people on Facebook, which means that if the averages hold up, 6.49 million Facebook users die each year.
I think we can all agree that death and social media is going to become an issue. That’s why the U.S. government is already tackling the question.
But there are other disturbing issues with the Timeline other than its blatant reminder that, yes, we’re going to die.
The very nature of a searchable timeline makes it near impossible to escape our pasts. We’re stuck with every mistake. We’re stuck with the person we were in high school and college. Our old relationships will always be there for everyone to see. Old girlfriends and boyfriends. Divorced spouses. Regretful political stances. Humorous asides – that might have been hilarious in the moment, but not so funny 10 years later.
Everyone changes through their lives. We mature, old beliefs die and are replaced by others. Experience gives us wisdom and insight.
But the Facebook Timeline is a manifestation of the dreaded permanent record we were always threatened with in high school. Do we really want everyone who connects with us to be able to review our every vacation? Do we want new boyfriends to be able to see all of the photos and experiences that we had with the old boyfriends? Do we want employers to be able to read the autobiographies of our lives – not thought out and express in hindsight – but as a running, moment-by-moment commentary?
Do we even want that? Don’t we want to forget mistakes? Don’t we want our memories to be memories? Instead our memories will be fact-checked by our Timelines.
What are your thoughts on Timeline? Like it? Hate it? Why?
Mashable “Facebook After Death”