I never wanted to join Facebook. I never wanted to join anything online, really. I was coerced into creating a Xanga at some point, and eventually -- when Facebook opened up to NC State email addresses -- I begrudgingly created an account there, too. I had a "thing" about opening my life up to the internet. I knew already that prospective employers would inevitably go digging through shots of me celebrating at an NCSU basketball game and spike my resume in the trash can beside his or her UNC degree. More than anything, though, I just didn't care what anyone else was doing. I kept a handful of comrades close to my chest, and everyone else was a mere acquaintance. At the time, I blamed it on the 21 hours of courses I was taking entirely on Tuesdays and Thursdays -- who has time for online networking when you're in an educational torture chamber? -- but now I realize the truth: I never wanted Facebook to be a social network.
It's kind of amazing that it took Facebook as long as it did to realize that not every sentence spoken on a social network needs to start like this: [NAME is...] I vividly recall awkwardly phrased statements that were glaring examples of how unnatural it was to use. Things like: "James is so amped that he just saw The Blair Witch Project!" and "Kevin is so loving this ice cream!" For whatever reason, it seemed that the primary thing that people turned to Facebook for (status updates) was the thing I was least interested in. And not a thing has changed in seven years.
I joined Facebook on April 20, 2005. I know that because Facebook remembered it for me. And that, friends, is where the true magic of Mark Zuckerberg's network lies. To me, Facebook's most polarizing overhaul yet finally takes the service to a place that I had always wanted it to be; not because I had grand ideas about how it should service its increasingly growing customer base, but because -- selfishly -- the Timeline essence of the product was the only thing that really mattered to me. Millions upon millions of users later, it feels to me that Facebook has finally made the social network personal.
Allow me to explain. To date, I have 257 friends on Facebook. I couldn't tell you how many of those are "active" if you nestled a Colt .45 upside my melon, and I still don't visit the site explicitly to see what all of 'em are up to. The beauty of having Facebook friends that match your actual life is all spelled out in the art of tagging. If you're confused -- well, let's just say I've spent more time treating Facebook as a digital scrapbook than a social network.
You see, I'm pretty big on capturing moments. Photos are vital to helping me keep track of what I did when I was 27... looking back from 55.
I'll be the first to admit that having friends makes the entire Timeline experience that much more enriching, but -- in my view -- it's predominantly because those very friends are actually helping me flesh out something. Helping me to create something that's larger than today. You see, I'm pretty big on capturing moments. Mostly, it's photos. I'll drag a monstrous D3S to the most inconvenient of places just to ensure I get a solid gallery of memories to take back with me, and given that I've traversed all 50 U.S. states and a few dozen countries, photos are vital to helping me keep track of what I did when I was 27... looking back from 55. But other things are important, too. Let's just call these "Life Events." You know, the day you splurged on that vehicle you always wanted, or the day you purchased a new home. Or, the day you quit one job and started another. Heck, I've not only found Timeline's memory of these things useful for my own personal satisfaction, but for things like loan applications.
My own personal memory book
It all culminates into something that I view as even more powerful and significant than a social network. It's more than sharing cat videos. It's more than telling people where you're eating. It's a never-ending stream of recorded information about what I call life, pinpointing moments in this walk that would otherwise be whisked away like dust in the canyon. To me, uploading images (and tagging their locations and dates) is a surefire method to provide myself with fond memories to look back on, to cherish. Tagging friends is just another play that enriches the result even further. Put simply, I'm using Facebook as a singular portal to remember things that I will eventually want to remember about life. Facebook, to me, isn't about today. It's about the future, looking back.
It's a never-ending stream of recorded information about what I call life, pinpointing moments in this walk that would otherwise be whisked away like dust in the canyon.
Here's an example: a few weeks ago, my brother-in-law busted out his (admittedly dusty) Nintendo 64, and we engaged in quite a few rounds of Mario Kart 64. A simple smartphone capture of the loading screen, along with a tagged date and location, was enough to staple a digital sticky note onto that day. It's a day that I'm sure I'll look back on fondly. I've spent the past eight months of my life writing my first book (iPad Secrets, for those curious), and that gaming session marked the first time in nearly a year that I actually had enough time to put down the keyboard and pick up a worn, faded controller. It all sounds forgettable to everyone but me, but that's precisely the point. The blur of status updates from those close to me never hit home, but when I myself look back on that N64 photo, I'll remember the inner freedom and unbridled relief that I felt. I'll remember what that session symbolized. I'll remember just how badly I had longed for one single hour of spare time, only to finally have it. That photo probably caused my more serious friends to roll their eyes; when I look back on it, I'll remember that it was cause for inner celebration. That's power.
In a sense, JPEGs and MOVs are my brush, and Timeline is my slate. I'm writing my stories on a scroll that only gets longer with each passing day, and I'm already envisioning how it'll become more important to me the older I get.
In a sense, JPEGs and MOVs are my brush, and Timeline is my slate.
But this story is hardly about me; it's about the journeys that people are journaling every day on Facebook. We're in this strange in-between era, where my grandparents want nothing more than to gather around the same box of photos each holiday season to tell stories, while I want to fire up a projector and sift through the past 365 days of my Timeline. I no longer value the stagnant nature of the photo box, and my grandparents don't understand what the Internet is. But we're close -- we're almost there. Almost to a point where I will be the grandparent, longing to look at the Timeline of some youngster that I've adopted or otherwise ran into. That's powerful. A single, universally accessible portal that tells one's life story, beautifully arranged in the order that one's life was lived.
My only regret
I frequently hear older, wiser folks speak to me about things they regret from their past -- in most cases, it's not spending money when they should have, or spending too much when they shouldn't have.
Facebook, to me, isn't about today. It's about the future, looking back.
At any rate, my only real gripe with Facebook's Timeline is that it wasn't available in the 1980s, and that my parents didn't create an account for me upon birth. As it stands, there's a cavernous gap between the day I was born and the day I joined, and it'll probably be a few decades before I have time to go back and fill it all in. So, kiddos born today and reading this in the archive stack at your local dentist -- cherish your Timeline. You've no idea what a solid your folks did you when they uploaded that video of you bawling straight out of the womb.
This article originally appeared in Distro Issue 37.