Aww, you saved my life? You shouldn’t have!

Facebook icon containing paper documents

Facebook. Proudly archiving your every move online since 2004

I hope I will never forget that fateful day, when I realized that after years of usage, Facebook had saved my life.

In fact, if you’re one of its 800,000,000 users, you should be aware that it has saved your life too, regardless of if you wanted it to.

I can hear it already- wait, whoa, what? Gross invasion of privacy? Not according to the terms and conditions you agreed to all those years ago. To be fair, there isn’t a single word up there that you did not yourself contribute, knowing that it was going up on the ultimately safe chamber of secrets, the Internet.
(Yes, there IS a #sarcasm hash tag there)

Facebook’s new feature, timewhut?

Facebook’s recent user interface changes have given people a new way to navigate their online lives, quite literally replacing your Facebook browsing history with an actual historical and chronological log of all actions- Timeline.

You want to know what happened in the Spring of 2007? No problem, you’re there. Want to know every word you’ve ever written in private conversations to a certain friend since your adoption of Facebook? It’s all on one page, for your convenience. You read a news article on The Guardian about a lifestyle issue? All your friends know about it. You once added the spice girls to your musical interests but have since removed it out of shame? That’s there too, unfortunately.

An image of Scary Spice from the Spice Girls

Even now, the sight of an afro kindles in you a faint feeling of unease.

A few of you may be saying “Yeah, but so what? Most of this information was already available on Facebook previously”. While that may be true, it’s important to point out that availability and ease of viewing are two entirely different things: would you dare navigate the internet without a search engine? Facebook, like the Internet, is a platform, and Timeline is its navigational medium.

Live digital. Reminisce digital.

Alright, so here’s where we’re at: online, exists a comprehensive catalogue of your every willingly shared social activity, which is de facto shared with all your Facebook friends, both recent and old. With the advent of timeline, it is also now much more easily searchable. Comes the big question: SO WHAT?

I don’t want to get too philosophical about this, but the implications of having your entire online life catalogued and searchable are immensely profound… For some, at least. Granted, some may use Facebook as it was intended to be used: a social sharing tool, facilitator of online communications. Humanity, however, has always been more than adept at appropriating technological advances for their social needs (like, say, the internet itself). Thus, for many, Facebook has become synonymous with “the internet’s home page”. Why email someone if you can Facebook message them? Why log into Skype or ICQ or IRC or YHM or AIM or AOL or LKY or SDT or GGF or, or…? Ok, so I made a few of those up. I’m sure there are more than enough obscure-but-real messaging agents to make up for it though.

Glass and Glazing Federation Logo

Well. Close enough, right?

For these people, who tweet when they brush their teeth, and upload images of every good-looking meal they have or prepare (yes, I’m talking about you), Timeline is going to be a veritable treasure trove of information. Eventually, it may become a treasure trove of memories.

Already, even I begin to feel nostalgic when I re-read conversations that I’ve had with friends just four years back, when I was a wee little Facebooker. So much has happened since, and the joy of re-discovery is almost magical in nature. I can’t predict that Facebook will be around forever, but should it survive our rapidly evolving digital culture (which it is clearly striving to do, with offsite news and platform integrations), imagine looking at your FB information at age… 60.

High resolution photos of you and your friends at 18, 23, 35, 40, staring right back at you. Pictures of those horrible shoes you thought were awesome at the time. A short message of encouragement from a friend when you were feeling down – and she’s since passed away. Pointless little video clips that once meant nothing, but are now treasured moments. Noticing that you were first tagged together with your then-girlfriend-now-wife in a candid photo some random friend took at a social event. It’s these incredible candid/prepared moments and memories that inspire my embracing of new technologies and the concept of digital chronicling.

Think about it.

This has never before been possible in the history of humankind, to have a comprehensive and searchable source for, well, your life. It’s like your diary and photo albums combined, but digital and really not quite the same thing at all.

Preparing your digital investment portfolio

I understand that not everyone will want to display their entire life online. And that’s ok. Your life is your life. I am curious though, to invest in a project of this scale. Facebook privacy settings will still allow me to hide what perhaps should not be publicly displayed, while maintaining the data – the future memory. I would invite others to do the same: Today’s inconsequential actions, posts, tweets, status updates… may eventually play a part in shaping tomorrow’s memories. Just think of it in terms of Chaos Theory. Data doesn’t cost anything to keep, so, why not partake in this experiment that -may- provide a priceless future resource?

If you’re ever worried, like me, that something might happen to all that precious data that Facebook has saved, you can always request to download it. Yup. That’s right. Just ask for it from this Facebook download page (click on small “download a copy of your facebook data”), and it has to give you every single bit of information about you that it has stored on its servers. Funny story behind that, actually. A bit off topic, but I’ll share it if it’s requested in the comments.

Social experiment: Nostalgia

I would like to suggest a little social experiment. It just requires 5-15 minutes of your time, and I would really, incredibly appreciate your participation.
1) Go to your Facebook profile page
2) Using the navigation bar at the top right of the screen, find your way back to when you first joined Facebook
3) Read through your oldest Facebook activity stories until you find something of interest (subjective, left to your judgement), and share it here in the comments. No commentary needed if you don’t feel like it, just copy and paste the post in question.

Allow me to begin:

Kristin ####
August 8, 2007
hi =)
how have you been?
the last i remember, i traded you my nine tails for your kangaskhan!

(In my defense, by that point in 2007, I had not seen her in many years. Funny that one of the first people I connected with on facebook was not a college friend, but an old, old, childhood one.)

I’m looking forward to your contributions.

Soundbite: Live Digital. Reminisce Digital.

PS: A word of warning- even if hidden, data uploaded to Facebook or other sites is stored on external servers, and is thus vulnerable – however rare – to theft. Don’t upload important banking data or some such, or anything which would compromise you if leaked. That’s perhaps the most basic digital lifestyle rule, but it’s very surprising how often it’s ignored.

You’ve digitalized your VHS collection, photos, and old records. Isn’t it time you did the same for the rest of your memories?



  1. Pingback: Welcome to Rewritt3n, a digital insight blog with a creative twist. | Rewritt3n

    • Thank you, I’m really glad that my ideas have some impact! As someone who immediately adopted the timeline concept, I might not have the most balanced views on the subject, though. Would you mind sharing what some of your initial concerns were? I’m always looking for good feedback that’ll allow me to rewrit3 this article better for the next reader.

  2. Pingback: How Driving Traffic To Your New Site Is Like Putting Vodka In A Bowl Of Punch. | Rewritt3n

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