Tickety tickety tick. Dateline Tuesday: a quantum change in the Facebook experience called Timeline is about to become mandatory, and it will change your profile. Prepare.
This news has been greeted with intense emotion in the blogosphere. Facebook Timeline: There’s no Escaping it Now, observes Technolog at msnbc.com, a bit ominously. They report a new study in which half of the respondents –thousands– say they are worried about this change, and nearly a third say they don’t know why they are still on Facebook. When people respond so strongly, the anxiety must go deeper than feelings about having to learn one’s way all over again. The tech savvy are anxious too. What unease has this design update stirred up?
For those not already in on the story, Facebook is about to replace everybody’s personal profile, the place where we post our thoughts, images, and self-description, with a substantially changed homepage for our Facebook life. Now, with Timeline, everything we have ever posted will be readily available at once, for a big picture nobody, even we ourselves, may have seen before. Our stuff, the small ephemeral sharings of late nights online, will all become integrated into a story. Once Timeline is in place, we will have a week to edit, compose, and reconsider our requirements for privacy.
Of course, privacy concerns are nothing new for Facebook regulars. Long before Timeline emerged, users demanded – and got—nuanced controls of who has access to their personal words and pictures. Timeline promotes more sharing. It offers “frictionless” apps, designed to automatically share with our Facebook friends what we are reading on the Washington Post app, what coupons we bought on LivingSocial, and how our exercise plan is progressing. We can still control privacy settings, with some effort. HuffPost’s Captain Gadget blog gives clear directions.
Thinking about privacy does stir unease. But Timeline anxiety feels even more personal than that: exposure of a much bigger, and more revealing, picture of who we are, or who we say we are. No wonder we are anxious. No doubt, advertisers will enjoy this greater insight, and use it as a marketing strategy. But this possibility seems more suited to irritation than anxiety. I wonder if the trepidation may have more to do with what our Facebook history may expose to ourselves, and those we want to see us kindly. How do we cope when we feel vulnerable?
Changing the place we call home resonates deeply. Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder and guru, understands this. “We want to design a place that feels like your home,” he said of Timeline, quoted in HuffPost Tech on January 26. “Where you tell your story online is very personal. It gives you the ability to curate all your stories so you can express who you really are.”
Timeline makes us uneasy because we will now be doing openly what we have always done unconsciously: curating our own online life story, making it more flattering, or more zany, or more coherent, or more something, for our Facebook friends. We will be creating our own autobiographies. But first, we will get a peek at the data we have generated over time, and see what we make of it ourselves. Living in the moment, we do not have the perspective that Timeline offers.
We are about to become curators of our own story. But are we doing it right? In a post called The Existential Angst of Facebook Timeline, Big Think blog wonders if we will now obsess about posting the right amount of information, capturing the right moments with the right pictures and the right music playlist, to capture the truth of who we really are. We are a work in progress, and we are potentially always on. The boundaries between public and private have become so blurred that we have some radical rethinking to do about who we want to be, online.
Breakthrough Journal reflects on What it Means to Forget on Facebook. Having an online archive of our small moments, our evolution as a human being, forces us to remember what we might be happy to forget. What are the implications of this, as we go forward, stumbling through the journey of personal growth? Will we take fewer chances, or will we choose to let go of anxiety, knowing the record can always be curated later? Or can it?
All new things stir emotion, as the most adventurous of us hold tightly to our moorings. While we wait to see how significant the impact of Timeline really is, we are wondering what to hope for. Meantime, early adopters have already signed on; perhaps some of them are your friends. In a time of anxiety, it can be comforting to survey the impact of small changes. One thing, for sure, is contributing to our unease about Timeline: it would have been nice to be asked.