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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My Facebook timeline ends here

Eight years of ups and downs, prying questions, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings. It's time to end it.

I'm talking, of course, about Facebook.

You, like me, probably waste hours on Facebook. You constantly check your mini-feed, looking up old friends, supplanting real conversation with "Miss you!" Maybe you browse through their photos, read through old exchanges, piece together their identities from fragmented clues.

Like me, you've probably gotten pissed off at Facebook once or twice. Since its inception, Facebook users have endured dozens of interface changes, many of them jarring. Each time, we rise up, indignant -- Facebook's gone too far! -- before letting quiet acceptance weigh over us, like a heavy, cozy blanket.

But I won't that happen again. Not today! Because today, I met Timeline.

The e-straw that's broken my Facebook's back.

You've probably seen the Timeline, a.k.a. Facebook's new layout. It aggregates all your profile's elements into newspaper-like columns, organized by year, placing photos next to wall posts next to status updates, in a sort of life collage. It frames each tiny experience as its own headline, and lets readers browse through entire years with single clicks.

Some say the Timeline layout is smart. It's a powerful tool. It used to be that -- unless you spent hours clicking deeper and deeper into the recesses of someone's wall -- old posts were inaccessible. Like one's memory, your past slowly languished. But now, off-hand remarks you made in 2004 are a living, breathing part of who you are. Your narrative. Your past, made present. Your identity.

Yes, there's something to be said about weaving together a story through primary sources (letters, emails, dialogue). But, Facebook? What kinds of tracks have we been laying?

Early on, Facebook lulled me into thinking it was fleeting, the way, in a real conversation, words are uttered, then never spoken again. So I posted messages on whims, while drunk, while trying to seem funny. But for years, Facebook has apparently been collecting my experiences, co-opting them as its own. Now I feel like somebody else, entirely separate from who I really am.

Somehow, without my consent, Facebook has editorialized my life.

And what kinds of bogus articles are these? Who is my editor? Based on what I've read so far, I want my staff writers fired.

These are not clues to who I am. They are presentational, misleading, and mundane. Facebook was born of minutia. Pokes. Prods. Who you liked. Little quips and jokes on that revolutionary thing called a "wall" -- a public record of who met who on the quad, what inside jokes were uttered in the dining hall, where you were going out to a party.

I guess it's easier to stay light than dig deep.

But let's not pretend it's anything more than that: life, light. Or maybe, life for the lazy: a social forum for people who don't feel like being social. It's no small wonder it was started by a shy and cooped-up college kid, trying to navigate through dorm life, campus politics, and tenuous relationship statuses.

So how did we get from there to the Timeline? Facebook touts its new layout as "collections of the photos, posts and experiences that help tell your story."

My "story?"

How did I let my story get told in such a lazy way? When did I become the sum of my inconsequential parts?

The Timeline crystallizes everything that I find awful about Facebook, and it boils down to this: we don't use Facebook as we should. It is a simulation of life, and yet it feels more and more like life's actual pulse. We have made it the focus of everything when it should be cowering in the sidelines. (And I don't exclude myself from any of these indictments.)

We should engage in meaningful experience, not obsess over the meaningless. And yet our attention has been captured.

But I'm tired of being snared in that net.

I'm a writer by trade, which probably explains why I'm so uncomfortable with the Timeline -- a place where my truth is constructed from others' chatter.

My Timeline. My story.

What happens when my profile is gone? Who will I be? What will I have? Where will my past disappear to? Will I remember my experiences? Or will I be lost without Facebook telling me who I am?

So what do I do? Yes, I love to interact with fans and readers. I want folks to have a way to stay in touch with me, connect with each other, and get my attention. I suppose the best way is to opt for Facebook Pages. They seem (for now) to be a more manageable, less obtrusive version of a personal profile. Easier to moderate. Easier to contain. No false claims that it's really "me." From now on, I intend to use Facebook for public and professional interactions only. And if you want to get to know me, you can email me, or read my writing.

But when it comes to my identity? My "story?" I need to construct a Timeline in real experience, not accidental history.

So, yeah. I quit.

4 comments:

  1. Facebook is a fickle friend.

    For me - Facebook has been kind. From the very beginning I've been careful to maintain humor at (almost) all times. I work at a bank with several branches and fellow employees who I rarely see - at our year end meeting a couple of weeks ago, several people from other departments came up and immediately said "I love to read you on Facebook!" I was completely stunned because these people never comment, and I didn't even know they were reading me. Facebook has turned out to be an interesting outlet for letting others know me (and like me!)in the professional world.

    However, on the flip side - I've seen some major crashes and burns. From somebody complaining about their employer making them sign a form saying that they wouldn't complain about their employer on social media (Uh...hello?!) To a marriage falling apart via a status fight - it can get pretty crazy.

    Good for you, taking a stand and deciding how much you will let Facebook into your life - and thanks for keeping a Fan Page :-)

    p.s. I didn't mean to be so wordy - oops.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, Amy! I agree that it's all about boundaries and what each individual is comfortable with. I feel like Facebook has slowly been redrawing its boundaries, and I've become less and less comfortable with it. So, yeah. Decided to take a stand. I hope the Fan Page is easier to deal with. I still want to be engaged in an online conversation -- but am hoping that through my blog, Twitter, and Fan Page it will be one that doesn't become its own entity!!

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  3. I think this is a really interesting blog post, and I agree with everything you said. I am pretty addicted to fb and I wish I could have the will power you have. despite all my awareness of the problem, I still find fb a really useful way to contact people and a fun way to share my experiences. But you do set a good example.

    However, Felicia, you do have an advantage that most of us don't. You're managing your fb by exchanging a personal page for a fan page, but you get to do that because you're a celebrity with a fan-base! It would be weird if someone like me did that, so I remain stuck in the confines of my personal, ever-chronicling facebook page :(

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