Facebook Timeline: memory lane or vanity mirror?

My memory is a tad cloudy, but I do recall enabling Facebook’s timeline a couple of months before the feature went live. Some friend who had an unjustified amount of time to spare had sent me a link to some app developer page that instructed me step-by-step to enable this feature. I fear explaining this further will make me seem like a complete retard because, honestly I don’t understand the underlying intricacies involved in an app’s interface or its making. There’s even a good chance of someone reading this and refuting that the facebook timeline isn’t ‘technically’ an app as such. So let’s move on.

While I do appreciate Zuckerberg & Co.’s initiative to bring forth this feature designed to kindle digital nostalgia as you scroll downwards, there are a few worries that spring to mind. True, Facebook is capable of sharing information about each user solely contributed by him/her. While some users have acutely customized privacy settings to ensure they let us view only what they decide to share, quite a few have their profiles and walls presenting a smorgasbord of information most of us wouldn’t bother knowing. On one hand I’m pleased to see how the facebook timeline presents an abridged version of our profile, neatly stacked beside our photos, subscriptions, likes etc. But on the other, I’m not really comfortable with every single interaction on my wall, every single post being chronologically stacked in a tree structure scrolling right down to my date of birth. Granted each post or interaction’s visibility is compliant with your existing wall & profile’s privacy setting, but seeing these activities being archived in a terribly organized way for everyone to see seems frankly frightening. But maybe that’s just me.

Something else that caught my eye was the frighteningly detailed categories of options available under the ‘Life Event’ tab. If you haven’t seen them, do so, right now. There’s a 50% chance of your Facebook page is lying open in the adjacent browser tab anyway. Events such as wearing spectacles for the first time, weight loss and fractures have their own CATEGORY! I kid you not. And to digitally embalm these moments in permanence, one can always add a photo and tag their friends to each of these commonplace events. Whatever happened to casual posts? I’m sure most have not made use of such posting options, which begs the question – Since when did Facebook blur the line between mundane everyday life activities and those that seem worthy of sharing? Social networking surely has no median to judge the quality of interactions by, but if there’s one thing today’s netizen hates, it’s useless, boring information.

And then there’s the cover photo. While seeming aesthetically pleasing apex atop your timeline tree, it’s just a gateway to a creeping sense of narcissism that is inevitably bound to rise. I won’t be surprised if some research statistic quotes a staggering amount of time spent on Facebook by each user, dedicated to his/her own timeline page. The facebook timeline has this eerie quality of isolation from the familiar news feed that pops us as soon as we log into Facebook. And it counters the clever, cyclical flow of information and interaction between the news feed and the ticker to the right.

Sure, the facebook timeline is much, much more than a vanity mirror. It’s probably one of the most thoughtful and aesthetically pleasant arrays of collated user information on any social network (Heh, like Facebook has  any ACTUAL competition). But if we counter such self-gazing tendencies and reflect upon those of our friends’ on Facebook, that isn’t very healthy either. Their timelines too, are a virtually unending trail unless they’re new to Facebook. Remember this – unless your privacy settings are tweaked, any link you like is publicly viewable on your timeline. Something I learnt recently. And that’s just an example. There are probably a few other gaping holes in privacy I’m yet to discover. There’s only so much time you can spend on others’ timelines before it becomes rather voyeuristic.

There’s no telling what changes await Facebook’s interface but the timeline, while probably being their most sensational feature, is quite the double-edged sword. Social networking is the umbrella under which we distinguish our interactions on the site with respect to various lists. I don’t mind the few folk who remain a part of my inner circle viewing my entire life’s story delineated by the timeline. But I don’t need recent acquaintances, a nosey relative or colleague to be aware of such detailed information.

Facebook aims to make social networking a simple, entertaining and highly interactive experience. And the timeline quantifies the first 2 of those 3 objectives quite easily. On the interactive front, it fails to draw one in. Put simply, the timeline is an excellent feature, for the wrong product.

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