Facebook Timeline is the New Tombstone


“There are more dead people than living.  And their numbers are increasing.  The living are getting rarer.”

– Eugene Ionesco, playwright

Like my death on Facebook.

People hate the Facebook Timeline.

While many of Facebook’s most prominent changes over the years have caused a lot of  hand wringing, none of them have caused as visceral a response as the Timeline.

Why is that?

Timelines are used most often in history as a way to display chronological events.  It is a simple way to list important moments in history or in a person’s life.  But as we all know, history is mostly the study of the past.  Not to be morbid, but a study of the dead.

Timelines have a beginning and an end.  And, let’s face it, nobody wants to be reminded of that there’s an end.  The discomfort we get about Facebook’s Timeline is that it is an in-your-face reminder of our own mortality.  Placing pins – photos, status updates, links, etc. – on our own pathway to death.

When we die will someone place a photograph of our tombstone on Facebook?

Will all the ridiculous crap that we’ve posted over the years – from a B-52s music video to the snarky remarks we made about our sister’s ugly shoes in 2002 – be all that’s left to remind people of who we were?  Do we really want Facebook to be the monument of our life?

Because most of us think of Facebook as a tool – a communications platform to connect with people in the moment – not as a permanent record of our humanity.  Nobody I know wants Facebook to be so… serious (please give me credit for not using the word grave here).  So defining of our character.

Didn’t we all like Facebook better when it was kind of informal and casual?

But what happens to our digital lives when we die is something that Facebook needs to consider.  Just do the math.  According to the CIA World Factbook, 8.12 people in the world die for every 1,000 each year.  There are more than 800 million people on Facebook, which means that if the averages hold up, 6.49 million Facebook users die each year.

I think we can all agree that death and social media is going to become an issue.  That’s why the U.S. government is already tackling the question.

But there are other disturbing issues with the Timeline other than its blatant reminder that, yes, we’re going to die.

The very nature of a searchable timeline makes it near impossible to escape our pasts.  We’re stuck with every mistake.  We’re stuck with the person we were in high school and college.  Our old relationships will always be there for everyone to see.  Old girlfriends and boyfriends.  Divorced spouses.  Regretful political stances.  Humorous asides – that might have been hilarious in the moment, but not so funny 10 years later.

Everyone changes through their lives.  We mature, old beliefs die and are replaced by others.  Experience gives us wisdom and insight.

But the Facebook Timeline is a manifestation of the dreaded permanent record we were always threatened with in high school.  Do we really want everyone who connects with us to be able to review our every vacation?  Do we want new boyfriends to be able to see all of the photos and experiences that we had with the old boyfriends?  Do we want employers to be able to read the autobiographies of our lives – not thought out and express in hindsight – but as a running, moment-by-moment commentary?

Do we even want that?  Don’t we want to forget mistakes?  Don’t we want our memories to be memories?  Instead our memories will be fact-checked by our Timelines.

What are your thoughts on Timeline?  Like it?  Hate it?  Why?

Links:

CIA World Factbook

Mashable “Facebook After Death”

6 Responses to “Facebook Timeline is the New Tombstone”

  1. Hi George,

    The reason you, me and everyone else hates the timeline is because it makes finding things on a Facebook page harder. I doubt it has much to do with our mortality. The Facebook interface has always been easy to understand and easy to find things. People don’t like change to their favorite brands in general, and this is a BIG change.

    If Facebook also has 800 million users, I’m curious what happens to the 400 million (or more) of that number that only check their page once or twice a month or don’t use it anymore and don’t know about Timeline.

  2. Not sure I’m following you David. The Timeline actually makes finding things easier. The reason it was introduced was to give users faster and easier access to old content. But I do agree that people generally dislike change.

  3. Sorry, I agree with David, it makes it a lot harder, and most people do not like change. And they don’t like taking the time to figure out something that they are already comfortable with. I am not the only that thinks this way. I know plenty of people that hate the new timeline. I for one, am planning to leave facebook, it will be hard since I have family that live out of state, and facebook was one good way to keep in contact easily with pictures and so on, besides phone and web cam. But I, and my family will be going to google plus. Unless, they get rid of the timeline.

  4. Hi Angel:
    That’s a big move. I’d be interested is knowing how it goes on Google+. I agree that change is difficult when it comes to user interfaces, but I’d put money on Google+ implementing changes that you don’t like in the near future as well. Good luck!
    Best,
    George

  5. Brilliant piece of commentary. Makes you consider posting to facebook in a very different light. Very thought provoking…

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. What Happens To Your Digital Life When You Die? [Video] | Mom~E~Centric - January 31, 2012

    […] Facebook Timeline is the New Tombstone (hightalk.net) […]

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