Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Facebook is about to force a timeline on us all. Prepare to be fictionalised.

“Have you got a timeline yet?” asks Facebook every time I log on. “Look how many of your friends have!” I don't want a timeline, but on March the 30th I'm getting one whether I like it or not.

For the blessedly unenlightened, the Facebook Timeline is a new layout in which all your messages and posts and videos and updates are put in chronological order. Given the amount of personal information most users put on Facebook, this feature equates to a document showing what events you went to, when, with whom, what you looked like at the time, what you looked like in 2004, what music you're listening to, what movie you're watching, what someone said to you last Sunday, your feelings on Tuesday, your bedtime reading on Wednesday, and your bowel movements the following morning.

Your timeline begins at birth.

Facebook is hoping parents will put their newborn babies on Facebook. We will willingly document our every move from birth until death. Billions of us. Have you ever heard of a more terrifying and valuable product than Facebook?

At the top of your timeline is a giant picture of “something that represents you best”. From what I've seen, this seems to mean “something that represents you in no way whatsoever”, like a duck, or a fallen bin, or a child eating a banana, or – in the case of Facebook's example timeline – a woman trapped in a glass box filled with water.

The Facebook timeline also includes a detailed map showing where you are, where you've been, and where you're going. I put as little personal information on my Facebook as possible, and habitually untag myself in every photo and event I'm tagged in, but Facebook has set up so many automatic functions that it's hard to resist letting your personal info spill like water from a sieve.

This is of course perfectly safe, as it has now been proven by scientists that there are no sex attackers or stalkers on the internet. And if we fear for our safety, we do have the option to make our timeline private, which everyone will do, given that scientists have also proven that there are no naïve or ignorant people on Facebook.

If you're lazy with your timeline, what you have is strange gaps in what is perceived as documentation of a life. One week you could update your timeline with photos and events. But the following week, nothing. So it looks as if you're doing absolutely nothing that week. Then, the next week, you add more photos and events. But what about last week? What were you doing? Why no events? Why no photos? What were you doing, and why didn't you share it with us?

And if you do take full advantage of all the stalky features the timeline has to offer, you can set up a page at which anyone can glance to get a real picture of your life. But it's not really your life, is it; it's a persona. Your photos are full of happy grins, because you don't take photos of your spouse screaming at your kids. Your events are all going to the theatre or a houseparty, because there is no list of invites to next Friday's court appearance. Your interests are mountain biking and The Kooks, because “lying to friends” or “spreading STDs” just won't cut it. So your Facebook timeline isn't “telling your story” – it's turning you into a carefully-polished fictional character that in any good TV drama would hit the cutting room floor for being wildly unbelievable.

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