Today I updated my Facebook profile to ‘Timeline’, the new-look profile which shows every single activity you’ve ever carried out on Facebook in chronological order. It’s going to take a bit of getting used to, but I think mine looks quite nice, as you can see below.
You can now list ‘life events’, which range from major things such as having a child, getting married, losing a loved one etc down to things like breaking a bone. Amusingly, the timeline starts at ‘Born’, then there’s a gap of 19 years until I joined Facebook back in 2005. The only events between my birth and joining Facebook were the birth of my sister and brother (my other sister isn’t on Facebook) – according to Facebook, anyway.
Unexpectedly, I actually found myself experiencing a range of different emotions as I looked back over the past few years and my comings and goings on Facebook. For a start, it freaked me out slightly that Facebook has so much information about me – but that’s a bit of a cliche so I’m not going to dwell on that point. Or on the fact that Facebook has become so integrated into our lives that it’s essentially a part of our 21st century identity.
It made me think about my life before Facebook, and the other significant life events I’ve had during the course of my life which weren’t recorded in Facebook. It made me think back to the carefree existence of childhood and a lifestyle free from the bonds of the internet. In my own living memory there was a time when I was unaware of the internet – when I found things out by looking in books, when I could wake up in the morning without checking phone, email, Facebook messages, Twitter messages – how stress-free life must have been!
I felt really sad seeing photos I’d uploaded over the years of our beautiful Dalmatian Dylan, who died in September last year. I miss that little guy so much.
But what got to me the most was looking back over my Facebook activity and seeing messages I’d exchanged over the years with my friend Jo, who was tragically killed in a road accident in Oxford at the end of October (this is the BBC News article). She was so young and seeing the messages she’d sent me – encouraging me when I felt down, when I was at uni trying to cope with a massive workload, exchanging funny quotes from our favourite Hugh Grant films, or from Lord of the Rings – brought back to me how even though I’d not seen her that often, it was so nice knowing she was there and she was always so kind and supportive. I still can’t believe she’s gone – even months later, I still sometimes see someone across the street, riding a bike, and think it’s her.
Facebook, for all its flaws, has recorded those memories of the banter we used to have online and I’m grateful for that. Online interaction is obviously no substitute for real life – and of course I have loads of lovely memories of the times I spent with Jo in real life too – but it was nice to see her messages to me and to remember how she could brighten my day with a thoughtful, funny wall post.
Used thoughtfully, Facebook doesn’t have to replace actual face-to-face interaction – it facilitates it and enhances it. Jo was really good at letting people know she cared, even if it was just posting something on a friend’s Facebook wall, and I think there’s a lesson to be learned from her random acts of kindness. She may be gone, but the memories of her thoughtfulness both online and offline live on – both online and offline.