I’ve been on Facebook since October 28, 2004 (I now know, after trying to wrestle my Timeline into a presentable state). At the time, a .edu email address was required, and I had never heard the phrase “personal brand.” Facebook was correct in removing the ridiculous .edu stipulation and opening up to the world at large, but I mention this in order to emphasize that in the beginning, no one was under the impression that the site was anything more than a platform for college kids to say stupid things that we thought were charming and clever for the purposes of winning love and glory. No one was looking to break into a career path or advertise a product or service or their own marketability - we were mostly interested in bantering with each other and sharing the gory details of our bad decisions. Immature and shortsighted, most definitely.
Then our professors started joining, and we started hearing rumors of people making REALLY bad decisions, like bragging about cheating on exams, or missing class because of various illegal substance indulgences. For the most part, I don’t think professors minded us acting like we were coasting through a period of extended adolescence, but it became immediately apparent that you needed to be careful about what you said and posted, especially if it was something against academic rules and regulations.
Then our parents joined. Then our bosses. Then every person we ever crossed paths with ever. Then it became a situation where saying anything political, religious, or otherwise opinionated put you at risk for a Facebook tussle with someone you’d never dream of offending in real life (though perhaps you hadn’t even thought about the person in years). And I think that’s fine - being a social critter is a messy, tricky business in real life, and of course a wildly popular online social service will mirror that. And the golden rule of the internet is, post not that which you would not say to your mother. Please understand that I’m not trying to say I don’t want the world to have access to a special college kid clubhouse - I’m just trying to explain how Facebook evolved from a fairly obnoxious college kid clubhouse to something much bigger, and much more interesting.
However. This new Timeline business seems tailored not to socializing, but to stalking - the casual “I wonder what happened to so-and-so” variety that most of us do occasionally and joke about often, or the “so-and-so thinks I should hire him, so let’s see what dirt we can find” style which seems a little unfair to me on separation of work and play grounds but that I’ve accepted as part of the world I live in, or the truly threatening kind. Older posts on Facebook have always been accessible, but Timeline makes them infinitely more so, lowering barriers to serious amateur private investigation. It’s upsettingly simple to get dates on all of my major life events (which might help an unscrupulous person figure out my account protection secret questions in one extreme and unlikely scenario), and it’s embarrassingly easy to catch me out as not having always been a relatively mature adult with reasonably well-supported opinions and tempered judgment. Looking at the earlier sections of my Facebook feed didn’t fill me with a warm glow of nostalgia - it felt like a one-click-away dream in which I suddenly realized I wasn’t wearing any pants.
Combining user profiles with user walls is streamlined, and I like that aspect of it. I’m also grateful for the seven-day cleanup period, and for the fact that in spite of my obsessive/self-obsessed anxieties about being “caught out” as less than a perfect human being, there’s really nothing that bad in my backlog. I am not shy about using privacy controls and I’ve mostly made good sharing decisions (except for all those China party pics - ex-pat life is just different, I don’t know what else to say). Nevertheless, I did not craft the past seven and a half years of Facebook activity as a cohesive document that explains who I am as a person, and that’s exactly what it’s about to become, whether I like it or not.
I own the fact that I started out on Facebook as an excessively privileged and naive child, and I do understand the internet well enough to know that you can never really take anything back. I just feel really weird about having all of my online skeletons summarily exhumed from underneath layer after layer of “older posts” links for public perusal unless I do some labor-intensive housecleaning. I understand that it’s my responsibility to make sure everything’s in good order, but it’s going to take an awful lot of time to get through the past seven and a half years to prepare for a compulsory and drastic change in the way my profile functions.
[I did enjoy the existential character of old-school status updates, though. Here's a transcript from 2006:
currently unavailable for comment.
happy as a clam, hidden from predators, with an endless food supply, and whatever else might make clams extra happy.
just a lonely puppy.
all about fortune cookies.
What does it MEAN?]