How does Facebook’s timeline shape identity?

A CONVERSATION with expert commentators Aleks Krotoski and Ben Hammersley.

Like me, you may think of Facebook as a very new device. But compare these two images.

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 18.46.01

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 18.45.51

Facebook’s Timeline format seems to have innovated surprisingly little on this classic example of a world history map from almost two centuries ago. And that prompts me to ask, how useful is the timeline — a tool devised to map the progress of nations — as a means to map an individual life? As I’ve argued elsewhere, I believe it has significant limitations.

But I recently met up with two exceedingly qualified commentators who don’t necessarily agree. They are the acclaimed authors and preeminent couple of the cyber-noosphere, Aleks Krotoski and Ben Hammersley. Aleks has just published Untangling the Web: What the Internet Is Doing to You (Faber & Faber, 2013). Ben’s latest book is Now for Then: How to Face the Digital Future without Fear (Hodder, 2013).

In this 15-minute eaves-drop on a longer conversation, I distract them from making dinner by asking how they think Facebook shapes our sense of time. They generously respond by musing on how search engines mask the temporal dimension of identity and to what extent Facebook’s social dynamics differ from the playground, through to the prospect of what a social media life-map would look like if designed by quantum computing “where there really is no concept of time”.

Listen here: 

What do you think?


Audio edit by Tickertape.

Images from top: a still from Facebook’s video introducing its new timeline design in 2012, and Emma Willard’s Picture of Nations or Perspective Sketch of the Course of Empire from 1836.

About Cathy Haynes

Timekeeper in residence at UCL Petrie Museum

One comment

  1. Pingback: How do you map a life? | The Timekeeper Project

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