Why Facebook’s Biggest Change Ever Will Make You Freak Out (Maybe In A Good Way)

Last week, Mark Zuckerberg announced what’s in the cards for Facebook, the trusty ol’ social network we’ve collectively dug our claws into, for better or worse. Whether out of loyalty, ennui, or social necessity, most of us do use Facebook — but if you’re still hanging out with me in the conceptually superior social ghost town of Google+, bully for you!

After solely visiting Facebook for the occasional harried photo untagging here and there, I was still hoping some massive privacy scandal would sink the whole ship. But the winds of change are blowing! They’re blowing gradually, so as to dilute the collective fury of 800 million people afraid of change, but the revolution will reach your profile page soon enough. It’s quite possibly the biggest change to ever sweep through the social network — and you’re either going to love it or hate it.

You’ve probably seen some new stuff popping up over the last few weeks. Suddenly there’s the Ticker, that scrolling right-hand sidebar that puts the real in “real-time” with a Twitter-like feed of the small stuff people are doing on the site at any given nanoscond. And we’ve got those new Google+-inspired privacy tweaks that help you filter what you share with who, so you don’t end up writing a 1700 word column about how boy, you sure wish Facebook would let you do that (ahem). Facebook acted fast, parrying Google+’s strengths with its own Zuckified retorts. And the weird part is, the new stuff is actually cool. Get ready for it.

The Timeline: Your Worst Nightmare, Maybe

[Since you can do this cheatsky thing where you enroll as a Facebook app developer and sneak preview the Timeline, I’ve spent a week with the new feature. Which is to say, I got an exclusive invitation to the Facebook beta, hand-delivered by Mark Zuckerberg atop one of those things that serfs carry kings or pharaohs on in culturally anachronistic B-movies, kind of like this culturally problematic analogy.]

In an effort to both accidentally please me and make the stickiest, most addictive website in the world even stickier and more addictive, Facebook is killing off the profile page to raise it from the dead as the Timeline. In the beginning of Facebook, everything revolved around profile pages. I mean, profile pages were where it was at. And by ‘it,’ I mean the sexuality and relationship status of that barista with the blunt-cut bangs. But then Twitter hit in 2006. Micro-blogging became de rigueur. Facebook added the News Feed that September and so began the endless cascade of social micro-happenings. Why hunt around for dirt on someone when we could have it delivered to your doorstep? Just sit back and watch the world scroll by.

But let us now think back to that purer time. Instead of compulsively refreshing the News Feed, we skipped from profile to profile, like so many flat stones cast off across the social waters. And in some ways, with the Timeline, Facebook will return to those very roots. Literally our roots: our checkered pasts, viewed through the lens of our own little identity portals. Everybody knows that profile pages are the windows to the soul.

That’s where the Timeline comes in. Oh, the Timeline. If you’ve ever found yourself up in arms after your true-blue network made a few tweaks, get ready to be majorly riled. If you welcome change, you’re in luck! The Timeline is a big one. ‘What is it?,’ you might rightfully ask. ‘Just fucking tell me,’ you might reasonably demand in your inside voice. The Timeline is the new profile page — and if we’re being honest, the old ones died off years ago.

The Timeline is very visual reimagining of the profile page — one that ostensibly highlights the important stuff in our lives. The great news? We get to pick what matters. The first thing you’ll notice is that you’ll get to pick two photos: one wall tapestry-esque massive one, and your smaller profile pic. The second thing you’ll notice is that suddenly your profile page looks less like your Twitter feed and more like your Tumblr. Within two handsome, sparse columns you can curate the story of your life. Tell whatever story you want! Audit your own existence into oblivion! Redact your life with reckless abandon! It’s your story to tell now — or that’s the idea anyway. Social media is the strange shadow of the person we want that blunt-banged girl to think we are, after all. I guess that’s a story.

A particularly strange side effect of the new Timeline feature is that someone can now casually scroll back to the origins of time, which is to say that they can see all of those photos of you wearing too-heavy eyeliner, demonstrating your command of the beer bong back in 2004. This sounds horrifying right? I mean, it’s essentially dredging up your entire living history as documented by Facebook. And what I learned — the weird way — is that we didn’t always use Facebook like we use it now. Just as the great News Feed revolution of 2006 changed our social media selves in ways (regrettably) irrevocable, Facebook was an entirely different animal at the outset. (We might have even called it ‘the Facebook!’ I’ll have to consult my timeline.) Looking back to 2004, we didn’t quote know what to make of Facebook. The earliest messages I dug up on the site have the one-sidedness of a message in a (virtual) bottle.  Those awkward, ancient missives read more like the socially-pressurized inside cover of a high school yearbook than the Facebook we know now. We might have even written them in the third person…imagine that!

It’s fascinating to see how the network has evolved over time, and how the hoodie-headed minds behind it can shape the way we actually communicate. The parameters of social acceptability have since shifted too: While poking was once in vogue — or at least I thought it was — nowadays a stray poke is gauche. Pokes are reserved for irony only, as a backward glance to the time when we actually did that in some earnestness. Now, the Like is the reigning gesture of flippant semi-interest. We don’t put much of ourselves out there these days — there’s rejection to contend with after all! — we just idly click Like button after Like button, hoping that the Likee interprets our act of trance-like devotion or total ambivalence exactly as we meant it. We Like and we Like and pray they Like us the way we Like them– or we never remember clicking the button to begin with.

As a born scrapbooker, I’m compelled by the Timeline changes. I like to see old, weird things come to light —  to watch my entire incongruous history dredged up at once, kicking and screaming, like some tangled net of crabs on Deadliest Catch. The curation option feels like a return to blogging and a move away from the meaningless, bizarrely addictive micro-expressions that we so frequently zap to the heavens in 140 characters or less. With the News Feed, the past 10 minutes were the only relevant touchstone of personal identity — new data just keeps scrolling in and scrolling in, after all! Now that we’ve got the Ticker off on the side to siphon off our attention deficit tendencies, the new profile page will offer a more stable, dynamic way to express ourselves (and peer into our friends’ projected inner lives, of course).

With the Timeline, our rich, weird web histories are no longer the buried, vestigial artifacts of A Different Time. We can haul them out of obscurity at will to tell the story we want. And maybe your story has a great hair day for four consecutive years and an endless battery of pitch-perfect jokes  — but at least it’s your story to tell. Tell it how you want.

Taylor has written 136 articles for us.

41 Comments

  1. Oh, gosh. I’m copying and pasting a tweet on this subject to a blog comment.

    Yes. It’s pretty, but that’s worth almost nothing at all compared to how poorly everything else now operates.

    The tomboy and I are considering jumping ship! FB is too creepy, and I’m not talking about Timeline. I’m talking about the PAC and the 880+ pages of data they keep on a single profile. It’s kind of terrifying, and I don’t spook easy.

    • it’s remarkable just.how.much facebook knows about us. the new changes have a lot of implicit privacy problems, which deserve another column of their own altogether. all the deeper “frictionless” tie-ins to apps (like Spotify, Nike+, etc)…definitely worth keeping a *very* close eye on privacy settings and authorizations now!

  2. i also really like the wierdness of old, old things on facebook. like looking at the “see friendship” thing and getting to know what my still-bffs and I were writing on each others’ walls on a daily basis sophomore year of college (6 plus years ago).

  3. oh god, I really am not looking forward to Timeline mostly because I don’t want to see that much of my past life in pictorial/status form. Not that my past was all that scandalous or embarrassing, it’s just…I got on facebook at age 17 and I’ve changed a lot since then. I’m not the same person anymore, in many ways, so this emphasis on continuity seems false and forced to me.

  4. I tend to be resistant about sharing things, so I have a feeling I’m not going to like the timeline. And I hate the integration, I have no interest in signing up for spotify because you have to do it through facebook.

  5. I am stoked about the changes, really.

    I’m hoping that the attention this new update is getting will help alleviate some people’s resistance to change. I mostly thrive on new things (my commitment issues and I have learned how to get along.) However, I know many people aren’t like that and Facebook is kind of a friend-entity in itself. Before you tell all your “friends” something about yourself you must first tell facebook. I can see how it might be disconcerting to stop in to say hello to a friend and see that they went from black lipstick to a cheerleader ponytail (or whatever to whatever) without any warning.

    I know I’m being optimistic there but I’m hoping anyway, because it really is annoying to see people get their hate on because they don’t like change rather than that they don’t like the changes.

      • I’m as embarrassed about emo and/or drunk status updates (or oh god the “I’m so in love sappy stupid ex updates) as I am about the fact that my mundane, boring life is now really easily trackable. Oh look in June Sebastian was talking about the weather. Oh last year he was also talking about the weather. He talks about weather a lot. Look, he had a really good latte. Got a good grade. (and so on)

        No one will seek real life friendship with me when they can use their facebook friendship to remember/realize how lame I am!

  6. I know this is sad, but all I can think is that I am going to have to do everything on Facebook for my mom now. She finally got the hang of commenting to other people and not herself! And she’s just learned how to upload her own photos. Oh man, this is going to overwhelm her.

    Well written post. Such passion for social media! I do not share the same passion, but thoroughly enjoyed the article.

    I don’t know how I feel about the timeline, but as it is a routinely go back and delete stuff after a few days or weeks. I’ll let some stuff stay — especially stuff that marks a big event or something that makes me seem super cool (gotta impress the proverbial barista with the blunt-cut bangs, after all) but I regularly clean out my wall. I don’t like the idea of my fleeting thoughts and insignificant actions being immortalized and archived. This timeline thing will freak me out even more and make me delete more shit. Some people let it all hang out in their profiles. Everything they care about, thought was interesting for 10 seconds, etc. they share. Me? I like to keep some mystery.

  7. [quote] Which is to say, I got an exclusive invitation to the Facebook beta, hand-delivered by Mark Zuckerberg atop one of those things that serfs carry kings or pharaohs on in culturally anachronistic B-movies, kind of like this culturally problematic analogy.[/quote]

    My inner nerd aches to tell you the word you were looking for was “litter.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Litter_(vehicle)

    The eminent arrival of the timeline has all the potential in the word of conjuring up some major apprehension, not unlike naked baby pictures. The right audience will find those innocent, chubby-cheeked memories nostalgic and full of warm fuzzies. However, the wrong audience will make high-quality color copies of them and display them prominently in the cafeteria during lunchtime and maybe even the hallways you frequent on the way to calculus class. I mean, I’m not sayin’, but I’m sayin’…

    Thank you, that is all.

  8. My friends who know about this are freaking out about “privacy” and how facebook doesn’t have the “right” to share that stuff… but you posted it! So shut the fuck up.

    I’m hoping this is what makes everyone jump ship and swim to Google plus… but that’s probably never going to happen.

  9. Timeline makes me uneasy. Partially because of annoying status updates of my past that should remain in the past. Usually related to exes.

    As a trans person, it’s a whole other beast. I created a new facebook when I came out as trans for a number of reasons – privacy, control of who I came out to, and the biggie of burying that pre-transition past. Old photos, old names, old ways of relating to the world. For trans people our life timeline is often a source of turmoil. There are parts of our lives that we lived as another gender for christ’s sake! It’s very personal and usually something we want complete control over who has access to it. The timeline really thrusts this into public view. Even if you untag or delete old posts where people use your old name or say “hey girl”, or go to the lengths I did to start a new Facebook altogether, your friends’ old photos and comments and status updates are all up there and now incredibly accessible. No longer buried in the muck of “who cares that was so long ago I’m not going through this persons old photo albums and I’m certainly not reloading their wall for 5 hours to see what they said in 2008″…. I mean this is the risk of living publicly or semi-publicly online right? But the timeline seems to really exploit it all

    So yes. Uneasy!

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.