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Facebook, Act II: Create your own eulogy

Posted by Uwe Hook on October 3rd, 2011 at 11:13 am

Mark Zuckerberg wants you to share life stories. Just don’t expect diaries. Get ready for your photoshopped self.

A few days ago, Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed: “The heart of your Facebook experience, completely rethought from the ground up.” And, he added: “Timeline is the story of your life.”

My jogging maps, the books I read , the movies I watched, the pictures I took – Is that really the story of my life?

Data aggregation as the expression of a human dream.

Facebook is not the only platform that satisfies a basic human dream. We’re archiving what we see, hear, read, eat, where we are traveling and how it takes us to run 5 miles for one reason and one reason only: We don’t want to die.

Or better: Since we all have to die at one point, we don’t want to just disappear, be forgotten.

Most eulogies leave out the “He was a bastard” part or the “She was a meanie” piece. The new Facebook timeline will become an idealized archive of your digital self,  defying mortality with every “like”. A permanent monument to yourself, conveniently leaving out the depressed moments, the embarrassing stories, the dark secrets, the big failures that made you who you really are. De mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est – Speak no ill of the dead.

Who is this digitally conserved replica of me?

How will the tools form my digital ego, how will they change my real self? And how does this digital self affect my own perception of me?

Facebook focuses in its timeline on the consumption of media and products – makes sense for marketers to get access to people in a relevant setting and helps Facebook’s valuation tremendously. Skeptics might say our life story will consists of lattes and “The Bachelor” viewings.

Diaries were never that exciting.

One could argue, the Facebook life story won’t be that much different than your typical diary. Andy Warhol noted in his diary each cab drive and the fare. I dare you to read my diary from 20 years ago without falling asleep after the first sentence.

The big difference: I wrote for an audience of one. Me, myself and I. Nobody else. I wasn’t hoping for “likes” or comments. Facebook rewards you with an audience and its comments when you tell a good story. Without readers no autobiography.

When you share your life story on Facebook, is there any space for openness and honesty? We tend to discuss what should be public or private on Facebook. Maybe we should discuss more how Facebook and all the other platforms make us focus on stories we want to share. What’s the worthiness of an experience if I can’t share it with the world?

Will these mirrors of our digital self enrich us?

The audience you carry with you throughout your digital life might lead to a race to the boring middle. When we feel we are in the minority, we might not express our opinion freely. Who wants to get booed by the Facebook fans? Why would I express the support for a political candidate when 30% of my fans might block me in return? Why would I share a controversial theory that results in no feedback when I can post an Instagram image of my daughter and get 20 responses?

On the other hand, looking at myself through the eyes of others might enrich my life, adding more perspective to my thinking. A life story filled with contributions of others.

Are we living in reality? Or creating a digital fiction?

Facebook and all the other platforms are about identity management. I’m sharing the latest insight from Forrester, the FT column, the David Brooks book I just read. Leaving out my most embarrassing album purchase ever (Titanic Sound track, there I said it.), my favorite trash TV show (Scroll up, it starts with The…) or a possible hangover.

When we look back in 5 years, our life stories might be as boring as Andy Warhol’s cab entries. Or they may be an insight who we wanted to be 5 years ago. What stories we shared to develop this new identity. Or what apps wrote about us.

And we might look at all the personal data and stories, look up and ask:

“Who is this person? Do I know him?”

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