Facebook Timeline and 'The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'

born.png

Facebook Timeline is finally rolling out to the mass of the service's users. As that happens, people are coming to terms with how they are going to manage the meaning machine.

Writer and photographer Cheri Lucas found a new appreciation for the movie about memory erasure, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, when she was confronted with curating her existence on Timeline. Her honest reverie is worth reading.

The process of (mechanical) self-creation that Timeline asks of its users is going to be difficult. We're talking about people's lives here, and if you haven't heard, life can be hard. Businessweek tech writer Brad Stone cut to the heart of the problem when he tweeted, "Facebook Timeline: Evidence that no one at Facebook has ever gotten fat, lost their hair or gone through a divorce."

But even people who haven't ever gotten fat, lost their hair, or gone through a divorce will be faced with hundreds of tiny decisions about how to depict themselves for public consumption. And that's what I love about Lucas' reflections. Her approach is provisional, introspective, and conflicted. There is something satisfying about deleting the past, and the past remains, a ghost without a machine.

Last night, I sifted through my entire Facebook history and deleted comments, hid status updates, and untagged or removed unflattering photos I'd forgotten about. I didn't delete much, as prior to 2011, I wasn't that active on Facebook: I'd deactivated my account numerous times and was nearly nonexistent from 2007 to the first half of 2010. Still, I combed my Facebook wall like I was meticulously proofreading a job at work. Why? Not because any of the content was inappropriate, or meant to be a secret, but because I micromanage myself. Because I'm a perfectionist.

And because sometimes I just want to erase: to forget in the same way I had wanted to forget everything associated with a past relationship and a hard, confusing breakup.

But my curation of my own history--the deleting of previous status updates, the "featuring" of particular posts--is strange. More so than before, I am able to highlight what is important in my life--or what I want others to view as important--and fill in missing details from today to when I was born:

And no, there is nothing new about telling my life story exactly the way I want. But with the memory erasing procedure in Eternal Sunshine fresh in my mind, I find Timeline--and my general ability to click "Delete"--fascinating. And at the same time, rather scary.

"Once you get timeline, you'll have 7 days before anyone else can see it. This gives you a chance to get your timeline looking the way you want before other people see it." Right here, in Timeline's instructions, I'm encouraged to pluck out my flaws and dismiss memories that aren't life-altering or amazing.

And yet Timeline isn't all about pruning and perfecting--we can note the end of a relationship, for instance, if we want to:

I can see how some people will find inputting missing details of their lives to be fun. But I sense a forced organization of things that can't--or shouldn't--be compartmentalized. And further digitization of my memories.

I don't know. After watching Eternal Sunshine again, and feeling good about it this time around, I kinda want to let my memories just be.

Presented by

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

Just In