Within the next few weeks, Mr. Zuckerberg is going to tear down your Wall. Be warned, ye, of sketchy pictures and offensive posts from a not-so-distant digital past: the great Facebook Timeline cometh. Sooner or later, each and every Facebook user (in other words, everyone in the world except Kevin Burke and my dad) will be forced to accept Timeline into their lives, and each one of us will be forced to confront virtually every photo and comment previously buried deep within the recesses of our mind and Facebook profile.
That “witty” comment you made in 2008 that was more than a bit racist? Click. I found it. The awful picture of you and your ex dancing at prom? Click. I liked it. Those baby pictures your mom posted of you? Click, click, click, click. I just re-posted it, made it my profile picture, and sent an email to your boss and significant other. Subject: Rub-a-dub-dub, Look Who’s In the Tub.
Now in all fairness to Zuck, it’s not all bad, and it’s not too late to purge the more unsavory portions of your past. There are cool parts about Timeline too. Seeing important moments in your life represented in a digital scrapbook is incredible and will be even more meaningful for the generation of kids growing up with Facebook from a young age. Timeline is also wicked smart; without any additional input from yours truly, it picked out several notable status, events, and pictures to feature prominently on my Timeline.
So Timeline’s not all bad. Before you scramble off to immediately cleanse your other favorite Harvard-founded social network (sorry ConnectU), keep in mind that before releasing your Timeline to all of your eager friends, Facebook is going to give you a week’s notice to review and edit it. It’s not terribly hard to erase, edit, or hide specific posts on Timeline. Two clicks and your grandparents won’t have to see your “2011 New Years Partyyyyyyyyyy” photo album, and nobody has to know that in 2009, you made 65 status updates about napping. With a couple clicks and a little bit of self-censorship, you can fine-tune your Timeline into a carefully crafted representation of you. Problem solved.
But is censorship really the answer? Like it or not, our digital identity is becoming just as important in shaping the way people think of our “real” identity. Was I a nerd in high school? Absolutely. Would I maximize my social stature by ensuring only images and comments explicitly approved by my internal public relations department ever see the light of day? Probably—but censoring the dozens of embarrassing photos, statuses, and posts that grace my Timeline would be to deny (in some way) that those aspects of me ever existed.
Everybody has more than a few pictures and comments from the past they wish they could take back, and Timeline lets you do that. But maybe you shouldn’t. Instead of shamefully concealing the more embarrassing posts of our past from our Timelines, perhaps we should be highlighting them. While that picture your friend took of you snoring on the couch might be unflattering, anybody worth impressing isn’t going to judge you for it. Own your past, pimples and all.
We live in a superficial world where just about anything we say or do can be altered with a little bit of digital wizardry. Our models are now synthesized to perfection and our celebrities cleansed of impurities. So much of what we make, do, and say is cropped, shaded, or erased. But never has it been so easy to make sweeping edits to the digital representation of our entire existence as it is now with the creation of Timeline. I’m not perfect, and no matter how much Photoshopping I do, that’s not going to change. Believe me: for my first profile picture, I tried.