June 27, 2012

Facebook’s timeline and our fear of aging.

I permanently deleted my Facebook account several months ago. I’ve detailed some of my reasons here.

I have not looked back wistfully upon all those awesome hours I spent fucking around on Facebook. I was an avid user for over four years, but it was time to end the relationship. I couldn’t possibly write my novel while being on Facebook. I would venture to say there are many people out there, like I was, who are on Facebook way too much than is healthy.

One of my many reasons for leaving Facebook is the Timeline.

Apparently, the problem with the old format was its bias towards the present, which the timeline rectifies by making a user’s past more accessible.

But here’s the thing: I would like to continue living in the present. I’d like my past to die, at least on Facebook.

I don’t want my friends to be able to revisit things I posted last year or in years prior. Someone who comments on old statuses or photos would yank me right out of the present like a Vaudeville hook. What if I had a slew of bad years that I’d just as soon forget? Like the year I was in that unhealthy relationship. Or all four years of high school, for that matter. Thank God there was no Facebook in the late 80s. I still have traumatic flashbacks of my hair.

The idea of someone scrolling back through my past is unacceptable. Now that I’ve turned 40, I find myself wanting to focus on the present more than ever. There’s a great value in being present. I want to enjoy what’s left of my youth, and the only time to do that is in this moment.

But the timeline is contrary to that goal; furthermore, it will document one’s physical aging process in super pixelated detail for all to see and judge. 

I’m a tad older than the designers of Facebook, so I’d like to share something they may not have considered about the Timeline: We live in a culture that is horrified and downright disgusted by the idea of aging.

Think of that irritating online ad featuring two different versions of the same woman’s face. One face has wrinkles and is frowning; the other face is wrinkle-free and serene. One of the many captions they use for this reprehensible ad reads: 57-year-old woman now looks 27 again! We are, at every turn, urged to fight the signs of aging, restore younger looking skin, etc. Estee Lauder even has an “Ultimate Youth” face cream for $150.00.

One of the worst displays of this obsession to combat aging was a recent interview on Good Morning America. A pageant mom said she administered Botox injections to her eight-year-old daughter. The mom claimed that this practice is common on the child pageant circuit. However, the story turned out to be bullshit. But it’s still out there, a specter on the Internet, where very few people bother about what’s true and what’s not.  I’m sure some idiot will now think it’s okay to poison her child in this way. If anything, the story is just one more niggling thing to amplify our aging fears.

People of a certain age range, women especially, are profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of physical aging. And that “certain age range” appears to be getting younger all the time.

Keeping the specter of physical aging at bay is a fool’s errand. (Insert Vincent Price’s sinister laugh.) Now the Facebook timeline wants to keep us invested in the past, thereby overvaluing it.

It’s bunk.

The Facebook Timeline will make it even harder for people to age gracefully and in a holistic way.

She looked hot back then, what happened? Jeez, this person has aged badly, she has crow’s feet, his face got fat. And so on. The fact that we physically age is not as appalling as our reaction to it, and Facebook is all about reacting to the superficial aspects of a person. There are many wonderful things about aging, but one’s Facebook profile cannot possibly convey the totality and richness of the process.

Facebook’s timeline won’t help to ease our culture’s anxiety about growing old. On the contrary, it will further yoke us to the external aspects of aging and amplify our fears.

The twenty-something developers of Facebook may not understand that I don’t want to be so invested in my looks as I get older. I want to be more than a two-dimensional digital profile to be viewed and judged. And if I do think back with wistful sighs for bygone days, I don’t literally want to see those days on my Facebook timeline. I’d rather remember them, like fragmented and imperfect pieces of glass. I don’t want a precise reflection on a public forum that documents the succession of hairdos and partners in my life.

There’s something beautiful about my own imaginings. I don’t mind the idea of aging among my flesh and blood friends. In fact, I’m excited about entering my 40s, but I’m not interested in chronicling the physical changes up close for all to see on Facebook.

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