Facebook’s ability to “remember” and then recall events on a particular day in years past (not all of them, even for me, a Facebook “old-timer,” it’s just a 10-year historical record) is, arguably, one of just a very few of its redeeming qualities. Of course, it wasn’t Facebook’s idea – like so much of the platform’s functionality, it was a “borrowed” idea. However, it is now an integral and useful part of the social media platform. While it only remembers what we post, and what we post varies from the extraordinary to the mundane, and not all of it is necessarily rainbows and unicorns, Facebook takes the family photo album and puts it on steroids. It can be, depending upon how extensive one has utilized Facebook, a powerful tool.
For example, 10 years ago today my youngest son graduated from high school. He was the last of my three boys to venture out into the world; the 10 years of my life since that milestone have been eventful indeed. Many of those events are also memorialized in my Facebook timeline, but not all. And some I have deleted – permanently. They are experiences I’d prefer to just forget, remembering only the “essence” of them imbedded in my psyche as one of many “lessons of life.” The others, however, even the more innocuous postings from years past, serve as more than just a reminder of where I was two, three, seven or nine years ago. They serve as virtual bookmarks. They are the dog-eared pages of my life, an index to not only what was happening in my world (and nowhere near all of it documented on Facebook), but also what was happening in the world.
After his high-school graduation, my youngest, Matthew, decided to enlist in the U.S. Army. He wasn’t ambushed by a recruiter (although they tried – another memory indexed by this one), we did discuss it. I wasn’t crazy about the idea as the odds of him being deployed to fight an ill-defined war in Afghanistan were likely. However, he made a rational decision and followed through with it. In the coming months, memories of his Basic Training and AIT will be coming alive again on Facebook. So, too, will be the pictures and other interaction I had with him while in that Afghan Hell-hole. While these are not the type of memories one looks upon and smiles fondly, they are, nonetheless, important historical landmarks in our lives.
I have wrestled with the power Facebook has. I have struggled with its monopolistic ubiquity. I don’t trust it – even as a place to secure, remember and catalogue my memories (I archive it all to my hard drive regularly). Facebook absolutely warps reality, feeds hate and cares nothing about the truth. Although they say they do now, it is only damage control. Facebook willingly takes money from anyone who wants to buy access - whether the content is true or not, whether it fosters hate or not - Facebook does not care. It fortifies and intensifies the already generally anonymous nature of the Internet and turns the safety of a keyboard bunker into a fortress. Time and time again, whether I am just fed up or, on rare occasion, actually pull the plug, I have come back. And it is largely (though, not entirely) due to the “Memories” function (formerly known as “On this Day,” stolen from the app, TimeHop) that I come back or stay.
In August, memories from my first through my fifth trips to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally will begin popping up in my memories (appropriately, while I am at my sixth). In July there will be blanks in 2012, the days around my ill-advised and ill-fated marriage. Similar blanks in the memory bank will be present from February 2011 to June 2013, the two-plus year life span of that train wreck relationship. I deleted a lot of it. The lessons I learned do not need to be prodded by beautifully fake wedding pictures – I remember, thanks. However, not all of the memories from that time and even the wedding itself are bad. Friends and family gathered for it in numbers the likes of which will probably never happen again. It many respects, it was the party of the decade and, taking the actual reason for that party out of the equation, the rest of it was a good time. The pictures from that day are in a Facebook album titled, “What’s Left.” They are the pictures of the good times with friends and family, not the ceremony itself.
And then there are my grandsons. I get to see my youngest son’s boy, in person, a lot – almost every day in the summer. But my eldest son’s boys live about 450 miles away, I don’t see them often. Facebook helps, a little. But the memories of when they came into the world are special, I like seeing them pop up. Finally, my middle son and his wife are expecting a baby in early August. If Facebook doesn’t implode and if I can stomach its bullshit – because Facebook dances on the edge of my tolerance all the time – in ten years’ time I’ll be looking back at baby pictures of my newest grandson.
We used to pull out the family photos from time to time and reminisce around a table, in the den, maybe, or perhaps during a summer barbecue, talking about the memories those photos triggered. It wasn’t every day, it was never a scheduled thing; it was organic, it would just happen. But rarely ever did we do it alone. Social media, and Facebook in particular, has taken that and many other communal activities and reduced them to a one-on-one interaction, except one of those “ones” in the pair is Facebook, the medium itself. McLuhan was certainly onto something, he just never realized how big, multi-faceted and ubiquitous one single medium could become.
It is dangerous for the simple fact that even though we recognize its very real evils, we/I/you – most of us, statistically – have become accustomed to the very warm and fuzzy. The protection and care of these things that are so precious, unique and personal – the very essence of who we are – is in the hands of an entity that uses us to sell things to others. And we know it! But it is warm and fuzzy and, now, much more than convenient. It is routine. Even if we don’t regularly click “Memories” on the sidebar, Facebook will show us one of our memories on our timeline and ask if we’d like to see more. Of course we would. Warm and fuzzy. Curiosity. How much better or worse we are. It is interesting, it is solitary and, when engaged, Facebook has us, each of us, individually, all to itself. It’s the ultimate manifestation of “divide and conquer.”