Facebook Timeline, Memory and Life Satisfaction

Today was the first time I properly scrolled down to the end of my Facebook Timeline. It seems that I’ve been on Facebook for about 7 years now, and the early posts were genuinely a bit of a time jolt. When I first joined Facebook it was little over a year old and had just been opened out to a few non-US colleges and Trinity happened to be one of them. We had an American friend who was prodding us all to join, though none of us were really that interested. The main reason we did in the end, was because we all had to endure the same Statistics & Research Methodology lab sessions which were two hours long and often incredibly boring but included access to computers, and this new “poking” thing seemed like a much more fun way to occupy ourselves during class.

I’ve been looking through my friends’ timelines too. Even though they only span a few years, it’s incredible to see the progression. You can witness as people transition from budding relationships to wedding photos, from images of mindless sleepless festivalling, to barbeques and babies. My generation have only started to record their lives halfway through but future generations will no doubt have a scrapbook from birth. Perhaps parents will start their children’s profile pages for them, uploading that first “Katie is born” photo, and hand profile control over to their children as soon as they are old enough to grasp touchscreen technology (which is about 3 years old these days?!) Or perhaps, they won’t hand over control until they feel Katie is mature enough to understand the implications of this public life record she is about to start making.

There’s been lots of talk about the pitfalls and risks of living our lives in public, and how we need to be cognisant of how our personal “brand” is being shaped by what we choose to say and show online. But actually, given the amount of self-monitoring that people put into deciding which profile photo to use and what type of status update will garner Likes from their friends, I suspect we’ll learn our lessons on personal branding quickly and early.

Actually, I think there might be some much bigger questions to consider. Like how Timeline could shape our memory of our lives and therefore our life satisfaction.

Memory is exceptionally unstable and open to influence. We don’t have perfect records of our lives, we have perceptions of what happened. And these perceptions often change over time, replacing the original memory and becoming the “truth”. With Timeline however, we are physically recording a particular story.  This could be an accurate representation of our experiences. Or it could be a highly manipulated version of events. Most likely it’s a blend of the two.  Yet looking back on it over many years, it will probably become our dominant perspective on what actually happened.

Which brings us onto the ultimate question: whether this Facebook memory will impact on how we perceive our life’s happiness. Happiness is often measured as a combination of two things – how happy we are in the moment (our experiencing self) and how happy we are with our lives when we reflect on it (our remembering self).  Facebook works for the remembering self. People are more likely to put a positive spin on their social network page which creates a rosier picture. Facebook content also tends to focus on relationships and experiences, over material goods or achievements – this is the stuff we really care about on our deathbeds.

It’s entirely possible therefore that our Facebook memory will give us a much more positive memory of our lives, and therefore improve our overall life satisfaction. The only sticky point is whether Facebook helps or hampers our enjoyment of life in the moment, as we experience it. Lots of people find that constantly taking photos, tweeting and posting status updates are behaviours that interrupt the fun instead of adding to it. On the other hand, lots of other people seamlessly integrate this technology and don’t feel they’re losing out on enjoyment.

Either way, we’re all on a fascinating journey – and we’ll no doubt have a fascinating record of it at the end.

  1. Such a great post, and a gateway to so many questions. The psychology nerd in me can’t get enough of human-technology interaction, and how that shapes our human experience.

    I hope you don’t mind, I linked to your post here on my most recent blog entry.

    Thanks for the thought-fodder! ~ H

  1. November 12th, 2012
  2. December 18th, 2012

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