Facebook Timeline and the quantified self

Right there with you, every step of the way

By now, most Facebook users know about the widespread introduction of Timeline, which is an adaptation of the site to share more of its users life through infographics.  Basically the site now takes all the personal data dropped into the Facebook void and knits this into a lifeline that reads like a cross between an illustrated story and an annual report.

The format is largely credited to Nick Felton, the design-uber genius who rose to fame by charting a year of his life in annual report style.  Felton’s approach is impactful, visually appealing, and somewhat provocative as it essentially quantifies life by the numbers, and the supposition is that the numbers you choose to quantify add up to the totality of your life (or, at least the totality of it you want to show publicly).  For example, Felton’s 2011 annual report contains randomness ranging from the number of hours spent at work (2,567.5), to the number of alcoholic beverages consumed (806), to the number of teeth lost by his cat (1).

In a sense, this “quantified-self movement” is somewhat iterative, as one has to ask how many of Felton’s 2,567.5 work hours were spent quantifying those very work hours. (A 1,000?  Perhaps 2,000?)  And how many of those hours were spent quantifying hours spent quantifying?  And so on..

Stepping back, this never-ending virtual solipsism is a pretty bizarre ride we’re on.  It’s as though you were to find yourself standing in between two mirrors, and, turn around as you might, you can’t quite catch a good look at the smaller versions of yourself stretching out into infinity.

P.S. The Walrus recently penned a piece on Facebook’s new Timeline format which has some interesting thoughts.

i.e. “Yet to call the sudden regurgitation of years of photos, messages, contacts, and comments disconcerting is an understatement. All along, Facebook has been tracking your data, waiting for this moment to arrive. Because it’s not just your Facebook life that Timeline captures: the first date is not, as you might expect, the day you joined; it’s the day you were born. A site best known for disseminating awkward party photos is now imagining itself at the foot of your mother’s bed at the moment of your delivery, diligently taking notes…

Rather than downplaying the mountain of data it has collected, Facebook put it on display. Look, it says, look at how much we’ve learned about one another. We’ve come a long way, you and I. Look at what we’ve built together. You wouldn’t walk away from that, now, would you?”

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