tl;dr – Facebook does some stuff that I value really well. What can replace it?

Right now, Facebook is arguably the sugar/transfats/Big Tobacco of the
internet. And understandably so.  Rational, sane people are not just
leaving FB for social media breaks, they’re downloading their data, and
deleting their accounts entirely for reasons I understand and respect.

What’s driving us the storm Zuck’s gates with pitchforks is the other
side of the coin that drove us to jump aboard back in the late aughts.
Everyone is here, everyone shared—though not as knowingly as we should
have—a pile of info that made it easier to find people and ideas.  Some
of those ideas were embiggening for us.  More were probably not.  But
that’s a human thing rather than a technology thing.

I value this crack-house mattress fire of a platform for a couple of reasons.

1) Book Clubs: While not as easy to use as the forums/bulletin boards
of the past which made “discussion” of books pretty straight forward,
I’ve been a part of two Book Clubs where I learned a lot, enjoyed
correspondence with like-minded book nerds, and learned about additional
resources/links/obsessively detail-rich fan sites that I wouldn’t have
otherwise known.

2) Connecting and re-connecting with people from
college, high school and camp who I either haven’t been in touch with
for a long time, or didn’t know that well at the time but have grown to
know better and respect through following/Friending on Facebook. I’m a
different person than I was 30 years ago (thank God). There are a lot of
people I’ve connected with who’ve made me think in new ways.

Sharing pictures of stuff that’s important, however it is that we
choose to define important. I like seeing pictures of your families as
they grow and change. I like seeing pictures of interesting places and
things. Is it braggy sometimes?  Sure. Do I want to see pix of your feet
at the beach?  No more today than I did nine years ago when this circus
opened. Am I guilty of all of these?  You betcha. But that doesn’t take
away the fact that my kid leaving for a trip far away is as proud/happy
a moment for me as your pics of vacations and Don Williams’ pics of stunt cooking and his daughter.

4) The Sunset Grille effect. Besides being a highwater mark in the
history of Gratuitous Use of Roland Guitar Synth in Rock, Don Henley’s
1984 single ends with “What would we do without all these jerks anyway?
Besides, all our friends are here.”  Centrality. My mom doesn’t have to
remember, app, or bookmark a Flickr stream to see pix of her
grandbabies.  I don’t have to open an app on my hooptie laptop to
discuss weird typography as narrative in a book club. I can bore all of
you at once on Sunday morning. For (somewhat) better and (a lot) worse,
Facebook did create a virtual citystate where participation is the norm
rather than the exception. “What would we do” indeed.

As tech-affirming as I am, I don’t mean to serve as an apologist for the Menlo Park Menace.

I would, however, miss some fairly significant chunks of interaction
that Facebook has provided, and I’m curious to know where I’d be able to
find similar connectivity.

Where will you go? Who will go with you? How will you tell the people you value where you’ve gone and why?

Sooooo, Facebook keeps suggesting I add, as a Friend, a person who is dead.  Which raises a couple of questions:

  1. Assuming no supernatural intervention, who is it that actually Confirms my request to be a friend?  
  2. If I don’t take FB up on its suggestion, is that denying the friendship we had (have)? 
  3. Why, having declined the suggestion several times, does Facebook continue to suggest them as a friend once every couple of months?

I know the answers to these questions, of course.  But as Facebook’s Lifecloud grows, deaths and how they’re handled will inevitably present new challenges for the web platform.  

This is a meditation on Facebook, memory and time.

Workmate and social media phenom Dave Delaney discusses the impact that Facebook’s Timeline (and Facebook in general) are leading to the shift from personal blogs like this one to something completely different.  It’s absolutely worth a read.  

What I wonder is if the idea of digital legacy is all that different from one’s non-digital legacy.  Here’s what I mean.

We have two lockers full of color slides my Grandfather (maternal) shot over his 65 years as the Eakin family patriarch. They are well-filed, and with the exception of the fact that physical slides can’t hold the metadata and findability that digital files can, they’re more or less as accessible as the first entries from webslog.com. That is to say, I am no more or less likely to drag out a slide viewer and queue up the 1972 trip out to the Grand Canyon than I am to look at what I thought about books I read in 2003.

On the flip side, we have maybe three shoeboxes full of slides from my father’s side of the family. They were just less thorough documentarians than my Mom’s family. In both cases, the existence of this content only really “matters” in that it could be looked at if we wanted to look at it.

What allows us to do that is the common format … Little celluloid strips in paper frames. As physical manifestations of a memory, they can be experienced by anyone with a lightbulb and a magnifying glass. What concerns me most in this discussion of digital legacy is less the where … Facebook, myspace, posterous, etc. … and more the how. We haven’t had to recall a piece of digital content 75 years after it happened.

Too, the field is so new that the battle over standards is still being fought. TIFF files may be the true gold standard in uncompressed digital image files now, but one only need look at the evolution of the PDF over 15 years to know that even the most established formats are just one CEO away from a total revamp. As content creators, we have a responsibility to our digital estate to do the sometimes boring work of data warehousing.

We must download our Facebook data. We must seek out apps that grab our tumblr feeds and store them over to a piece of media that we physically control. But at the same time, the creator community needs to constantly look at the basic formats we store in and make sure that we can look at them, manipulate the content, etc. Ansel Adams shot on wet plates. Over time, however, the his estate has taken his fragile legacy and moved it over to both celluloid slides and digital for this very reason.

Like any legacy, who we were digitally speaking is precious and important.  It’s also tremendously fragile … something we’d do well to remember as we watch companies like Facebook and Google strive to become the connective tissue of our digital life.