I came across an article that made me rethink social media as merely a platform for sharing and searching information. Published by Cornell University, The Many Faces of Facebook: Experiencing Social Media as Performance, Exhibition, and Personal Archive argues that people experience Facebook through performing and reflecting on their life experiences and identity. It was found that users curating their personal collection of data on Facebook correspond to three different “regions” or goals: “performance region for managing recent data and impression management, an exhibition region for longer term presentation of self-image, and a personal region for archiving meaningful facets of life.”

Typically, Facebook is thought of as a kind of digital scrapbooking—a place for individuals to organize images from their personal and social moments all in one place. However, since Facebook launched “Timeline,” the Facebook profile has evolved to allow individuals to select, edit, and archive aspects of their life and identity into a linear timeline. Facebook Timeline allows users to document milestones and life events such as a new birth, relationship, and employment. In doing so, Facebook provides its users with the ability to create personal archives of their lives which can be browsed by other users. For my own digital history project, Twitter was used as a source of data for understanding public opinion. Facebook Timeline, however, allows Digital Humanists to go further, and use personal collections of data to understand the lives of the general public.

Interestingly, one drawback to this method is the potential disconnect between lived experience and the curated realities presented on Facebook. This method relies on the credibility of users who may post inaccurate and dishonest information about themselves for self-image preservation. Approaching this method also raises several questions. How will people react to increasing lack of control over their personal data and how it is used? Is it safe, or even ethical that personal archives are being created for a whole generation without their consent? And can archived personal data affect the experiences of parents or their children? Issues aside, as people continue to curate and archive their lives online, I think it will be interesting to see how this data can be collected and manipulated for digital history.

Do you remember when Timeline was first introduced? The video below was one of the first ads from Facebook to reveal the new profile.