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Facebook: A life laid out in linear form

Newborn babies have started appearing on my Facebook news feed, lovingly cradled by people that not too long ago (it seems) were holding bottles of cheap vodka with such tender care, playing disastrously drunken games of table tennis together, still in their first year of university, innocent and unaffected, with delusions of adulthood.

I recently flicked through one such person’s photos on Facebook; it’s all there from university student to young mother.

It was quite beautiful. A life laid out in linear form like that.

Facebook may be a utility, but to my mind it’s also a piece of dynamic artwork.

In a similar vein, here is a wonderful summation of the work of recent Nobel Prize winner, Alice Munro:

“Alice Munro is routinely spoken of in the same breath as Anton Chekov. She resembles the Russian master in a number of ways. She is fascinated with the failings of love and work and has an obsession with time. There is the same penetrating psychological insight; the events played out in a minor key; the small town settings.”

Facebook is an exact embodiment of these themes, a remarkable visual representation of the passage of time, as experienced by ordinary people living ordinary lives. It is only recently, as I have witnessed the people that I know gradually reaching what we understand to be each of life’s major milestones and diligently posting the evidence of it on Facebook, that I realise what an incredible archival tool it is and as the years pass by, just how powerfully it documents change.

Which makes sense when you consider that what forms a large part of Facebook’s appeal is capturing that which is usually lost to time.

And as it represents life, so it does death.

There is something very poignant about the Facebook profile of someone who has died. A man I knew from high school was tragically killed in a car accident two years ago, his Facebook page is unchanged and as it was the day before he died, with a last exuberant post, saluting the coming weekend; visually, it represents exactly what happened: a life cut short. Not even an ellipsis, more like an incomplete sentence.

Periodically, people write messages of love and remembrance on his page, as if that is the place where his memory lives on.

For all those tiny babies, their life online has just begun.

* It has not escaped my attention that Facebook is a place where our lives are lucratively monetised too, which is an interesting thing to consider. Perhaps we should be compensated in micropayments for the amount of information we voluntarily share; the more we share and the more valuable it is, the more we earn? Read more about that here.

**Also, thanks for all very helpful comments on my last blog post. I’m busy working on a follow up. Stay tuned.