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Is Facebook Turning Us Into a Nation Addicted to the Past?
Following the release of her album, 1989, singer Taylor Swift trademarked the phrase "Party like it's 1989" for exclusive use on her tour merchandise. For Taylor, 1989 probably called to mind neon lighting and a thrilling, rebellious cultural landscape.
1989 was a decade of perms and turquoise eye shadow, all captured on faded Polaroids. 1999 wasn’t much better with its baggy trousers and strappy crop-tops, photos tucked away on floppy drives and slow computers. Flash-forward again and we reached 2009 and the cult of Facebook.
Though fashions changed, one thing stayed the same: we’re still obsessed with sharing and remembering our lives. We’ve just moved it all online.
When did we become so obsessed with sharing our lives online?
By 2009, most of us were active on some kind of social media. Facebook had just bypassed Bebo and MySpace to reach 500 million users across all age groups. Soon we were documenting family holidays, breakfast, and nights out.
Obsessive sharing, like turquoise eye shadow before it, is a cultural milestone. We live in a world filled with the fear of getting a Facebook notification telling us that the school best friend we haven't seen in eight years has tagged us in an embarrassing picture from back in the day.
For some of us, we welcome these bite-sized blasts from the past. Maybe blurry photos from college, that gap year spent travelling in Asia, and life in your first "grown up" flat come as a fuzzy invitation for a walk down memory lane. While there’s no single moment that marks the launch of our cultural obsession with over-sharing, there’s no disputing the fact that Facebook has become a trove for memories.
With the introduction of the On This Day feature, we’re only going to become even more enamoured with flashbacks and old photos.
Introducing Facebook's 'On This Day'
Following on from the popularity of the digital-nostalgia service Timehop, Facebook has created a new way to relive and re-share our memories with the launch of On This Day. Officially launched in late March of this year, On This Day has been rolled out to most Facebook users.
Product manager Jonathan Gheller said in a blog post announcing the creation of the service: “On This Day shows content from this date in the past. For example, you might see past status updates, photos, posts from friends and other things you’ve shared or been tagged in – from one year ago, two years ago, and so on. Only you will see this content unless you decide to share it with your friends.”
Facebook users can subscribe to the On This Day feature to receive a notification whenever there is a new memory to look at. The option to delete the post is available to you if your memory isn't as happy as Facebook might have hoped.
The service was created bearing in mind that, unfortunately, embarrassing hair-dos and poor fashion choices are often the best of a bad bunch of memories.
Facebook is taking precautions to ensure it doesn't drag up painful past relationships or bereavements. For example, if you have filled your current partner’s details in your "Info" section, Facebook will avoid showing memories associated with names that may have taken that slot in the past.
Facebook will also try to avoid showing posts that are tagged with a friend who has died. Perhaps they took note from Timehop, who were similarly aware that not all memories are sweet.
This past Valentine's Day, Timehop sent warnings out to its users asking them to be wary of old memories that might pop up in their daily recap. Indeed, Facebook themselves treaded muddy water on New Year's Eve 2015 when it automatically presented each user with a Year In Review slideshow.
The well-intentioned service came in for heavy criticism for gathering up pictures from the past year, and jauntily captioning it "It's been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it." Unfortunately for many users, the year hadn’t been so great.
With this backlash fresh in their memories, it's no surprise that Facebook is taking measures to avoid a repeat controversy.
No doubt, On This Day and its apparent sensitivity to the userbase means that Facebook will continue on in its role as a facilitator to our obsession with sharing our lives and our memories. Just like Taylor Swift, we don’t think our habit of over-sharing and memorialising everything will be going anywhere anytime soon.
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