In the six years since I joined Facebook, I've had two jobs, seven apartments, ten roommates and three boyfriends. I moved from Nashville to New York City. I started and completed graduate school. I began working at TIME magazine. And, according to a comprehensive survey of my status updates, in 2008 I spent a lot of time watching the TV show Felicity.
I know all of this because I recently spent six hours scrolling through every update, comment, YouTube video and photograph I've ever posted to Facebook. I didn't do this because I'm narcissistic well, not that narcissistic but to prepare for Facebook's new Timeline feature, which the social networking site will force on its 800 million members in the coming weeks. (Right now, it's still optional.) Timeline reorganizes each user's digital life as a reverse chronological activity list, neatly organizing everything you've shared on Facebook for all of your friends and subscribers with just a few mouse clicks, unless you manually change it. The content has always been there, of course. But until Timeline came along, it took some dedicated Facebook stalking to find it.
In other words, Timeline turns Facebook into a scrapbook. It's a revolutionary feature and one that may fundamentally alter the way we interact with each other online. "We think it's an important next step to help tell the story of your life," Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said when he debuted the feature at a conference in September 2011. He's right. Timeline has essentially unearthed a shoebox full of your online memories, arranged them in a visually pleasing way, and then shown the result to everyone you know.
I was 23 and already out of college when I joined Facebook, so while I never handed over all my incriminating photographs of dorm room pranks and underage drinking to Zuckerberg's social networking behemoth, Timeline is still painful reminder of just how stupid I used to be. How invasive is the new feature? Take a look. This is my life from 2006-2012, as experienced through Facebook:
Jan 23, 2006: I join Facebook. The first person to write on my wall is a friend of an ex-boyfriend I don't speak to anymore. Well, this is off to an awkward start.
June 7, 2006: I create my first photo album, which consists of 19 photos, mostly from college. In one, I'm standing in a snowstorm with nine friends, smiling because we've just built a 6' tall snowpenis in the middle of campus. I should probably delete this.
June and July 2007: Photos from college surface on other friends' Facebook pages. There's now digital proof that I used to drink Smirnoff Ice.
February 15, 2007: I announce that I've changed my email account to some cool new thing called Gmail.
August 7, 2007: Move to New York City.
August 15, 2007: Start graduate school.
Based on the length of my updates, neither of these events are as important to me as when I discover the speakeasy-themed bar trend.
January 2008: Until now, I've mostly been using Facebook to write messages on individual friends' walls. Suddenly, I start posting regular status updates about my own life. Within days, I've written about my dog, how much I like watching Conan O'Brien and this great new internship I have at TIME Magazine. I'm now using Facebook to reflect my everyday life which, it turns out, is pretty mundane.
March 2, 2008: Status update: Claire is wondering...whatever happened to Coolio?"
Correction: very mundane.
February 5, 2008: I attend my first bachelorette party. These photos have now been hidden from view.
May 21, 2008: Status update: Claire is going to the thing with the cap and the gown and diploma.
June 13, 2008: I post the first story I've written for TIME. I guess I started my new job?
June 24, 2008: Claire is no longer in a relationship. Great, thanks for reminding me.
June-October, 2008: Most of my Facebook updates and wall posts from this time are about the 1990s teen drama Felicity, which a friend and I are watching together. But sometimes we stray off topic, such as the night I copy and paste the entire plot description of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants onto her Facebook wall.
November 4, 2008: While out reporting on Election Day, I upload a photo of a TIME co-worker and me with people wearing Democratic donkey and Republican elephant costumes.
June 26, 2009: I post three news articles I wrote about Michael Jackson and a note that I'm tired. He must have died the day before.
August 5, 2009: My dad joins Facebook. I immediately change the privacy settings on all of my photo albums.
July 24, 2010: Get into an argument with my roommates, both girls, about whether the "Blinded by the Light" lyric is "revved up like a deuce" or "wrapped up like a deuce." The conversation ends when we realize that we have no idea what a deuce is. Our Facebook friends are no help.
July 27-29, 2010: Based on my sudden affinity for the caps lock key and several references to diamonds, I seem to have spent much of the past few days reading Kanye West's Twitter feed.
Sept 24, 2010: I use Facebook to announce that I've joined Twitter.
October 2010: Aside from a cryptic status update the day after my boyfriend and I go on our first date, I do not overtly reference him on Facebook for several months. Guys, I think I'm growing up.
December 26, 2010: Update my status while visiting an art museum with my mother.
Mom: Take a picture of this painting. The girl in it reminds me of you.
Claire: What? But she's naked and covered in ants!
Mom: Yeah, but she's blond and [looks like she's] saying "Tra la la la!"
February 22, 2011: Status update: (watching Freaks and Geeks) Claire: why is James Franco everywhere?
Roommate: I know, even when you watch something from the past.
March 30, 2011: Status update: Mom: so are you going out tonight?
Claire: Oh, no. I don't go out anymore. I'm watching The Wire.
August 27, 2011: Hurricane Irene sweeps the East Coast. Trapped inside until the storm blows over, I write six Facebook updates and one message to my roommate saying, "If this hurricane gets bad, I'm not above drinking your wine."
January 29, 2012: Before I switch over to Timeline, I spend several hours poring over my old material, privatizing photo albums and removing information I don't want others to see. But actually, I end up leaving much more of my digital past public than I expected. Most of it is pretty harmless, and the people who know me are already familiar with my sense of humor. Really,what's one snowpenis photo between friends?