Those analogue days

In which the author: deactivates his Facebook account; pits Barrett vs Malick; discovers a forgotten email; reflects on life, and the human faculty of memory; realises that Mitt Romney must be a total ass-hat.

So I’m sat here, on a Friday night in. Ems and the girls are asleep upstairs, I’m sorting through a laptop I’ve brought back from work. It’s three or four years old now, I’m not sure what that is in computer years, but it’s definitely time to install pipe and slippers.

About half an hour ago I deactivated my Facebook account. Not an all-out deletion, but I’ve been building up to opting out for a while and I can’t see myself coming back any time soon.

The tipping point was seeing their newly-unveiled ‘Timeline’ feature – Mashable have a feature on how to get a sneak peak at yours. Mine freaked me out. I can’t sum it up better than Tom Scott:

As I scrolled down through the years, I could actually feel my eyes taking the shine off the memories. It reminded me of the first (and only) time I watched our wedding video. What I realised is that, short of Terrence Malick turning up and directing, nothing was going to stack up to my internal recollection of the day – meaning a Mike Barrett video production didn’t stand a chance. That’s what Facebook is: it’s a Mike Barrett video production. And we are all of us, if we care to be, living in a Terrence Malick movie.

Fresh from deactivation and flushed with a sense of digital self-determination, I began cutting a swathe through my email inbox, unsubscribing indiscriminately from mailing lists, deleting anything that hadn’t originated from another human being.

At some point I came across an email from a month or so back, a message from an old friend passed on by a good one. (That’s him up top there on the left, he’s called Jamie. I’d put the year at 1997. We were writing an article for the Edinburgh Student newspaper about traffic wardens.) He was sending me this:

They might not look like much but those, as Jamie well knows, were the good old days. It got me thinking, maybe these are too. Maybe I should be treating my life with a bit more respect, rather than slavishly surrendering so much of it to a website with all the style and personality of a pack of sanitary towels.

I’ve always felt kind of blessed to be living through the information revolution, witnessing this amazing, accelerating abstraction of our analogue lives into a new digital reality. Suddenly I feel equally privileged to have been born into what might be the last generation for whom its even remotely feasible to eschew this slow process of digital mummification, the logical continuation of which would seem to be a world in which Zuckerbot is flogging my long-range progeny the chance to have a webchat with some artificially unintelligent simulation of their Facebooking forefathers.

It pains me to think that Jamie’s email might have been lost altogether in the tumult of comments and messages, alerts and notifications. Is that to be the great irony of the ‘social’ web, that it smothers the genuinely human gestures, leaves no room for spontaneity, no mechanisms with which to surprise each other?

Our lives belong to us, they are our private property, our most valued possession. We have the freedom to express them with creativity and imagination, to recall them through the prism of our own self-selection, forgetting the things we can do without, sharing memories as gifts exchanged with friends and family.

It’s said that in some respects corporations are like people, ‘recognised by the law to have rights and responsibilities like natural persons’. Indeed GOP Presidential front-runner Mitt Romney went so far as to claim that corporations are people. He may even be right, in some warped variant on the universe I thought I inhabited, but I don’t want a corporation for a friend. If I did, it definitely wouldn’t be Facebook.

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  • A long a lovely post sir and if there is one thing that resonates with my own philosophy on communication; when you said

    “I began cutting a swathe through my email inbox, unsubscribing indiscriminately from mailing lists, deleting anything that hadn’t originated from another human being.”

    I nodded in agreement because when I talk to people about technology I point out that we have gotten very good at listening to things that computers create and doing the work that computers were created for. We should not automate our broadcasted life ; we should not auto tweet and auto DM, to shotgun post and share everywhere because we can. We should share with consideration that we are engaging not with 1000 people in a mailshot but with 1 person at a time; individually. Lets leave computers to work on sorting and indexing and categorizing and collating for us.

    Meanwhile I will not believe a Corporation to be a person until the state of texas has executed one ( attributed to someone else I am sure )

    As for me; I am off to play with Thimbl ; between what IPv6 and Mobile apps can offer I am not sure I need to be centralised to be sharing any more.

    Chocka-Butler
    Signing off.

  • Dan

    Hey Nik, thanks for dropping by. The more I think about it, the more I’m thinking this could be Facebook’s uncanny valley moment – that we might see people reacting with revulsion to the sight of their lives drawn out in front of them in such excruciating detail. If I’m even half right this would be one of the most spectacular own-goals imaginable. Either way, I’m definitely expecting to see a surge of early adopters taking this as their cue to move on.

  • john

    It’s why print was (and still is to a certain extent) great. It makes you consider your points, care about presentation and how information is received.

    I recently un-archived a box from 10 years past. Included in it was about 70 sheets of A4 of e-mails wishing me good luck when I’d left my job for new horizons. Didn’t re-read any of them – but I did read a letter from a guy called Fred from Brazil who wrote it in his own hand.

    Write a letter and post it. It’s brilliant. Especially if it actually reaches it’s recipient….

  • I don’t have the timeline feature yet, I’m actually dreading it.
    We’ll see if my revulsion matches yours upon its arrival.

    Great post, Dan.

  • Dan

    @John
    Writing snail mail becomes classier by the day. Especially thank-you letters. It’s the sheer inconvenience of it that makes it such a fine gesture.

    @James
    There’s a Mashable hack linked to above, but I suggest just waiting until it goes live site-wide on the 30th. Maybe people won’t get as het up about it as I have. Besides which, for me, it was the final straw – I’ve been feeling twitchy about the whole thing for a while.

  • Jan Light

    What a brilliant idea! Handwritten thank you letters – better excavate the fountain pen and that bottle of ink you bought me for my Finals 😉 xxxxxxxxx Great post Dan!