Facebook Timeline. #TransformationTuesday. #ThrowbackThursday. #FlashbackFriday. Vintage clothes. Remember the 90′s? Buzzfeed will make sure that you do.
The modern age is an age of nostalgia. Instagram trends tell us to look back three times a week. We have a heightened awareness of the self our profiles tell us we have become, and we only have to scroll down into previous years on our “timelines” to reflect on how we got there. Everything past – including some things once forgotten, and perhaps for good reason, by earlier generations – is saved online. Everything is accessible for a revisit, whether or not it merits one. Our nostalgia is constantly staring at us from various screens.
Of course, this is all about perception. The stories our various profiles tell about ourselves only include details that we voted to disclose publicly. And in Facebook’s case, the further back the moment in time, the more the votes of others matter. Facebook Timeline highlights the moments of our past that received the most likes and comments, effectively allowing what may become our most comprehensive life narratives to be a community effort of selective storytelling.
I don’t know how I feel about this.
Introspective reflection and recollection is a useful tool for discovering what builds you. When I get a chance to revisit one of my old, battered Moleskines I am often inspired to write by something I scrawled down and forgot about promptly after. Looking back can serve to solve problems and avoid them in the future. I think it is important to understand your personal narrative and turn it to face your future.
But I worry we’re looking over our shoulders too much. We’re not looking back to solve problems anymore. We’re looking to create a new image from old pieces. We’re curating our self-museums and trying to rearrange a tired display of who we hope to be. I’m afraid we’re getting lost in old photographs and songs. We are constantly re-checking our public identities. Aren’t we too young to look back so much?
This summer I read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, which was an incredible read. The narrator remembers the Biblical story of Lot’s wife, who was told not to turn back as her city, Sodom, was destroyed. He comments:
But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes. People aren’t supposed to look back.
So human. It’s true. And how natural it is to love being human. The human impulse is to hold onto what you know. But maybe he’s right. Maybe people aren’t supposed to look back. I want us all to try looking forward more often.
Tell me what you think.