The Story Of Our Life

23 09 2011

The late comedian Richard Pryor used to joke about his drug use. “I’ve been doing coke for 20 years. I ain’t hooked.”

I suppose I could say the same thing about my use of social computer applications, starting first with BBSs (very primitive bulletin board systems in the 80s), moving on to Listservs (90s), and more recently, Twitter and Facebook. I can quit any time. It’s just that I don’t want to.

It was last summer while doing a solo vacation to Chicago that I realized the grand project we are all participating in on social media. I had just posted some pithy thought from an Italian restaurant on the south side, when it dawned on me that I was typing my autobiography one status update at a time. Or, as I more craftily wrote about it for my students, I was writing the story of my life.

Well, cue the 70s music and let’s release a soundtrack while we’re at it.

Truth be known, we really are writing that story. We bare our souls on Facebook’s Wall, sharing our thoughts, pics, links, YouTube videos and favorite songs. Each post tells a little about us, what we’re thinking, and where we are in life.

Wouldn’t it be fun to organize this all a little better so that we and our legions of fans can more easily read this story?

Which is precisely what Facebook announced at its f8 developer conference yesterday.

Mashable.com carried the live video stream from the conference, and I sat my desk melting at what I heard. Mark Zuckerberg waxed poetic about the new Timeline feature and how we can use it to feature pictures and status updates to tell that life story. And I couldn’t help but fall in love with Facebook all over again.

But I do need to back up a few days, for it was earlier this week that Facebookland erupted in displeasure over the first wave of changes to come to its social graph. That people who pay nothing for the service still take such pride and ownership in their online presence is very telling; that they would erupt in howls of scorn and threats to leave showed how much they wanted to be in control of their presence.

Had Facebook nothing else up its sleeve, Tuesday’s firestorm may very well have resulted in lost users. But Thursday’s f8 has helped turn that tide in a heartbeat. Zuck wowed viewers and attendees with tales of how the new Timeline feature changes everything. That Facebook is effectively providing us the parchment for writing that story. That we no longer need worry about all of our long-buried status updates and unorganized thoughts and pics. That we could organize it as we wish.

Kind of like a book.

Better yet, Facebook has teamed with dozens of third-party services and apps to provide the richest social media experience ever. Virtually every aspect of our lives will be instantly shareable (assuming we wish to share, of course). Whereas we have progressed in the last year from being able to Like a person or company, to specific things, we now can use verbs as well (think: I am reading The Help). Going for a run? Share your route and stats effortlessly. Stirring up a delicious recipe? Share it for others to try. Watching a movie on Netflix? Listening to tunes on Spotify? Share them all…and see what your friends are doing as well.

Oh yeah…and discover new routes, recipes, books, movies and music in the process.

Sure, critics will scoff that this is all TMI. But we are in control of what we post. Who we friend. Our privacy levels.

I have been threatening to write a book for a long time, but it finally sank in that summer night in Chicago that I was already many chapters into a tome that doesn’t appear to have an ending anytime soon. At the same time, I realized how much I enjoy reading the stories of my friends’ lives. Each pithy status update. Each pic, YouTube video, song, and link. Because they tell me about you. These are the very fabric of our existence. Our digital DNA.

Yeah, I can stop any time I want to. But I don’t want to. And I hope you don’t, either.

Dr “Too Bad Richard Couldn’t, Though” Gerlich

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