Originally published on March 4, 2012.
How much erasure, invention, and manipulation of one’s personal history can be seen after an overview of a relatively extensive digital history? I started to think about this while going through my new Facebook Timeline to shape it exactly how I wanted it before launching. While doing so, I came across my ’25 Things about Me’ note from February, 2009. For those of you who either don’t remember this meme or who joined Facebook after it slowly died out, the idea was to note 25 random things about yourself in a Facebook note, then tag 25 friends, and on and on. The whole thing was at times annoying and at other times potentially inspiring, as Robert Lanham argued just days after I published my list.
The Timeline, more than any other Facebook reformat, encourages users to present their Facebook pages as a life narrative. While the assumption is that the narrative will be as close to ‘real life’ as possible, we all censor and shape our Facebook pages in various ways. The 25 Things meme was also a project in self-fashioning because it asked users to name things that would allow other Facebook friends to ‘get to know’ the user. The writer decided what was important.
I thought it would be interesting to go through my list now, three years later. I want to see how well they hold up over time, but the point is not to think about how I’ve changed. Rather, it is about considering how I decided to represent myself through Facebook in 2009.
1) I believe that “The Wire” is the best overall television show, of all time, ever. Early episodes of “The Simpsons” and “Arrested Development,” however, are without question the funniest shows in the history of television.
2) I’m sometimes prone to hyperbole.
3) I read The Onion every day.
I remember writing this trio as a way to kill three birds with one stone, as they say. Each subsequent item references the last. These three are an inside joke—mostly with myself.
4) I’m ok with the knowledge that I didn’t exist before I was born, and I’m similarly content with not existing after I die.
5) I’m clearly not religious.
What’s the fun in saying “I’m an atheist”?
6) I love, LOVE, graduate school.
There is a type of graduate student who spends a lot of time complaining about graduate school. Sometimes there’s a point to hyperbole.
7) I haven’t been to the symphony in a long time, but I hope to start going again this semester.
8) Ditto number seven with theater.
If I was trying to be pretentious, I spelled ‘theatre’ wrong.
9) I’ve seen Iron Maiden in concert five times.
And the closest thing to Iron Maiden I’ve seen since writing this has been The Swell Season.
10) I’ve been cooking a lot lately; I never realized how much fun it can be.
Surely I was trying to impress a girl with this one.
11) I’m determined to go to Germany this summer regardless of financial assistance, although the financial assistance would make it much easier (if anyone from the DAAD happens to be reading this, please give me money).
If this had a cosmic result, it was that it worked one time, never to be repeated again.
12) I’ve recently included “Rushmore” in my top five movies of all time; it replaced “Pulp Fiction” (the other four are “The Godfather,” “Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall,'” “Casablanca,” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”).
This isn’t likely to change any time soon.
14) I like beer.
15) I like wine.
16) I like beer and wine more than making lists.
I suppose number 16 could be read as the thesis of the list.
18) I hope to travel more this year, and more in 2010 than 2009, and more in 2011 than in 2010, and so on, until I become a true itinerant (read: Cosmopolitan).
19) I hope to be exiled one day so I can better understand my historical subjects.
This is no longer applicable, although it might be again someday. In order to better understand my historical subjects today, it would require religious/ethnic/cultural intermarriage.
20) I’ve never voted for a Republican.
21) I’m a Democrat
I doubled up again, shoring up my case for number 16 for those who doubted it.
22) In the past three months, I’ve received more ties as gifts than I ever previously owned.
I wanted to flaunt my sartorial evolution. I also have two hats now that are not baseball hats.
24) I want to sell my car; it’s a blue 2001 Dodge Intrepid. I’m just saying.
This might have been the only reason that I wrote this list.
25) I pretend I can read and speak German, and I’m currently learning how to pretend to read French
“Careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be”
That quote from Kurt Vonnegut sums it up. It can serve as a caution to be conscious of the way we represent ourselves on Facebook and in other internet venues. But it can also be encouraging. In the context of Facebook’s Timeline, I read it as an encouragement to resist fully aligning one’s personal life narrative with an internet one. We ultimately pretend to be things in both contexts, and there is a benefit in keeping them separate.
It is important to go back to internet memes from time to time to see what they tell us about ourselves and the time in which they were popular. One of the more recent Facebook trends is the statement of an identity or place, followed by a series of pictures with captions that present the perception of that identity or place by an outsider. While it was not the only one to say this, the ‘Mormon’ slide had a ‘What society thinks’ caption (the picture referenced polygamy). Such a caption is not only more appropriate for a different blog post, but also a different blogger. My only insight is that it implies self-perception more than anything else and contains the underlying assumption that Mormons (in this example) are outside of ‘society.’ How will we look back at this, and the many other iterations of it, years from now?