Along with reminders about friends’ birthdays, upcoming events, suggestions for people to friend and pages to like and, of course, sponsored ads, Facebook’s marginalia now includes a category entitled, “On This Day in 2010” that displays flotsam and jetsam plucked from the sea of our own posts exactly one year prior. My friends’ “Previous Status Updates” are salvaged in the same screen area, though there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to their selection, chronological or otherwise. Long-forgotten posts wash in with the tide like messages in a bottle.
I try to tune out the auto-generated noise on Facebook’s right side, so I didn’t notice when this insidious memory aid made its unheralded debut – when it comes to inventing new ways to mine our personal data, Facebook reserves the pre-modern woman’s prerogative to change her mind; by this day next year, this retrospective rubric may well be ancient history in social media terms. In the meantime, it underscores the irony of archiving our Facebook ephemera.
Fishing for fresh content, Facebook casts a wide net that brings up pearls and old boots alike. Reading my own year-old posts is a daily reminder that nothing is ever forgotten on the Internet – and confirmation that my life is rich material for a “Groundhog Day” remake. As I write, I see that a year ago my bird’s cage needed cleaning (as it does again today), my cat barfed (as she did again this morning), and I loved the most recent episode of “Mad Men” (as I’m sure would be saying again, if Season 5 hadn’t been interminably delayed by contract disputes between AMC and Matthew Weiner). Was this really all the “news” I had to report last September 5th? Did Facebook randomly select these tidbits, or is some subliminal advertising algorithm at work? (Note to self: purchase pet cleaning supplies and queue up the first four seasons of “Mad Men” on Netflix. Again.)
Daily life repeats itself, sometimes ad nauseam, until all of a sudden it doesn’t. With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaching, I keep scrolling back through my memories of that achingly beautiful September morning when we watched, helpless, as everything went so terribly, horribly wrong. So much has changed in the past decade, but many of the changes would have occurred regardless of the tragic events of 9/11. Some changes we expect and steel ourselves for (children growing up), some we grudgingly accustom ourselves to (taking off our shoes in airports), and some continue to surprise us (the Sarah Palin phenomenon).
By now, Facebook is so much a part of the fabric of many people’s daily lives that it’s strange to think that 9/11 took place in the pre-Facebook world. Thus, we are spared the possibility of seeing anguished status updates from 9/11/01 and its aftermath crop up alongside those about barfing cats. On this day in 2011 I am thankful for small mercies.