Facebook’s ‘On This Day’ celebrates cherished memories, hides bad ones

26 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Facebook helps its users hop back in time with On This Day feature.

In the digital age, physical photos have lost their way. The Internet is obsessed with the now, the new, the “trending”: It takes only minutes for Facebook posts to fall out of our News Feeds or for tweets to disappear into the past. (On the ephemeral messaging app Snapchat, it takes even less time than that.) We are frantic with the pulse of the present; we are pummeled by the thunderous, unending cascade of breaking news.

Facebook has brought out a new feature to let users ‘travel back in time’ to previous events – provided (of course) they posted them on Facebook.Meet the age of digital navel-gazing, when it’s not enough just to Instagram the sandwich we ate for lunch – we want to be prompted to look back at the sandwich a year later, and share it with our friends all over again. Many wonder if the family photo album can survive to tell the story of a person’s ancestry, especially with the hundreds of pictures scattered across the Internet. It’s not dissimilar to existing Facebook apps such as Timehop, offering a daily update of things users have shared or been tagged in on that day in the past.

The feature is rolling out gradually, and not all users have access yet. (If you don’t want access, too bad: There’s apparently no way to entirely opt out of it.) Facebook says it’s been testing the feature for several years, right in-step with other tech firms that exist to surface old content. On Tuesday, Facebook officially debuted “On This Day,” a feature that allows users to reminisce on past status updates, photos, and content they were tagged in a year ago, two years ago, etc. Timehop, the app that “helps you celebrate the best moments of the past,” finished 2014 with 12 million users and claims to be the fastest-growing mobile start-up in New York. After two years of testing, the social network began introducing the nostalgic program to select Facebook users yesterday and plans to roll out the feature globally in the next week or so.

When certain users log in to mobile or Web accounts Wednesday, they will receive a notification to view the On This Day page, which will show them old memories of weddings, parties, and children posted to their Facebook account over the past years. According to some reports, in fact, Myspace owes its continued existence in part to Throwback Thursday: millions of people return to the site each week for old pictures to share on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. (#Tbt stats, as of this morning: 325 million all-time Instagrams, 1.6 million tweets since March 1.) It makes sense that people would want to use social media this way, of course. To the relief of anyone who has ever had an embarrassing tag or post, the program is set to private by default and users can delete previous updates on the feature’s main page.

For many of us, social media functions almost like an external brain: It’s where we archive old photos and relationships — memories, basically — and where we return to access them. Once it’s turned on, they’ll be able to subscribe to notifications when there’s a new memory to look at, with features to edit and delete the posts if those memories aren’t as joyful as Facebook is hoping. In December, Facebook found itself apologizing to the victims of fires, the parents of dead children and assorted other grieving/aggrieved users when its “Year in Review” feature displayed pictures that they found painful or unpleasant. Truth be told, that’s only one of the attendant weirdnesses of the social media throwback: There’s also a lot of evidence, for instance, that the Internet somehow damages or interferes in memory, and that social archiving causes us to recall events differently, and that all of these layers of subtle distortion play out in our conception of our own identities. “Facebook’s emphasis upon memory, both personal and collective, allows for an escape from history and, therefore, linearity, order and narrative,” the media scholar Joanne Garde-Hansen once wrote. The Facebook feature, which summed up a year’s wroth of timeline posts, was met with backlash after those who lost loved ones or had bad break ups complained of being reminded of the painful memories.

But On This Day’s product manager, Jonathan Gheller, would not cite Timehop as the inspiration for Facebook, stating in an interview with TechCruch, “we see behaviors from our community and we try to build on top of them.” While it is understandable that, if given the option, some people would choose to forget unpleasant or tragic memories, it is interesting that Facebook decided to erase potentially touchy topics from the feature. Many have poked fun at or been critical of Facebook and other social media profiles for displaying a lack of authenticity and allowing people to “crop out the sadness.” It is a thought-provoking notion as physical photo albums become as antique as the memories they hold.

Algorithms aren’t always fully attuned to human sensitivities, as seen when Facebook apologised in December 2014 for its Year In Review videos, which confronted a number of users with recently-deceased family members or friends.

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