The outrage was palpable. So many had been wronged. So many lives had been thrown into chaos.
“Why must they always stick their noses where they don’t belong?”
“How could they?! Who are they to make such changes?”
“I feel so lost. What do I do now?”
On December 22, 2011, Facebook introduced its new profile user interface, Facebook Timeline. For a while, users were able to choose whether or not they wanted to adopt the new format. But after several months, Facebook began spreading the word that resistance was futile – all pages would have to adopt Timeline. Whether they wanted to or not.
Many thought that they could “game” the system, that if they kept quiet Facebook would forget all about them. But deep inside they knew that they were living on borrowed time. “The Zuck” was on the prowl, and he was going to have his way.
A few weeks ago, the other shoe dropped, and the final stage of Facebook’s interface makeover began. Now, every time I log on to Facebook, I am greeted by the 2012 version of “I can’t believe it happened to me,” an incredulous status update of “Timelined!” One by one, the most steadfast holdouts are dropping, like flies.
To be honest, I initially tried to avoid Timeline as well. I am a firm believer in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” doctrine, and I thought that Facebook was simply pushing us around because it could. But when I received the Facebook equivalent of an eviction notice in early March, I decided that I would “Timeline” myself rather than become a victim of social media thuggery.
While I still cannot stand the “ticker” feature (if I wanted to look at a ticker feed all day, I would have traded stocks), I must say that I have come to genuinely appreciate Timeline. There are two main reasons.
First, it had always been very difficult finding old posts. Whether I wanted to reference something a friend had posted in previous months or check back on my own additions to the ongoing social media conversation, it was virtually impossible to locate exactly what I wanted. Timeline solved that problem by sorting everything in an easy-to-use chronological filing system. If you can guess the approximate time of year you posted something, you should be able to find it in within minutes (if not quicker).
Second, Timeline has helped me prepare for the High Holy Days.
Confused? Appalled? Read on.
As far back as I can remember, the Jewish month of Elul was a perplexing time for me. In anticipation of the High Holy Days, teachers, rabbis and other assorted figures of authority would exhort the importance of introspection and repentance, but the methods they explained and the examples they used never really spoke to me. For example, they almost always parroted the famous phrase that begins the second chapter of “Ethics of our Fathers:”
“Know what is above you – a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and all of your deeds written down in a book.” (Pirkei Avot 2:1)
While the concept lies at the very core of our belief system, the image of a book didn’t resonate with me. I am not saying that I dismissed it – I believe it to be the absolute truth. It’s just that the image didn’t help me get into an introspective mood. “After all,” I thought, “even the most important books are shelved and forgotten at some point.”
What did work was adding multimedia to the equation.
In 1991, my sister took me to see “Defending Your Life,” a film starring Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep that portrayed the afterlife as a place where people had to prove their worth by showing how they had demonstrated courage and strength of character. The movie has stuck with me for many years because, aside from being well-written and enjoyable, it was the first time I had been presented with a postmortem image scarier than an index of wrongdoings. The image: A proper trial, complete with judges and opposing counsel, that reviewed and dissected video evidence of every misdeed committed throughout one’s lifetime. The image struck a chord and has helped me set the tone for the month of Elul ever since.
As I see it, Timeline takes it to the next level.
Take a look at your Facebook Timeline and then imagine that it is your actual timeline, every moment of your life from birth to death clearly documented in text, photos and videos. Imagine that you are on the witness stand defending every moment of your life — unable to deny a single thing because everything is in an easy-to-use chronological filing system.
(This may, in fact, be the exact image that the sages hoped to conjure by referring to that ominous “book.” But I believe that even Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai would agree that an upgrade is warranted if it does the trick to jumpstart our generation’s teshuva [atonement] process.)
So, as we approach the Days of Awe be sure to keep the following in mind: Just as you wouldn’t post a status on your Facebook Timeline that you didn’t want everyone to see and have easy access to for eternity, you shouldn’t do or say anything in the “real world” that you wouldn’t want opposing counsel to effortlessly produce via your life’s timeline on Judgment Day.
Food for thought.
Dip it in honey, digest it and have a sweet new year.