Facebook’s Fight Against the Reality of Death

Okay, so the title may be a bit hyperbolic, but I think there’s something to it if you’ll grant me some space here.

At yesterday’s F8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg unveiled what the newest features of Facebook — a new feed dubbed “Timeline” — will look like and how it will operate. I couldn’t help but notice that littered throughout his presentation were really interesting claims about how the social realities of Facebook are impacting our lives. With the new features, Zuckerberg claims that Timeline will be the most user-friendly aspect of Facebook and will allow users to maintain control of their entire online social experience.

“You have complete control over your timeline.”

This is the line that Mark kept repeating as he was presenting this new format. The more often he said it, the more frequently I found myself cringing. After thinking about it a little bit further, I realized what was bugging me about it. What Mark was essentially offering was complete control over our lives. If we can control our timeline, we can control what happens in our life. It offers a safety net from the unexpected things in life.

Now granted, nobody actually expects a social network to prolong their lives. In fact, some people may expect the direct opposite. But implicit in his presentation was that we can have complete control over our lifespan. It gives us the assurance of autonomy and independence that people need to feel in order to be secure in their very existence.

“Complete control of our timeline” gives us permission to assert ourselves over and against the reality of death.

Social networking and identity construction has always been an interesting correlation to me. But never before have I encountered such a concrete example of a denial of our non-existence through the means of social technology. I’m really interested to see how something as innocent as a feature named “Timeline” influences our subconscious notions of ourselves in daily life.

Maybe I’m way off-base here. But I think there’s something to this. What do you think? How would you respond if a social network promised you “complete control over your timeline”?



  1. Mike Friesen says:

    I personally struggle with social media (odd considering I am making a career out of it). I struggle with the idea of free-will and even in how much control we have.

    For instance,
    I have no control over what God does.
    I have no control over what others do.
    I even have very little control over what I do.

    The last one seems odd, but, when we think of it scientifically, 98% of our brain is unconscious. I have no control over 98% of my brain. And, when it comes to me making my own decisions, how much of my own decisions have to do with the other choices being made around me. It seems to me, that there is very little “free-will” in this world, and all we are doing is adapting to what is around us.

    For example,
    A victim of trauma shuts down until their brains can deal with, depending on their interpretation of the trauma, and the severity of it, the victim will numb itself (perpetuating self-destructive behavior) until he/she can deal with it. This person is operating under a limited existence, until they can experience the trauma. They have very little control of their timeline, they minimize it until they reach their breaking point. Yes, it is a control mechanism. But, is control a state of control? Or, is control, sometimes, a state of being out of control? And, how many of us who are conscious of ourselves being out of control, then take it back?

    I love the example use, and your play on it is both engaging and entertaining. I’m intrigued by it’s ability to potentially, subtly subvert reality.

    • Such good stuff, man. I think you’re right on a number of things.

      1) The “free will” part is interesting because of the behavioral component of it. The cultural influences of our behavior leave us rendered with quite little free will. And when we do exercise it, it can seem insubordinate or otherwise (quite literally) counter-cultural.

      2) Even our present behavior is dictated by our past experiences which, I think, further perpetuates assimilation. It’s interesting that people who are still feeling the effect of trauma don’t even have control of their timeline as it unfolds in front of them because of a trauma that previously occurred in that timeline. And we all have past experiences that dictate/alter how we act. It’s a condition of memory. I think a study on memory and free will would be fascinating to read.

      And if it doesn’t subvert reality, it certainly would subvert our perception of it. But that gets us into the question: What is reality other than our perception? That was Derrida’s point in his famous quote “There’s nothing outside the text”. Everything we see is an interpretation of what we experience and perceive as reality. Crazy, man.

      Thanks for your input. One question I had as I was writing is, how do we operate in this paradigm without falling off into nihilism? Hard questions, man. I think we’re officially in the deep end.

      • I couldn’t really sleep last night because this stuff was running through my brain. One thing, in particular:

        If someone were to speak to the subversion of the reality of death, wouldn’t it be fitting that it would be people who follow a resurrected God? In a way, does Christ subvert the subversion? Hmmmm….

  2. I think Mark Zuckerberg thinks FB Timeline is the picture of Dorian Gray. I like social networks because I like keeping in touch with people and meeting new people. I would never expect a social network. The irony is that we don’t even have much control over the social networks… They keep changing the format on us. I periodically struggle with it as well, Mike. But I see the time I spend on it as ministry time. I am able to reach many more people through it. I guess, like all gifts from God, there is both good and bad about it.

    I agree with you Mike, there really is very little over which we have control but I am okay with that.

    Good ponderings….

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Renee! I think you hit it on the head that a major positive is the connectivity it gives those of us in ministry, not only to the people in our community — but to more people in ministry. It can definitely be a two-edged sword though. Thanks, again, for stopping by, Renee. Have a wonderful day!

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