I walk by a pretty good bootleg DVD stand a few times a month — the proprietor sets up at irregular intervals in Union Square just a few blocks away from The Verge offices in New York. Instead of just offering up ripped DVDs with handwritten titles in paper sleeves, he sells meticulous copies of the entire package from sleeve to disc label, and there are a few legitimate used DVDs thrown in for flavor. If not for the suspiciously low prices and the occasional printing error, you might not ever know the entire operation was operating in brazen defiance of the law.
Stands like these are an important touchpoint when you read or hear about the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and its sister bill in the Senate, the Protect IP Act, or PIPA. Both bills attempt to deal with online sites that traffic in illegally copied content, but at extreme cost of remaking the architecture of the internet itself. That’s a high price to pay, especially since neither bill will actually curb real piracy: SOPA and PIPA are the effective equivalent of blowing up every road, bridge, and tunnel in New York to keep people from getting to one bootleg stand in Union Square — but leaving the stand itself alone.
Nine beef consommés, one iced cucumber soup, one mussel soup
—Georges Perec, “Attempt at an Inventory of the Liquid and Solid Foodstuffs Ingurgitated by Me in the Course of the Year Ninteen Hundred and Seventy-Four”
Four months after Mark Zuckerberg first introduced it to the media, Facebook’s Timeline feature was rolled out in early December in New Zealand. Why New Zealand? Perhaps because the country makes for a relatively small control group and is marginal enough not to become an international center of outrage once it becomes clear that the company’s innovations, as is so often the case, are destined to kill your privacy.
Now Facebook has made Timeline available worldwide. It has fixed one notable problem with the feature since Zuckerberg unveiled it (it no longer outs you when you unfriend someone), but the fundamental approach of Timeline remains unchanged. What it does is reorganize your information and make it vastly more searchable, albeit by the same people whom you have given permission to view the information in the first place.
Still, this is no small difference. Previously, Facebook worked as a diary that couldn’t be browsed except by turning its pages backward one by one, in an extremely laborious and time-consuming manner, meaning that for all intents and purposes your old data wouldn’t be accessible except by somebody who took an inordinate amount of interest in it. Now Timeline places the things you have shared with Facebook along a chronological axis that can be navigated quickly and intuitively, allowing users to, say, jump back to somebody’s life in 2008, or view all the information you have put up in a particular category over time.
The easiest way to make sense of the change is to understand that your Facebook profile is henceforth no longer your (public) diary: It’s your biography. To underscore this point, Facebook invites you now to fill in the time before you joined the site. Consider my timeline:
The time between “born” and late 2008, when I joined Facebook, is currently blank, but I could fill it by uploading and giving dates to photos from my childhood or creating announcements and events to mark key moments in my life — say, my high school graduation, or when I moved to New Zealand. Facebook would like me to do that very much. That’s not just because the more information they have about me, the more valuable their product becomes to their advertisers, but also — and I suspect more importantly — because the more emotionally invested I become in their product, the deeper my engagement with it is likely to grow. Google+ has millions of users, yet nobody uses it. Facebook is used daily even by some of its most ardent critics. It’s always been its paradox.
“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle In beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats on your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories- science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”—Ray Bradbury (via qu4ntity)