It used to be that our past selves were locked in diaries and preserved in the amber hue of fading photographs.
It was easier to self-edit; embarrassing images seen only by close friends, family and the voyeuristic guy at the chemist who developed our prints.
The age of Google and Facebook has changed that. Our pasts linger online, ready to be interrogated, prodded and pulled up to embarrass us.
The hormonal LiveJournal dragged out to mock the sombre adult writer, the audio clip of a music journalist interviewing a cheesy act as a teenage fan, those photos of you with that shocking haircut in 1995… you know the ones.
A growing trend is set to make those cringeworthy memories even worse. Created two years ago under the clunky name 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo, TimeHop resurfaces your Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts from a year ago, sending you a daily email of nostalgia.
Last week it raised an investment round of $3m, having persuaded major VCs that CEO Jonathan Wegener’s contention that “reminiscing doesn’t have a home online yet” was worth buying into. Inevitably, Facebook, the big lunch-snatching bully of social networks, is already moving to compete.
As the huge swathe of its user base who first joined the site as exciteable university students become parents, nostalgia is becoming Facebook’s stock in trade. Its response to TimeHop is a new feature called “On This Day” which flags up the most commented and liked items from a user’s past.
Though only visible to a small part of Facebook’s audience right now, it will not be very long before this initiative is made available to everyone. Facebook wants to force up its already enviable time-on-site figures, keeping users within its walls for longer. It makes money from ads placed next to your present; now it wants to mine your past.
Internet culture has reached the same point television had got to in the late 90s and early 00s: a nostalgia crunch. The distance between a trend and the wistful looks back at it has shortened to the point of ridiculousness. I Love 1999 was broadcast in 2001 with stand-ups offering hack material about Ali G and the Millennium Dome in the same tone they usually reserve for white dog poo, the Raleigh Chopper and Spangles.
Today, Buzzfeed engages in the same ludicrously industrialised nostalgia, churning out lists intended to make people barely out of their teens hark back to the good old days. Witness 12 TV Shows Of The Early 2000s Teenage Girls Lovedand The 29 Fashions Of The Early 2000s You Wish Never Happened.
TimeHop and Facebook’s On This Day plans just further personalise that appeal to your basest nostalgic instincts. The tricky part is that they don’t smooth off the rough edges. Expect to see heart-wrenching breakups and foolish opinions shoved back in your face.
With every day that passes, the internet and social networks become more like embarrassing mothers intent on pulling out the photo album and showing your new girlfriend those cute snaps of you in a tin bath or that time you were sick at Alton Towers. Nostalgia is only truly enjoyable when it is smoothed and shaped by our imperfect memories.
On the web, the good stuff too often comes with the bad. Having Facebook make a buck from it makes that even more depressing.
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