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December 16, 2011Why Don Draper will never use Facebook Timeline

Don Draper, the eponymous head of fictional ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in AMC’s Mad Men, is a man with a past. He’s intriguing, popular, and his relationship status and family life is asked about by most everyone he meets.

In other words, you’d imagine that Don is exactly the kind of customer who’d embrace Facebook Timeline with open arms. So much so, in fact, that one individual even mashed up one of Don’s famous pitches to create the Don Draper delivers Facebook Timeline pitch.

But like Peggy’s ‘relaxerciser’, this is one product that Don may be selling, but certainly won’t be buying. Why? Because Don is a man with a past. And he wants to keep it private.

**Spoilers ahead**

The man with no name wouldn’t stand a chance against Facebook Timeline

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or you’re one of those crazy people who aren’t part of the Mad Men Cult), Don’s real name is Dick Whitman, and a little over a decade before the series starts a mix-up in the Army results in him being discharged under a new name — he effectively abandons his past and starts his life over again.

Over the course of the series, Don has dodged having his true identity discovered by everyone from junior executives to Federal Agents. But the chances are he couldn’t avoid Facebook Timeline, the new feature that makes it easy for people to read every status update, every relationship, every ‘key event’ in your entire life in just one or two clicks.

If you thought Googling your girlfriend was bad…

Once upon a time when you met a girl you asked your friends about her. Then, you googled her to see what you could find out — job, hobbies, you know, anything you could use to give you an edge. “Sure, I love collecting porcelain kitten figurines too! You have a website dedicated to them? No!”

Some people thought this was already too much. Then, along came Facebook. In many ways, adding someone on Facebook is the internet equivalent of getting to first base, only you share ideas instead of sticky saliva. You swap pictures. You can see each other’s hobbies. You start reading about what is happening in your new friend’s life.

What we haven’t been able to see until now is each other’s pasts.

Of course, this isn’t just about relationships. When we meet new friends, we add them to Facebook too. But up until this point, all we’ve known about each other is what we’ve chosen to share from that point.

With Facebook Timeline, everything is different. Now, when we add someone on Facebook, there will be an additional expectation.

We will instantly expect to know everything about a person’s past.

Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

Even if you’re not Don Draper, you probably still have plenty to hide. (Hint: 76% of photos on facebook depict people who are drunk)

Let’s assume you joined Facebook early, in 2004-2006. You were probably still at uni, or at the very least weren’t aware of Facebook’s privacy implications. You certainly weren’t aware that friends you’ve just met in 2011, or 2021, or however long Facebook is still cool for, would be able to read everything you’ve said and done back in 2004.

The privacy implications are startling.

Let’s say next year you get a job in something dull — maybe as a sales executive somewhere. You’re a telephone jockey, struggling to meet your OTE. Work is your life, and it’s made more pleasant by having a few friends in the office. You go out for a few drinks. Maybe you flirt with one of them. They want to add you on Facebook. What do you do?

You joined Facebook in 2005. You were still in Uni. You smoked weed, or had some other disgusting habit you’ve since grown out of, like being active in questionable university politics. I have plenty of friends who were active in hard-left circles who have since gone on to work for major corporations. How embarrassing.

So here’s the dilemma. Do you refuse to add these people because you don’t want them to see your past? Or do you selectively edit your past, deleting the things that could harm your relationships in the present?

If you start deleting things from your past, will people feel you have ‘something to hide’?

Would you, like Don Draper, be missing a large chunk of your life? Would you create a fake past? Or would you have to suck it up and admit you’d been caught out.

But wait… what’s there to be caught out about?

It’s a fact. People change.

To borrow from dope-smoking Prime Minister David Cameron, people are entitled to keep their past lives private.

Until now, we’ve been able to keep facts about who we used to be a secret from people we know now. Why should your work colleagues at Goldman Sachs know you used to hand out Socialist Worker flyers? You’ve moved on.

In Season 4, Don Draper says:

“When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere, just ask him. If you listen, he’ll tell you how he got there. How he forgot where he was going, and that he woke up.”

The point is that friendships are enriched by slowly discovering things about a person — we are partly defined by our past and our present but also by our future — by our hopes and our aspirations.

Facebook Timeline may leave us all forever looking back on each other’s pasts.

If I meet you in 2011, or 2022, or 2100, it shouldn’t matter what I was doing in 2005. But Facebook Timeline encourages people to do just that.

When we meet new people, we decide what to tell them about our past.
We selectively edit our histories, we start each new friendship with a blank slate. Facebook Timeline removes that in one fell swoop.

Instead of starting each friendship anew, we’ll dive head first into other people’s pasts to find out exactly what kind of person they were 5 or 10 or 20 years ago. Eventually, checking up on people’s pasts will become the norm, and those without a past made public will be asked what they have to hide.

Facebook Timeline represents a paradigm shift in privacy – from the expectation of slowly learning about who a person is and where they came from as a friendship develops, to being able to find out instantly everything about their past life before you knew them. In short, it takes the fun out of being friends.

It’d certainly take the fun out of watching Mad Men.

But there is another way…

Introducing Don Draper, Twitter Fanatic

While editing my own Facebook Timeline to remove all questionable material (another problem: we selectively edit our pasts and are discouraged from sharing moments of failure, or where we have felt depressed or needed help) I noticed that since joining Twitter, I have hardly posted on Facebook at all.

I was late to the Twitter party. As a private person, I decided I never wanted to have an “open feed” of everything I was doing available to the public, so I resisted getting an account.

But because I joined in the full knowledge that everything I said was completely public, I have always had complete control over everything I share.

So if you’re a control freak like me, or you have a questionable past like Don Draper, Twitter is a better option if you simply can’t do without social media (Don would be fired on the spot by any agency these days if they found out he didn’t do social media, and so would I).

Twitter is a public forum, but for all that, it’s much more private. There’s no compulsion to share past history, and you know that everything you share is instantly public — there’s no sneaky changes to catch you off your guard.

With Twitter, you really can be anyone or anything. It’s all about what you say and what you share, not who you are and what you have done.

Facebook Timeline encourages us to look back on things we’d rather forget and places we will never be again – when we should be looking forward to the future.

Thanks, Facebook. But I don’t choose to share my past with you, or anyone else I’ve just met.

If anyone needs me, you can find me on Twitter.

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This entry was posted on Friday, December 16th, 2011 at 3:20 pm and is filed under Blog, Social Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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