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On Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 6:45 pm Jeremy Hight announced that he had begun a new series that would be “published” on his timeline and allowed to “float away down its river.” To think of the Facebook timeline as a river is a substantial change in the metaphor Facebook has implemented as an organizing principle for the mass of status updates, photos, and other material people share on this social network. A timeline can be explored with considerably less metaphorical effort than navigating upstream. There are no ancient philosophical pronouncements about never being able to step into the same timeline twice. To think of Facebook as a river is to highlight its endless flow and the irretrievable nature of a moment– correctly so– but that isn’t the only metaphor Hight is activating here. He refers to these posts as “publication,” a word that comes charged with centuries of print history and the circulation of the written word in ways that suggests a modicum of permanence, the slice of immortality beyond the ephemeral moment that Shakespeare wrote about.
The problem is that Facebook posts aren’t ephemeral. They are digital objects stored and backed up in Facebook servers with timestamps and a unique URL, which like Twitter posts, can be embedded into WordPress blogs (as of September 2013). So there is a way to circumvent Hight’s intention of having this narrative exist only on Facebook, and here it is, embedded into this post:
Hmm. Well played, Mr. Hight, well played.
Okay then, let this be a reminder that just because while the entry is published, it isn’t public. Upon closer inspection, I (who have the privilege to be his Facebook friend), noticed that the entries for this narrative are shared only with his friends, so even if you “follow” his entries, he needs to become “friends” with you to grant access to this narrative. Perhaps this is an oversight, since he does post public entries in his timeline (I tested this by following him with a different account). Or perhaps, like Emily Dickinson, who shared her poems with her friends and acquaintances by copying them by hand and mailing them in letters, Hight wishes to share this work with a select audience of people he knows and trusts enough to establish bilateral communication with in Facebook.
The preservationist in me wants to capture these entries and it would be easy to do so, by screen capturing the posts or by cutting and pasting their text into a new document, but as discussed in my series on William Gibson’s vanishing poem Agrippa, I would only be capturing an aspect of the work by creating different computational objects. Besides, it begs the question: do I have the right to copy his work? Would this act be a violence against Hight’s intentions? I don’t wish to betray our friendship. I could provide links to the entries so fellow Facebook friends can access them, but it would be better to direct people to February 16, 2014 on his Timeline, which would provide a fuller context. Perhaps when it’s over, I’ll ask Hight to download his Facebook Archive and share the data with me, or archive it somehow.
Or perhaps I should enjoy it as it happens, share the experience with fellow friends, and appreciate it more for its “lability.”
You’ll note that I haven’t mentioned what the story is about. That will be the focus of the next entry in this series.