I’m privileged to be able to hear my grandmother Billie Campbell singing The Old Lamplighter in the 1940s, even though I was born after her death. I’m also privileged to be able to see (but not hear) my great-grandfather John Ross Campbell on his release from being a political prisoner for incitement to mutiny in 1924.
I’m privileged because I’m in my 30s, and recordings were comparatively rare in my foremother and forefathers’ days — these singular glimpses are treasured as extraordinary, I feel very lucky to have them. I really have no feeling of what it would be like to be a child born now, growing up with access to the minutiae of my parents’ social networking timelines. Overall probably positive, I think, but perhaps it could be more positive if we were made to be more mindful of what we say there. Timelines are not just about a linear sequence of stray moments, but of the cycles of life, including the flashes of emotion around the birth and death of stages of life and of the lives of people. Personal history is not just about projection from the past to the future, but also about the alignment of the lives of those we touch with our own.
I think that if the phrase “social network” is to live up to the meaning it had before the dawn of firefly, friendster, facebook and whatever comes next, then the programmers of these systems have to start taking a longer, more structured view of time.