Digital Nostalgia

Curator's Note

In 2011 Facebook launched Timeline, a feature that allows users to chronologically scroll through their previous activity and retroactively create “life events” that can be shared with photos. Jose van Dijck writes that this feature illustrates how “Facebook has crept deeper into the texture of life, its narrative principles imitating proven conventions of storytelling, thus binding users even more tightly to the fabric that keeps it together.”[1] Since 2011 Facebook has launched two similar features, the Year in Review in 2012 and the On This Day feature in 2015. The first provides users an annual recap video each December and the second shows users their posts from that date each previous year they’ve been subscribed. All three of these developments suggest a trend towards the nostalgic for users and a purposeful strategy to elicit nostalgia for Facebook. With these features users not only can selectively construct their present identity, but likewise their personal histories can be curated, tailored, shared, and commented on by their network; thus Facebook’s penetration into social life has become, in a sense, historical.

This newly established historical social media persona goes beyond Timeline memories and old photos; it recollects our history as formerly inexperienced Facebook users, highlighting the evolution of normative social media behavior. Just as we might be embarrassed by pulling out a photo album from years ago, so too we are embarrassed by our posts from Facebook’s infancy. What constitutes normal behavior on Facebook has evolved and our old posts offend our contemporary social media decorum. We not only shake our heads in comic embarrassment over fashion or immaturity but also over our clear past inexperience with social media platforms. The On This Day feature, for example, is not only used for sentimental recollection of the Timeline’s memories but also for the sharing of amusing pre-normative social media behavior. The On This Day feature provides not only wistful reflection of memory but also a history of our evolution as participants in a social network.

The nostalgia of these features is not without economic cause. Coinciding with the Timeline’s release in December 2011, Facebook released their Page Insight Data feature, which allows advertisers access to real-time page analytics that measure advertisement effectiveness on the Timeline.[2] Thus by allowing users to create and curate an historical level to their online personas, Facebook uses nostalgia as a utility to both entrench their platform deeper into users’ social lives and to streamline data for more efficient marketing.


[1] Joes van Dijck, The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. p. 55

[2] Ibid. 56

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