With 2015 almost upon us, it's time to reflect upon the year that has past. How convenient, then, that Facebook offers us “Year in Review,” an auto-generated retrospective that we can foist upon all of our friends' news feeds. No doubt many of your friends have done exactly that, not even bothering to edit the posts or tagline ("It's been a great year and I want to thank you for being a part of it.") that Facebook provides. This is 2014: Insta-nostalgia in just one click.
Much like the vacation slide show parties of the 70's and 80's, “Year in Review” is a way to convince ourselves that our lives are more eventful than they are, thanks to a carefully orchestrated series of pictures. But at least those parties were genuinely social events. " Year in Review " instead encapsulates two of the most loathsome things about our social-media selves: our narcissism and complete loss of individuality.
The irony of these attempts to express our uniqueness by collectively posting what Facebook has cobbled together as our "year" seems to be lost on most of us. How are we being unique when we're all using the same narrow set of tools to express ourselves? These recaps blend us all into one large, homogenized pulp—and already our social media personas have been mostly neutered by our choices to advertise only our most cheerful selves. We pepper our feeds with zippy updates and humblebrags, hashtagging and filtering our moments for maximum likability. Now we get to see all these ersatz artifacts stitched together in one place, allowing ourselves to wax nostalgic about an already airbrushed existence—now airbrushed once more to be even more stupefyingly reductive. Social media has become so hyper-normalized in our lives that for many of us, creating these retrospectives—or simply accepting the one that Facebook creates for us—seems not just acceptable, but natural.
But since we've already self-curated in real time the rest of the year, is there really any need for these algorithmically created overviews? After all, what do we find in these year-end commemorations? Lots of marriages, of course, and births. Engagements, new jobs, vacations, parties—strictly happy announcements, in general. But what about people who got fired last year, or who lost a loved one? There was just as many of those kinds of stories last year, or any year for that matter. Will these retrospectives be highlighting the bad times in our lives, the petty moments, or even the banal ones? Only by accident: Facebook has apologized to a man who complained that his 2014 highlights included a photo of his six-year-old daughter, who died this year of brain cancer. The "Year in Review " product manager promised to "do better"—to refine its algorithm, presumably, so that we won't be reminded of our grief. With Facebook's help, we're scrubbing away all of life's grit from our online personas.
We're both desperate for attention and seeking to impress people all the time: with our wit, with our vacations, with photos of our dogs and our amazing seven-course meals at fancy restaurants, our brushes with celebrity. And while we participate in this collective self-absorption, we disparage those we think are “trying too hard.” Likely you have blocked friends you felt posted too often, or who rubbed their lives of leisure and excess in your face. You've unfollowed people who seem to think every moment of their child's life needs to be captured. And woe unto those who refuse to censor themselves. Look no further than the scathing criticism Ayelet Waldman received for having a Twitter snit fit when her book didn't make The New York Times' “Notable Books of 2014” list. I have little sympathy for Waldman, mostly because her tirade seemed like the logical byproduct of our culture: She was so used to getting non-stop attention and praise, she thought she deserved even more of it. But I applaud her for not caring what people would think about her snit fit.
Facebook friends, I'm happy you've had a “good year.” I hope, though, that it was more meaningful and richer than can ever be captured in an assortment of status updates and photos. I have no interest in your recaps—I've probably seen most of those pics already—and I won't take any credit for being a part of it. Instead, I'm going to hunt down my most banal status updates, my least favorite pictures, my shrillest political rants and stupidest comments. I will gather these together as my 2014 highlights because they are no less a summary of my year than the one Facebook wants me to shill. I suspect, and maybe even hope, that not one of my friends will like it.