Tyranny of the timestamp

I’ve been thinking about time management in social software. No, not in response to Ryan Carson’s post on being too busy to use the stuff. (Wondering whether or not MySpace will be the new LinkedIn in ten years is an interesting question, though.)

What got me thinking about it was the facebook feeds brouhaha. In a nutshell, feeds broadcast the details of what you do on facebook — add a friend, drop a friend, join a group, post a photo, etc. — and when you did it. Depending on your point of view, the feeds either allow for hyper-efficient browsing or encourage stalking.

Who wants to know a friend added a new favorite band at 2:07am or changed relationship status to single at 10:04pm? I think the when part really disturbed people. Yet, so much of what we do online feeds an obsession with recency.

Think about it: the latest blog post is first on the page, and permalinks often reveal the minute items were published. Instant message apps generally mark each conversational turn with the time. MySpace and countless other sites having blinking “online now” indicators. On flickr, the passage of time is relative, and comments are left a moment ago or a month ago. Email is all about when — when written, when received, when responded to. Whether you work for a big company or are part of a small distributed group, or have friends and family in different parts of the world, when someone is matters more than where someone is. (When my in-laws were in Tokyo, I had a widget on my Mac that displayed sunlight and darkness across the globe.)

Social software lets us do the same things with time we otherwise do without it: spend, waste, kill, save, or keep it. The difference is, it is social, so everybody can see not just what we do, but when we do it — unless we change the default settings and overrule the timestamp.

One thought on “Tyranny of the timestamp

  1. – which is exactly why I would overrule the timestamp if I ever posted from work. Not that I do, of course. But if I did.

    Actually I hadn’t thought about the timestamps issue explicitly before, but the digital trail we leave is certainly getting marked more clearly all the time, and I’m not so sure I like it. When we’re gone we’ll all be leaving our rambling and incoherent blog comments around for years to come. Not an inspiring thought (for me anyway).

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