The Perfect Timeline
I’ve often wondered how authors who have undergone later-in-life conversions come to regard their earlier works. Do they regret publishing them? Would they re-publish them—and, if so, with or without changes or some kind of disclaimer? Would buying up all the copies and burning them be the responsible thing to do, especially if those older works contained teachings that might be harmful to readers? Or would it really amount to nothing more than “saving face” and protecting their “new” reputation? Would it be more beneficial to readers to leave their whole story out there, warts and all, and thereby (one hopes) make the recent conversion a more relatable experience? What if somebody only ever reads one of the early works and never gets to the conversion part? Do these questions assume self-importance, or do they merely acknowledge responsibility? Are they even worth asking? Until very recently, such speculation would likely be of interest only to Dostoevsky and Aquinas scholars. But with the advent of Facebook, the pros and cons of self-censorship have suddenly become personally relevant to millions of people. I tried to escape Facebook. I really did. After keeping a very active account for several years, I finally gathered up the strength to “deactivate” it and take my life back. Friends and family emailed me, asking why I had made such a rash decision and lamenting that now we would never hear from one another again. In some cases this happened, and in others it didn’t. But after over a year of freedom (and it was incredibly freeing), circumstances required me to get a smartphone and I was quickly sucked back into the world of social media. But I did not return to my old Facebook account. “Why return to that mess?” I thought. The gap between my “old” Facebook self and this new, present one was just long enough that I imagined I would feel like a stranger to my last post, whatever that was (I never checked). And so I signed up for a new account, a clean start. I can’t say I regret the decision, but I do wonder if it was an entirely honest one. Certainly, it may be tempting to read all of those “On This Day” posts from past years and fall into despair that we said or shared such foolish things—and that they’re still there for all to see. Maybe we have changed drastically since then, or maybe the tragedy is that we haven’t changed at all. Most of us could benefit from a little more forethought and restraint in our social media dealings. But there is an opposite temptation here as well: crafting the Perfect Timeline. What do we do with “poster’s remorse”? Well, we could comb through our timeline and erase all the embarrassments and things we no longer agree with. We could delete those conversations that got just a little too heated, or we could take down that meme that was a little too vulgar, etc. There probably are times when such a strategy is entirely called for, especially regarding posts that may have been offensive or obscene. But we must ask ourselves why: are we sorry, or just embarrassed?
- Chad Marine is the singer/songwriter of The Wonderful Mountain.