Social network time

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.


  1. Interesting post. It’s left me wondering what a “longer, more structured view of time” entails. Also thinking about diffuse, semi-structured views of time. Our perception of time clearly isn’t linear, but computers are very good at doing linear/measured time. Perhaps we need an approach that’s long term, but condenses time between the kind of salient moments you refer to in your post.

  2. I think there’s a fundable research project in answering that question Jamie, and I think music researchers are in an ideal position to answer it, because music was the first social network technology and is all about deep linear and cyclic structures of time. I’ve tried writing this research proposal but haven’t found the right collaborators yet…

  3. Aside from the interesting questions of time the post poses, ‘The Old Lamplighter’ is a sublime musical artifact.

    On social networking and its narrow presentations of time: it’s back to front. Current systems impose templates of representation which real people must either or adopt or refuse to participate with at all. Facebook I find to be horribly dictatorial in the way it insists on writing my life. Should programmers of social network platforms take a more structured view of time? I wonder if applications really are a fitting domain for social networking. I have in mind, notionally, a high level social networking protocol instead – structured but with the freedom to explore infinite approaches to time and lifespan representation.

    It’s not entirely removed from ideas of music. Music is infinitely varied but it does have rules of a sort and conventions, some of which I believe are embedded in the auditory cortex.

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