Timehop and the Cyclical Nature of Human Existence

Timehop and the Cyclical Nature of Human Existence

Timehop’s logo is a cute little dinosaur, but don’t be fooled: this app can be dangerous.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the Minnesota State Fair and decided to make what seemed a pithy and novel observation.

Minnesota State Fair

While I sat under those banners and waited for my friend to meet me, I opened Timehop and discovered that I’d said essentially the exact same thing, on Facebook, five years ago.

What differentiates Timehop from the memory dump you encounter on a #ThrowBackThursday is its precision. Timehop doesn’t necessarily take you back to an adorable moment in your childhood or a photogenically wacky beach day with your friends—it takes you back in intervals of exactly one year. Whatever you shared on social media exactly one year ago, two years ago, three years ago, and so on is presented to you in a reverse chronological scroll with a little cartoon of the Timehop dinosaur re-enacting a historical event. (This stirred up a bit of controversy on the anniversary of Princess Diana’s death.)

If you open the app every day, that means, you file through your past experiences in a constant shuffle in which the past versions of yourself are always experiencing the same season of the year, and reminding you how they did so in echoes of reduced detail—go back a couple of years and Instagram disappears, go back a few years and Twitter disappears, go back before you joined Facebook and everything’s a mystery.

What’s most struck me is that, even though you tend to feel like your life in previous years was totally different than your life is now, in fact a lot of things remain the same, and you tend to react to them similarly even as seemingly definitive aspects of your life—where you work, where you live, who you’re dating—change. I imagine myself being wheeled into my last Minnesota State Fair circa 2064—after eight marriages, a stint as the president of a small island nation, and three decades as a pro basketball coach—and looking up at those banners with a chuckle. “That’s so Minnesotan,” I’ll croak. “Hang on, I’ve gotta share this via the networked brain chip connected to my optical nerve!”

Social media posts are directed outwards, but Timehop demonstrates that in years to come, your posts might find their most avid audience: yourself. We’re all pretty used to checking our posts after, say, a party (did I say anything stupid? oh my God, I did that?), but until Timehop came along, I wasn’t accustomed to looking one, two, and three years back. Social media haters’ go-to zinger is, “Why would anyone care what you ate for lunch?” Give those haters the chance to see what they ate for lunch one year ago today, though, and just see if they pass it up.

For some, it might be slightly alarming to discover just how many digital tracks you’re leaving almost every day of your life. For example, a year ago today, Timehop finds seven tweets I posted (including one chatty tweet directed at a Twitter account I now, after changing jobs, manage), two Instagram pics (Sir Simon Rattle: always with the turtlenecks), two Foursquare checkins (but who was I eating doughnuts with?), and one Facebook update (posting my review of Cher Lloyd in Minneapolis).

I’m someone who’s always been disappointed at my own inability to journal, though: I wish I had a day-by-day journal of my study abroad semester, but “Why would I write something for just myself to read?” I thought at the time. “I’ll remember what happened, right?” I’m glad, then, that things like Timehop exist to scour our personal online archives to help us remember our own pasts, so as to help us not repeat our mistakes—or, at least, to help us not repeat our jokes.

Jay Gabler