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Last night Mark Zuckerberg, the face of Facebook declared that: ‘The Internet shouldn’t just be a place to gather information and connect with friends’  So far, so predictable.  ‘It should also be where you preserve… the most important memories of your life.’ Some of us might want to argue that particular point, since we feel our most precious memories are preserved in less technical and publicly accessible forms.  However, these were really only the opening bars of the fanfare to Facebook’s shiny new innovation: Timeline. Watch the promotional video below and you will see how it graphically charts the course of a person’s life. Not only that, but it allows the insertion of photographs and memories from the dark ages when Facebook didn’t exist! Presumably, it also allows people to ‘neaten up’ their story should they so desire.

There is no doubting that this will be popular. When I looked at it seventeen hours ago it had received 315 hits – that number has now exceeded 3 million.  People love to ‘see’ their lives and those of other people, through still and animated images.  We are graphically wired, so that images stimulate both intellect and emotion.

So, how should I feel today then – on the brink of publishing a book of words about words? Are they old hat? Will they become the betamax to Timeline’s blu-ray?  Will they look like a shaky black and white television playing next to a plasma screen?  Surely not. We are speaking creatures, and in the end we will always rely on words to articulate the graphic cornucopia of images around about us. The excerpt below comes from the introduction to Who Needs Words, describing a snatch of a graffiti seen from a train window. The only picture I have of the graffiti is in my head – but its definitely there on my personal timeline.

There on a wall next to the railway, between vandalised warehouses and soot-blackened houses, was a single word sprayed on the bricks:Compassion? I couldn’t quite work out whether the word was an ironic contrast with its location, a plea for action, or a cynical dismissal. It continued to trouble me throughout the journey and has lingered with me ever since. Do our words articulate our environment or sit awkwardly in the midst of it, I wonder? Do they add to our understanding of the world and of each other – or are they just so much noise? 

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