Ten years ago, it was 10 years ago. That’s what logicians call a tautology and what everyone else calls nonsense — a long-winded way of saying nothing at all. But add a hashtag, and in the age of social media, you have a “viral phenomenon”.
Over the last few weeks, digital daredevils have taken on the #10YearChallenge, and everyone from celebrities on Twitter to the aunt who just discovered Instagram is posting current photos next to ones from 2009.
Apart from Prufrock-esque observations — “look how his hair grows thin!” — or the unending false praise whose gist is that those with the courage to dig up a photograph a few scrolls away are spared the ravages of time, it is easy to ask — where’s the harm? After all, much of the time spent on social media is essentially wasted anyway, and if some people can receive some positive affirmation and a temporary sense of self-worth by posting a pair of photographs, all the better. And with or without the #10YearChallenge, people will while away their time on social media.
But the one big difference between 2009 and 2019 is that social media giants have lost their halo, and “building a community” is seen by many as an excuse to collect and monetise the data of users. The Algorithm towers above and spreads throughout with its omnipresence, logging every little share, message, post, tweet and even, in some cases, emails.
Like all gods, though, it seems the digital deity needs offerings, despite its power. And, it appears there are enough believers or those that simply do not care. Millions of side-by-side photographs, taken a decade apart, are a most useful data point for the good people at Facebook Inc, and elsewhere, working towards developing facial recognition software. They could, of course, have written a program to crawl through all the photos the company already has access to. But why bother when all that was needed was a tautological hashtag.