We’ve all been there by now. Browsing the internet in it’s many forms when you notice “RIP brother, fly with the angels” posted to so-and-so’s wall. It’s 2018 and this is still a process untouched by technology. Despite its powerful ways of solving problems, technology has not touched death. Not like this, anyways. You have a friend or family member die, the person gone forever from your life.
Facebook shows you “On this day” posts from this person in the past.
Navigating to their social media accounts and what you see is a human and his respective data frozen in time. Whatever mood they were in when that last post was made is how they will be remembered forever in the digital world.
A specific tragedy that we all saw coming
I’m thinking about an old drinking buddy of mine from back in Florida. I remember one night scrolling through Facebook seeing a lot of wild posts from him, blacked out drunk and posting nonsense on Facebook. The next morning was a Saturday morning, and he posted that he was lucky he didn’t wake up in jail.
That Saturday night, there weren’t as many drunken posts. Just a tag at a bar from earlier in the evening. The next day on Facebook, I’m seeing R.I.P. posts on his wall and my heart is sinking. His body was found face down in a pool outside of the gated community he lived in.
He must have been too drunk up too walk properly, and had fallen into the pool and passed out. That beaming smile and fuck-it-lets-party attitude will never be sitting at the bar downtown. He’ll never be at another house party, or Florida Gamers event. Rest in peace, my dude.
Every few days I would visit his profile, and reread his posts about waking up in jail. It would ring out to me “someone should have been a better friend” or something like that. I come up with all kinds of narratives about what happened and how shitty it was no one ever put their hand on his shoulder and told him life could offer so much more. I would sit there and think about how Facebook was just memorializing him at that point in his life, and not really anything about who he was as a person.
Every time someone died, I would do the same thing. Adoringly visit their internet profiles as if they were tombs in a graveyard. Rereading their posts as if they were unintended epitaphs to their life.
Is there a right way to handle death on the internet?
This is something society never had to think about before, but it can’t keep sitting untouched a topic. Is it invasive, to have the digital content and histories of the dead reserved? Is it public domain and there is nothing sacred? Even I don’t know how I feel about it, but the thought is constantly itching at my mind. I wonder, what is the last piece of content I will leave behind? It’s like a form of accountability. Before you post this or that, would it truly be a good impression to leave on the digital universe after you go away? Are you leaving an impact? Is it pretentious of me to be thinking so deeply about it, even?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I cannot wait to see the world touch on them as it grows harder and harder to ignore the fact that people die every single day and the content they produced in the past piles up.
The implications of the digital afterlife are strong when you really consider ownership and privacy of memorialized digital content.