“If you’re reading this I’m already dead.” It’s a familiar enough trope, but as we continue to live more of our lives online it’s also something we can expect to see more on our feeds. With apps like ifidie, Facebook users are able to post their final words/videos/memes/all of the above after they’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. With an estimated 8000 facebook users dying everyday, our digital spaces are increasingly turning in to digital graveyards. Most of us don’t have a will, let alone a funeral plan and quite frankly, what happens to our social media accounts when we die seems like the least of our problems. Especially, with the whole, being dead thing. However social media hasn’t just changed the way we perform identify, but also the way we grieve.
Photo c/o Camera Hannah
We need to talk more about death. And while green burials and death positivity have certainly garnered more traction in the past decade (thank you internet) there’s still this muddied waters tied up with digital estates, privacy and what happens to your online life after you die. And does it have value once you’re, y’know, dead?
Facebook seems to think so, or is at least the most prominent of the social networks to have any kind of death policy. While they won’t be giving full account access to your nearest and dearest (that pesky privacy thing again) you can set up legacy contacts on Facebook who can notify Facebook when you die and care take the account and turn in in to a memorial. Grief no longer is confined to a physical or indeed private space – instead publicly shared through images, stories and memories. It means our loved ones still have access to our photos, our updates, music we’ve shared in a way we couldn’t before. It’s no longer a shoe box of letters and old diaries telling our stories, but our digital lives that are lending us some sense of immortality.
Social media has allowed us to archive our lives across film,audio and images. While it may not exactly be the best way to get a true measure of a person (we’re here for the highlight reel after all) it allows us to pass on information cross-generationaly. In short,we no longer die with our loved ones memories – instead chronicling our lives in real time and creating our own memorials. Our digital estates democratise death. When before it was always the famous, rich and influential who were honoured and remembered with this much depth, now all you need is an internet connection and an active social (media) life.
It isn’t all just about creating a “legacy” though. Sites like My Wonder Life exist kind of like The Knot but for funerals. It’s a way to digitally plan your funeral (combine with My Last Soundtrack for the play list) and let’s you outline exactly what you want to happen after you die. This can be final messages, where things are, to, you guessed it, what you want done with your digital life.
We’re increasingly seeing the breach between death and technology close. Dr John Troyer from the Centre of Death and Society discusses the use of QR codes on headstones and how augmented reality can be brought to bring both physical and digital memorials together. The ritual of going grave site can be combined with technology to tell the stories of those remembered there ..And hopefully normalise and allow us to open up more about how we talk about death.
Okay, so I might not be in to QR codes or creating a digital version of myself to walk around a graveyard (it feels a little bit too Black Mirror) but I do know that I would like my digital life preserved in some way. I don’t want all my photos to disappear when I go. Or my terrible jokes. Or my writing. It might be a futile exercise in vanity and finding a way to compartmentalise my own mortality, but I quite like the idea of leaving something behind. Even if it’s this.
Feel like reading more about death? Don’t worry. I got you fam.
The Digital Beyond – The source of all things to doing with death, dying and digital. Covering everything from the legal to cultural implications of dying in a digital age, prepare to lose a good few hours here.
Fusion -Just a really excellent series from these guys on death touching on what happens to twitter bots after the creators die to when will the Facebook dead outnumber the living? (Answer: much sooner than you think.)
Order of The Good Death – My first stop for all things death related. Everything here is just pure gold.