post-mortem online identities
I lost a really wonderful friend this weekend. When I found out, I visited her Facebook page, which is an odd gesture that I imagine is fairly new to contemporary culture. I was compelled to learn about where she was, who she was with, and who she was before her life was over. I was heartbroken, and felt like maybe looking at her most recent web presence might allow me to access her in a way that I never will be able to now. Two days after I found out, and now that news has traveled, I’ve noticed conversations happening on her Facebook page. Some are directed at her. They are personal words of mourning made public. Others are conversations with other people, even arguments. People blaming each other for her death. I find it really difficult to process too. Are these words for her, or are they for the rest of the world?
I hate to use her passing as a way to think about the way social media influences the way we think and how we represent ourselves, but there are some things that I really feel like I need to get out. It might turn into rambling, but I can’t stop thinking about it, especially after reading Neruomancer and thinking about the way Nuromancer (the AI) replicated people after their death in a virtual reality. Facebook memorials and creating a virtual copy of a human is totally different, but they have an eery parallel. We no long have any way to experience the deceased presence, but somehow we try to add past records of their life, our interpretations of them, and our remorse to people that no longer speak for themselves.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this happen, and as it has become fairly common practice, I’m sure it won’t be the last. Is that how all our Facebook profiles will end? Is that what will be left once our bodies die? Will everyone’s page deteriorate into a broadcast of how much others cared about you, and wished you were still alive?
I have my memories of her, and I think that’s enough construction of her identity that I need. It’s hard for me to read about how others interpret her, especially on Facebook.
To me, it doesn’t seem genuine. It’s for an audience, not for her. Maybe it is. I don’t know. I knew this was going to end in rambling. It’s a really bizarre and complex and sad thing to think about, and I think this is about as far as I’m willing to consider it for a while.