Tuesday, March 21 (Week 10)
- Rob Walker, Cyberspace when You’re Dead from New York Times (2011)
- Alex Senemar, What Happens to Your Data when You Die? from Medium (2015)
- Ethan Chiel, What Happens to a Twitter Bot after Its Maker Dies? from Fusion (2016)
Who are you saving?
People present the best of themselves on social media. People who live online cultivate a specific brand or image around their name, but are almost nothing like their online profiles in real life. I’ve met people who had thousands of “likes” and followers on Facebook, but who were real doorknobs in real life (not to sound condescending). They were just stuck to their phones all day long, which makes sense.
So, who exactly are you saving when you apply to one of these digital wills for your online personality? Typically, a person will be saving the best image of themselves, which is fitting for a funeral. Of course, we want to remember the best things about our loved ones after they pass. These happy memories will live on and be accessible to view online, as long as the website is still operational. The best part is that you now have total control over how you’re remembered. This isn’t that different from people who plan their entire funerals to a T; complete with the song, speeches, and ceremony procedure all lined out.
Apparently, you can even modify how much of your online profile is revealed. Some digital wills give the applicant the ability to show, or hide, as much of their information as they feel comfortable. According to Rob Walker’s, “Cyberspace When You’re Dead,”:
“Given the degree to which the most popular online platforms involve promoting a quasi-public persona — the “you” who declares fandom of Bob Dylan and Flannery O’Connor, but not the “you” who binges on “Jersey Shore” reruns and TMZ.com — this instinct seems logical. If we try to control the way we are perceived in life, why not in death, too?”
The only risk that accompanies this procedure is that you’re losing the whole person. Why not give family complete access over these materials? They will find all of your belongings, secret letters and diaries, and any other physical materials you tried to hide some way or another. Why are people so eager to wipe out and cleanse their profiles by scrubbing it clean of any sort of dirt? Everyone has dirt somewhere, and it’s all already recorded online somewhere. I don’t understand why all of the online materials of a deceased person can’t be opened by a family with a simple application.
Anyways, the memorials that do survive aren’t exactly perfect. Walker states that online memorials are occasionally guilty of, “wiping out meaningful material and replacing it with ‘a thousand ‘sorry this happened’’ messages.”
Despite the amount of progress that has gone into developing these memorial programs, they are still emerging so there are some bumps along the way… like the time in 2016 when Facebook notified a ton of people that they were dead:
“For a brief period today, a message meant for memorialized profiles was briefly posted to other accounts. This was a terrible error that we now have fixed. We are very sorry that this happened and we worked as quickly as possible to fix it,” said a company spokesperson by email, (Roberts).
You can almost hear the users saying, “I’m not dead yet!”
Roberts, Jeff John. “Facebook Bug Tells Users They Are Dead.” Fortune.com. Fortune, 11 Nov. 2016. Web.
Walker, Rob. “Cyberspace When You’re Dead.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 Jan. 2011. Web.
I wanted to do the reflection post, but unfortunately my finals have stacked up and I knew I wouldn’t be able to deliver a decent post. I would love to talk to you about this class sometime, though! Thanks for an awesome semester!