(Cheating) Death in the Digital Age

During the course of our class we talked about the ways in which Death was seen in the Digital Age, how people reacted to it, and how it was portrayed in novels. However, one subject that we never discussed in depth is the attempt to cheat death in this innovative digital age. It seems that now more than ever we have the technology , or at least think we do, to cheat our eventual fate and add a few more years to our timeline. This is an area that the Health Nucleus of San Diego thinks they can thrive in.

The Nucleus, in association with Human Longevity Inc. is offering a check up that promises to cheat premature death in the coming years. The check up consists of an initial eight hours of screening for diseases, followed up with a routine genome sequencing procedure and in-depth blood analysis. These tests are done in order to check for any chemicals or pre-existing conditions in the person’s genes. Through these processes, diseases that may cause health problems are easily found and treatment begins. The company’s founder, Dr. Craig Venter claims that they have an algorithm that can predict alzheimer’s disease twenty years early. More than five hundred people have signed up, but not everyone is  a believer of the program. Dr. Rita Redberg believes attesting healthy patients is not an ethical venture.She believes that this testing is taking advantage of people’s constant worries concerning death.

 

Human Longevity, Inc. This is the company behind this new health initiative.

I personally think that this venture is highly interesting, although I do not agree with its end goal. If this corporation truly has found a method to detect Alzheimer’s Disease early, then that is a HUGE medical development. This gives me hope that one day we may find cures for cancer and other terminal illnesses. On the other hand, I do not agree with the principle of people extending their lives on this planet any longer than is meant to be. I personally think that everything happens for a reason, but going out of your way to actively cheat death is playing  God , if you believe that he exists. What is the benefit of living longer? Death is a very scary thing to process, but it happens to everyone. We all have a certain expiration date, and we all end up in the same state. What is the point of delaying that process a few years? I’m not sure I would be willing to hand over exhorbitant $25,000 fee.

I do question the ulterior motives of the company, sharing the feelings that Dr. Redberg states. This program seems like a way to make money off of those who are obsessed with death, and will do anything to make sure they don’t die. I’m sure if you’re one of those people who is costly worrying about dying and someone offers you a scientific way to live longer, this choice is an easy one. I also believe that this program could take advantage of hypochondriacs. Once again, people who worry about death are most likely to buy into this program. I can imagine a scenario where someone is told that they will eventually have a death causing disease that has no cure. This person has just spent a fourth of one-hundred thousand dollars to be told that they will, and that there is no way to cure their disease. In some ways, this in-depth screening is not equal for all.

I do wonder what this check up will mean for the future of medicine and technology. The company has stated that they will attempt a lower cost exam during a trial run to see the results. Will this mean that these check up could eventually lead science towards finding a solution to previously deathly illnesses. Or will this development ensure that high quality health coverage is limited inly to those who can afford it? Only the future can tell.

 

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Source:

www.cbsnews.com/news/human-longevity-inc-slow-down-aging-cheat-death/

 

“What is Death in the Digital Age?” – a reflection

The blog posts were one of my favorite things that the class had to offer. I believe that having a medium to express ourselves through is highly conducive   to a better understanding of the material. I found that questions that came up in posts were either addressed in class discussion or in a simple conversation between the members of my table. I enjoyed skimming through the posts before class to see what others had to say. The benefit of these blogposts is that they allow us to see the mental diversity that we have in the class. We all have different interpretations of the reading, of a metaphor, or any symbolism present in the course materials, and the blogposts melted these together into a pot.

Looking back of my previous posts, I saw that asking questions were a very prominent part of my overall reading analysis. On a regular basis I ask myself questions after reading any piece so that I’m sure that I’ve gotten the best understanding possible. However, through my posts i saw this tendency manifests itself in every single post. There is no blog post where I did not ask question about the reading, or its implication in other situations.

I also saw that I often questioned the reading at hand, in explicit or implicit ways. You can look at Enter the Grief Moderators, Not the Grief Police to see my specific criticism of online grieving. In Tourism from the Perspective of a Developing-Country Native I challenged the viewpoint that all tourism is bad. These are just a few of the critical examples found in my blogposts. I see this trend as an active representation of how much this class challenged me to think for myself. I entered the class not knowing what to expect, and I feel like I came out of it truly knowing what Death in the Digital Age looks like.

I do not think the structure of my blog posts changed as time went on. The questions, the critiques, and some type of format remained the same. What did change, was the style that I chose to write in. When writing about Black Mirror, my writing style was more laid back and open as opposed to my somber posts concerning “A Head Full of Ghosts.” Whenever we were discussing real life events, I tended to be more serious and less hypothetical. If we were discussing fiction novels, or tv shows, I was less serious and more open to asking more risqué questions.

One final theme that I noticed among my posts was the presence of ethics. It began with me questioning the ethics of replicating someone’s life form so that they would still be alive, such as in Black Mirror. “What if Ash, while living, has heard of the program yet had asked Martha to not do it? How can we determine what the dead would like to have done? I see the ethical dilemma arise from the fact that someone may not wish to be “rebirthed”, yet a grieving family member may go against these wishes. Does a person still have rights to their identity and digital footprint after they have passed? ” These questions were asked in my first blog post. Ethics once again came up when discussing Facebook’s “Remembering” feature. Here I questioned the possibility of someone’s social media profiles being taken over, even if they have explicitly stated that they did not want that to happen. I personally highly value ethical behavior, and think about it context of the society that we live in. This class allowed for me to explore the concept in a new arena.

 

Are Humans Broken?

I thoroughly enjoyed Steven Jackson’s Rethinking Repair as it brought to light a non-conventional method of thinking that is not often discussed. As a millennial in our modern-day society I am constantly targeted with words such as “new”, “innovative”, “high-tech”, and “groundbreaking” at least a few times a day. These words bring to mind a Back To the Future 2  mindset, one that has flying skateboards and futuristic technology.  They never make me think of innovations as something done to “fix” an issue or existing problem.

 

An example of the ads we are exposed to.

 

Taking Jackson’s mindset into account, I would like to pose the question: are humans broken? Jackson believes that constant changing world “is a world of pain and possibility, creativity and destruction, innovation, and the worst excess of leftover habit and power” (pg 222). Are humans a part of this besides being physically involved. One of the newest innovations that has hit the market is the self-driving Tesla that we covered in class recently. It has been marketed as a huge advancement into the robot-controlled universe where humans don’t have to do as much. There are already car manufacturers that have an assembly line of machines doing the work that humans could be doing.

Machines are taking over human jobs.

It is possible that we could see similar developments occur in other service fields(dining, mail, garbage collection) with the passing of time and the expansion of technology. These thoughts bring to light one question:

If we are making machines do the work for us, does that mean that the human species are broken?

Even then, what would the definition of broken mean when relating to a human. Furthermore, if we assume that humans are broken, then wouldn’t the machines made by them be broken as well? Or would we eventually get to a point in society where we build these machines and they begin to build themselves better? These are questions that we should keep in mind when discussing broken world thinking. It seems intuitive that humans would not want to think of themselves as ultimately obsolete, but  it is a good way to begin pondering the direction that broken world thinking can us.

 

Tourism from the Perspective of a Developing-Country Native

Yankovska and Hannam opened my eyes in Dark and toxic tourism in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. I was unaware of the negative aspects that Chernobyl faced as a result of the touring that takes advantage of a horrible radioactive disaster. The few times that I have seen the city mentioned are in movies that seek to dehumanize the area, or emphasize the disasters it was witness to. Because of these reasons I agree with the points that the article makes about the inhumanity found in Chernobyl tourism. However, i’d like to push back on the belief that tourism is “an oppressive, passive, and ignorant system.” These are  the words that my classmate Christine Choi uses in her blog post.

She later goes into depth about her statements, but never fully discusses the fact that her generalization is dangerous. Tourism in Chernobyl is horrible, that is something that cannot be argued. When you go to another country to be “fascinated” by the troubles that these people go through, you may want to think twice about using the word “human” to describe yourself.  But, and this is where I differ from Christine’s blog post, not all tourism is bad. I get the feeling that a majority of people who read the article will be extremely biased against tourism, but they need to realize that this is a case specific example. Not all tourism seeks to monetize the real world pain and suffering of others.

I would like to speak personally from the point of view of someone who has seen tourism have positive benefits. I was born in Ecuador, which is still known as a developing country. One of Ecuador’s main sources of revenue is tourism, due to its appeal as an “exotic” getaway. The Galapagos Islands alone make up such a huge part of that tourism revenue, and they are not a result of a population’s pain. Since Ecuador became a hotspot for tourism, the infrastructure of the country has become a lot more developed. Streets that were not paved are now up to standards when compared to United States roads. Sectors of the country that before were considered uninhabitable are now buzzing with new businesses and buildings. Tourism works for the country of Ecuador.

The Galapagos Islands and their beauty drive tourists here every year.

I am not only speaking from my own perspective, but that of my ancestors too. When speaking with my grandparents, they often tell me stories about the country before my time. Poverty was rampant, and the country was not developed at all. Is it possible to go a category below developing country? If so, my grandparents claim that it would be classified as such. All of this changed when the country began to focus more on its image and the gain that it stood to make from the beautiful Galapagos Islands. Tourism came. The country took off.

A statistic that demonstrates how much tourism in Ecuador has skyrocketed.

Chrsitine believes that all tourism is bad and harmful, but she does not see the error in that huge generalization. Some tourism can be bad (Chernobyl) but it is not always so.I wish to state that I am implying replying to he post because I believe that other classmates may share her sentiments. I think it would be a tragedy to think of tourism as wholly negative when it has positively impacted other countries/regions. Ecuador is still a developing country, but as a native I hope that it will reach a better status. If and when it does, you can bet that tourism will be a major reason that it occurred.

Haunted Media Project: DeadBook

In my search for a Haunted Media Project idea I came across a dilemma. I wanted to create something that was surprising in itself, yet was not new to the audience viewing my work. This was hard to do, but I ultimately settled on making a faux social media account. In class we have discussed the various implications that death has on a deceased person’s internet profile, and I wanted to take that a step further. The discussion, both at my table and class wide, led me to believe that Facebook was the social media platform that encompassed the most amount of information regarding a person’s “online” profile. This profile curation stems from pages liked, to comments posted, and even the pictures that are shared. I ended up making a social media platform that attempted to recreate the most basic functions of Facebook, with a focus on death. DeadBook was the outcome.

In its most basic form, DeadBook is a social media site intended for those who have terminal illnesses or are going to die soon. This website focuses on making connections between social media users that are going through a rough patch in their lives, and do not have much time to spare. The name “DeadBook” is an altered version of the name Facebook. This was done on purpose to limit the amount of confusion that any random visitor to the page might experience upon initial interaction. If the website has the name “book” as part of the second half of its full name, it will most likely be somewhat related to Facebook. The “Dead” portion of the name was also done to avoid confusion. If anyone ever encounters a “book” of “dead” people, then it will most likely contain information about the deceased. Likewise, my product showcases those who are near life’s end. The tag line “Going to die soon? Don’t worry, we’re here for you” further develops the comparison between the actual social media site and my product. In my experience, the website that require one to input a mass amount of information make one feel like they are trustworthy and would not cause harm. My tagline exemplifies this recurring trope. The difference between Facebook and DeadBook manifests itself in the content that is shared among the community engaging in its forum.

Upon first visiting the website, one is greeted by the tagline and name of the website. The design is a cool white background composed of differently white colored squares. Explanation for the design choice will be discussed later. The homepage consists of a few announcements made by the company, and the rest is made up of social media profiles that have been created by users. The announcements are meant to further enhance the social media experience that the user is exposed to. Often I am met with new notification from Facebook that details new features, so I saw it appropriate to do the same with my own website. The most important part of the website can be found within the profiles that I created.

These profiles are meant to mock standard Facebook profiles, but in a much darker and somber way. The standard Facebook picture and current location aspect of the user profile is made a part of the DeadBook account, but the surprise factor comes in with the last two portions that make up said profile. The first is “story”, which can mean anything, but I wanted it to represent the person’s journey to their current path of death. Most Instagram or Facebook bios give a condensed version of what represents that profile. It seems appropriate that a death support group social media platform do the same. The second portion takes the taboo topic of death and expands it further by asking the person what their life expectancy is. In many social interactions where one has learned that a person is about to die the first question that may come to mind, but is not primarily asked, is “how long do you have left to live?” This question is considered taboo and inappropriate by some, but its inclusion in my product is one-hundred percent intentional. By destigmatizing this question we can make more users of DeadBook feel more comfortable. If every person who has a social profile is asked how long they have left to live, then no one will feel out of place. Death is common on DeadBook, there is no need to hide it or shun it in any manner. My website throws the taboos related to death out of the window and places it into a very public and easily accessible social sphere. Reflecting on our discussions and observations from the class material, we have seen that there are certain Facebook users that are not fans of the “Remembering” feature. In Megan Garber’s article Enter the Grief Police, we see a societal expression of discomfort with public grieving. She states that the tradition of grief is “in the popular imagination… a sadness to be experienced and carried and borne as silently and as stoically as possible”. DeadBook counteracts this trend by providing a community where those who feel marginalized due to their terminal illnesses will find comfort, and those who do not wish to be witnesses to public grieving can avoid it by not enrolling in the site. Garber’s concern that policing exists is itself non-existent within my product.

When mentioning grieving and my website, it is important to note the intersection between race and grieving. As a latino, I have been told that grieving must occur behind closed doors, as these emotions are not meant for the public sphere. In talking with other minorities about public grieving, I have seen the common trend that, among this community, grieving should occur internally. I wanted to display this dichotomy through the profiles that are featured on my website. Firstly, I wanted to make the profiles diverse in order to represent the fact that death affects people of all colors. When one is dead, it does not matter what race they were when they were alive. I also wanted diversity to make the website seem more inclusive. This inclusivity tells users that everyone is welcome regardless of race. Secondly, I wanted to shine a light on topic of race and grieving. When going through the profiles, users can see that this website has more white profiles than minorities. The minorities are there, but they do not make up the majority of the profiles. The difference is subtle, but if one visits the site multiple times this comparison becomes more evident. This was done to highlight the racial differences that are not often talked about when we discuss the different methods in which people grieve. In my experience, white people tend to be more public about their grief. This would mean that, socially speaking, one would more likely encounter a white profile than one belonging to a person of color. Hopefully, those going through DeadBook see the stark difference and ask “Why are there more white people?”

I would like to reference Sterne’s The Audible Past when explaining the importance of my product. Sterne focuses on the importance of sound recordings and iconography, but I believe that the heart of the argument rests within the ability to explore boundaries. Sterne states that the” unique transformation of the interior to facilitate the functioning of the exterior is one of the defining characteristics of sound recording’s so-called modernity. If the past is, in­ deed, audible, if sounds can haunt us, we are left to find their durability and their meaning in their exteriority” (pg 333). We know that profiles can haunt us, as we have seen with Facebook. However, we do not realize that the ability to revisit the past through sound paved the way for communities, like the one that DeadBook creates, to thrive. I transformed the interior design of a regular social media website in order to make an exterior comment about society’s views on death and terminal illnesses. DeadBook exemplifies the “intersection of cultural forces” that Sterne finds in audio recordings(pg332).

Connor Graham et al. discuss various aspects that are crucial to my product in Gravesites and websites: a comparison of memorialization I would like to start off by saying that DeadBook is not a gravesite completely. If anything, it is an in-between-the-grave site. Symbolism is brought up in this piece as a means to demonstrate the importance that the cross has to death (pg 47). While I do see the validity of the point that is being made, I can also recognize its flaws. The article holds symbolism of the cross as essential to sites that discuss death and the grave, however, DeadBook has no such imagery and achieves the same goal (pg 48). In fact, DeadBook has no imagery besides the use of stock photos that add richness to the content. As a Christian I can see the influences that crosses may have on gravesites, but as the founder of DeadBook I see that it is unnecessary to elicit certain moods/reactions.

The stock photos are purposefully perfect. If one takes a closer look at the pictures, the people in them appear to be content and flawless. These are not descriptions that one would use when describing those who are on/near their deathbed. The photos are meant to represent the standard of beauty that is “required” of social media sites. I say “required” because there is no explicit requirement that one be attractive, but users will always use their best looking picture for a profile. Deadbook wishes to comment on the notion of beauty perpetuated by these platforms in a way that highlights how important physical appearance, or supposed physical appearance,  is. The website is meant to be a support group for those that are dying, why would people feel the need to post good-looking, or presumably old pictures? Because society has deemed this practice as necessary. In order to get attention on your profile you must be attractive/healthy looking or feign the appearance of it. The last thing dying people need to worry about is their physical appearance on a social media website, but Deadbooks shows that this is not the case.

The rest of the features that are seen on the website are done in order to give it validity as a “social media” platform. On Facebook one can change their relationship status and plan events to get together, and these features bring a sense of community to the website. The events and DeadBook dating are included to add depth to both the support system of DeadBook and its validity as a website. I can imagine situations where a romantic encounter was about to unfold, but one of the involved parties holds back because the other is near death. With the dating feature, those who are already looking for a community to accept them can have the opportunity of seeking romantic companionship despite their current health status that might otherwise hold them back. The events feature adds to the shared community feeling that is focused on death, which DeadBook holds as its primary goal.

The Terms and Conditions page was added partially because every legitimate website has a section dedicated to it. The difference between the Terms and Conditions on DeadBook and any other site is that my page displays this aspect publicly. Most social media sites tend to hide the Terms and Condition, or make it hard for an average user to find it. DeadBook does not wish to do that because the page does not have anything to hide. The social media sites that engage in this practice often do so because they are profiting off of the user, through information selling or other implicit actions. The hidden agreement allows these websites to engage in said behaviors without legal repercussions. My website wants the users to know that it will be that trustworthy platform they can access during their time of need. A deathly ill person does not need to be further stressed out that a company could use their information maliciously. My project does not seek to profit off  of the profiles, unlike a Facebook, Twitter, etc. The page as whole, when compared to other social media platforms, makes a statement when part of a dichotomy that analyses similar mediums.

In terms of design, I wanted to create a website that had a calming effect on those who saw it. Clearly, those who are on the brink of death, or know their estimated expiration date are in dire need of some calm in their life. The white triangular background achieves the calming effect that I am aiming for, while adding some complexity to the overall design. I studied the effect of colors in a high school class, and the color white connotes peace and tranquility. I decided against simply white background because I felt like that would be too boring, and would cause the site to look unprofessional. In my encounter with social media platform, I have seen the design pattern emulating an advanced yet simplistic look. The background that I chose says “Hey, we’re here to make you feel at home with our calming yet cool-looking design. Please join us.”

As someone who likes to play devil’s advocate, I see the merit in entertaining opposing viewpoints. I envision critics of DeadBook stating their beliefs that the website will never create the supporting community that it so desperately desires. However, when discussing matters of online communities, I like to refer to Chang-Won Park’s book Emotion, Identity and Death: Morality Across Principles. Throughout Park’s research he has seen the ability of audiences, exposed to death, present itself as “transient, forming loose, short-lived networks around a particular event” (pg 53). However, “in some cases new connections created online can develop into ‘enduring communities’”(pg 53). Park’s extensive research into the field of Grieving and Remembering on the Internet give me hope for the overall product. I see DeadBook being a site where random people offer each other support from time to time without ever really connecting with each other. However, if there is a slim possibility that a “real community”, as described by Park, can be created then I would have succeeded in my goal.

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Sources:

Davies, Douglas J., and Chang-Won Park. Emotion, Identity and Death: Morality across Disciplines. Farnham: Ashgate, 2012. Print.

Garber, Megan. “Enter the Grief Police.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 20 Jan. 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

Graham, Connor. “Gravesites and Websites: A Comparison of Memorialization.” Visual Studies. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

Sterne, Jonathan Edward. The Audible Past: Modernity, Technology, and the Cultural History of Sound. N.p.: n.p., 1999. Print.

 

The social inequality in grief opportunities

While visiting Fusion’s series on the future of death, I was particularly intrigued by two articles. These articles, titled “We calculated the year dead people on Facebook would outnumber the living” and “If death becomes optional will only the rich get to live forever?”, brought to light a question regarding grief that had yet to cross my mind. In class we have discussed the multiple ways that people grieve on social media, yet we never touch the topic of those who do not have this luxury. How do poor people, or those without access to the internet, grieve? How are their options limited, and in what way?

In “We calculated the year dead people on Facebook would outnumber the living”  Kristen Brown discusses her attempts to estimate when the number of dead Facebook profiles would outnumber the ones of those living. In her attempts she was turned down often, until Hachem Sadikki  from the University of Massachusetts offered his services. The resulting estimate stated that around the year 2098,  the social media platform would be overpopulated with dead profiles.

Sadikki’s calculations on a graph.

The more I thought about Facebook being overpopulated with the profiles of the dead, the more my mind strayed to to thinking about those that do not have Facebook profiles, or even simple access to the internet. How would they grieve? These questions began to develop as I read “If death becomes optional will only the rich get to live forever?” which discusses the possibilities of age and death defying technology.  In this article Manu Saadia discusses the possibilities of this type of technology only being available to those who are extremely wealthy. I one hundred precent agree with this statement, as I do not believe that such groundbreaking technology would be made available for cheap. Both of these articles led to me reflecting on the exclusion of people that are not in the digital atmosphere, and therefore we do not discuss in our class.

How do people from developing countries grieve if there are no Facebook walls to posts on? How do indigenous people grieve if they have chosen to live their lives without any technological advancements? These are questions that we should also be asking. I can imagine that those who struggle to make ends meet in several countries around the world do not have much time to engage in any of the grieving actions that we have discussed in class. A farmer who heavily depends on his crop for sustenance and family support does not have the time/opportunities to grieve as we do. It is possible that they do have time to grieve, but I believe that they do not have nearly as many opportunities as those who have time to select the “Remembering” option on Facebook.

 

The dsitribution of Facebook users worldwide.

As stated before I do understand that our class focuses specifically on Death in the Digital Age, its in the class title! However, I think that discussing these questions in class give us a more worldly view of how grief is seen or performed. By comparing the grieving performances or feelings of different societies and cultures, we can achieve a deeper understanding of the norms that we see in our own  social media sphere. Inequality if often discussed in terms of race and class, but no one discusses the inequality to express feelings or perform grief. It exists.

Enter the Grief Moderators, Not the Grief Police.

Megan Garber’s article “Enter the Grief Police” deals with a topic that I have mentioned in previous blog posts: the grief demonstrated online and more specifically on Facebook. She begins by presenting her belief that the Internet has allowed society to publicly display their feelings of grief once again. She cites 20th century culture as the beginning of a movement that encouraged grief to be kept to the personal self. Now, with Social Media features, such as Facebook’s “Remembering” preservation of a profile, we can express these emotions freely once again. However, Garber believes that this transition to previously held values is causing discomfort, and this discomfort is leading to push back against these expressions. While I do share Garber’s sentiment that there has been push back against this public display of grief, I would hesitate to call the movement a “Grief Police.”

I would like to start off by saying that my formerly stated belief is not rooted in history that dates back to the 20th century, but rather in my experiences as a social media user. I was not aware that it was possible to keep a person’s social media profile alive past their expiration date until a year ago when I saw a mass amount of comments being posted on a friends wall. That friend had been shot in a drive-by near the projects in Charlotte, NC and many of her friends could be seen sending supportive messages. I was not close to this friend, so I did not post anything but was still saddened by the news. However, I did see other people ,in my exact position, writing long-winded posts that described their love for the deceased person. That is not okay, and it is annoying. These are the generally held beliefs of those who push back against public grieving. I am sure that , had the dead person been witness to these posts, they would have reacted with  “I’m sorry, who are you?” I believe that any human is free to grieve in their own way, be it private or public. But, when grieving becomes a false action that people engage in simply to go with the norm or fit in with everyone else, it devalues the action as a whole.

The Facebook profile of the friend who was shot in Charlotte, NC. Users are still posting on her wall.

Since my initial experience with public grievances, I have encountered many fake and real forms of online grieving. It is sometimes hard to identity the differences between the two, unless one is familiar with the deceased person. I have also encountered the people who share my sentiment, yet go out of their way to express it. These people are often very outspoken, such as Camilla Long was when she called out the fake grievers of David Bowie’s death . She specifically called out people who were sharing their “broken up” emotions over the death of an iconic artist, wanting them to articulate their feelings more efficiently or to create constructive discourse. I agree with her. People who do not know him or have met him are feeling emotional about his death. Can you imagine how the family feels? Can you imagine how those close to him, those who shared life with him, feel? I would pose this question to all those who engage in public grieving for the sake of social performance. Take a step back from the keyboard before you post that really long message describing how much you will miss someone who you did not well. This performance is annoying, it is overdone, and it is insulting for those who really wish to grieve online.

 

Posts describing their grief for the deceased patron that acknowledge the fact that many other comments have already been left on her profile. The massive amount of comments demonstrate how these actions are social performance.

I am in no way telling people not to grieve online, I believe it can be constructive and in some ways cathartic. I am simply saying that the faux “Omg I’m going to miss you so much xoxo” messages are unnecessary and should stop. Judging from the reading, Garber would consider me as part of the Grief Police, and this is where we disagree. I do not believe that the concept of a “Grief Police” is even real. Yes, there are individuals like Long who wish people would express their grief more privately, but these people usually keep to themselves. Long has sixty thousand followers on Twitter, and this gives her a stage on which she may express her views. The majority of this so called “Grief Police” does not.

In my experience, those who share my beliefs would think thrice before telling someone that they should not grieve publicly. We are all entitled to our opinions, and we have the freedom to post what we want. Is it annoying? Sure. But there is no massive group , at least not one that I have encountered , of social media users who try to dictate how grief is expressed. The use of the term “Grief Police” assumes that there is a group, and this group is consistently checking up on social media users to make sure that their feelings concerning  a death are internalized. This is not the case. We just find these posts annoying and would prefer to not see them. This can be easily done with the click of a few buttons, so why would there even be a need for a Grief Police? Those who care enough about these types of posts will do something to make sure they don’t see them, but they will not go out of their way to offend those grieving.

If anything, Grief Moderators would be a better term. This term does not assume that there is a group of people trying to control what everyone says, but rather what they  themselves see. They moderate their newsfeed to see, or avoid seeing posts concerning a death. These moderators are moderating their own experience, not that of others.

The Visual As the Future: A Comparison of Slenderman and Hush

Horror movies elicit certain types of moods, feelings, and reactions. Most often they deal with fear, insecurity, or the urge to bury your face into a pillow in order to avoid the gore that will inevitably ensue. While these are reactions are standard in horror, the method in which they are achieved differ greatly. Slenderman: Winter Edition ,the videogame, allows the player to navigate through a dark atmosphere in order to escape death. Hush, the movie, deals with a deaf woman having to fend for her life from a mysterious serial killer. Both of these media forms create horror in their respective ways, but once we analyze them together we see that sight is the most efficient manner of sending this message through media.

The version of Slenderman that we are looking at places us in the middle of what seems to be a deserted farm. Initially you see shapes in the distance that resembles houses and an abandoned car in front of you. As you progress through the open field laid before you the surroundings areas become more clear as you near them, but the areas that you are leaving become cloudy. It soon becomes apparent that there is no clear sense of visual clarity in this snow filled map. The player gets lost in a myriad of trees on the outskirts of the map, while the buildings that can be entered have no internal lighting.

 

The first sight you are met with in the Slenderman game.

There were often times where I would find myself entering a new area only to find out that I had already previously been there. The sense of being lost and alone is major reason that the game elicits fear. Where do you go? Where do you turn to when you have no idea where you are? Who can help you? Eventually, after picking up an item, you begin being chased by the no faced monster called Slenderman. Not only can we not see our surroundings clearly, but we are quickly being chased after. The visual distortion that the player is subjected to is one half of what contributes to the horror in the game. The second half is the sound.

The soundtrack to Slenderman is rather eerie and ominous. At first, it seems like the game opts for a white music background. This quickly changes into the sound of a car motor running at a slow pace and then again pots and pans clanging together. The tempo of the music speeds up when the Slenderman is nearby, ultimately resulting in a strange fast beating noise. The combination of the dark atmosphere and the eerie sounds elicits the feelings of nervousness that we have previously discussed.

In Hush we are placed again into a forest of some sort, experiencing the world through a third person perspective. Maddie, the main character, is a deaf writer who happens to fall victim to a serial killer. At the beginning of the movie we see a seemingly happy sunny day in the woods. The atmosphere slowly develops into a darker, more somber mood, and it remains so until the film’s finale. From the beginning we can see that technology plays an important part in this movie, as iPhones, Macbooks, and Facetime are all clearly shown on the page. The main character does not notice that a masked serial killer has entered her house because she is deaf, but technology alerts her to this fact. The serial killer takes Maddie’s phone and sends her pictures of herself typing. This is the first sign of technology leading to the conflict at hand.

The clear view of the day before the storm in Hush.

 

The setting for the remainder of the movie.

As the story develops we see the lack of technology as a handicap for Maddie, who is desperately trying to survive. The serial killer has taken her phone, turned off her electricity which disables her Wi-Fi, and slashed the wheels on her car. Once again we are met with the feeling of being lost, but this time it is different. The main character is not being chased. She is trapped with nowhere to go. The serial killer at one point says “I can come in at any time I want. And I can get you at any time I want. But I’m not going to. Not until its time. When you wish you were dead, that’s when ill come inside.” A majority of the horror that occurs are related to the mind games that Maddie is forced to go through. She tries to escape the house multiple times only to get scared back in by the killer. The rest of the movie relies on quick camera changes, dramatic music, and Maddie’s mental deterioration for its fear inducing effects.

The first difference that comes to mind is the lack of technology in Slenderman: Winter Edition and the presence of it in Hush. In Slenderman the player can walk around with a flashlight and nothing else. In Hush the technology is in the hands of the killer, yet the main character has no access to it. I find it interesting that both of these media forms were able to utilize the lack of/access to technology in a fear-developing way. A flashlight may not be new age technology, but it is the only technology present in the Slenderman game.

 

The flashlight is the only technology you have in the game.

 

One of the many technology items found in the movie. This is the catalyst for the remainder of the film.

 

A further difference point, while speaking on the differences between the character the villain, is the presence of bloody female flesh in Hush and the lack of it in Slenderman. Barbara Creed in The Monstrous Feminine describes the female body as being exposed as “flesh” in different manners including blood (Creed 38). Maddie is repeatedly harmed and made to bleed, yet we see none of this in the videogame. We are not aware of the character’s gender and we see no carnage. We can also look towards Barry Keith Grant’s The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film in which he discusses the continual gender divide seen in movies of said genre. He specifically states “probably the most common image in horror movies, whatever the subgenre…is what Harvey Roy Greenberg, writing on King Kong(1993) calls the beast in the boudoir. Most often in such scenes, the monster is coded as male, the victim, female” (Grant 5). We again see this distinction made in Hush where the female victim, Maddie, is being attacked by the male monster, the serial killer. Slenderman has no such distinction.

 

The bloody female trope commonly found in Horror movies on display in Hush.

I believe that the control that one has in these horror adventures is the most underappreciated aspect in media, and my comparison of Slenderman and Hush confirmed it. In the game we are free to roam around and explore the area until reaching the outer limits. In a movie we do not have that accessibility. We are stuck in the progression of time and place that the director has laid out for us. We have no voice. This lack of control ultimately leads to a deeper and more intense horror experience. We, as the viewer, would like guide the main character to safety but are stuck waiting on what happens next. I had not realized that a sense of control heightened the fear factor of horror media until I experienced both Slenderman and Hush. Incidentally I watched the movie right after playing the game and found myself wanting to use an imaginary control to help Maddie escape the serial killer.

The most important takeaway from the comparison of these two works of horror is not evident until one has thought in depth about the experiences of those being portrayed. I put myself into the shoes of the someone who was playing Slenderman, and the character inside the game. I watched the movie from the usual bystander perspective, and then attempted to put myself into Maddie’s shoes. These experiences ultimately revealed to me that sight is the most influential and efficient form of creating fear in the postmodern horror genre. These observations originally stemmed from Maddie’s deafness and her reactions to the serial killer. If one watches the movie with the volume and subtitles off, as I did, the horror effects are still present without sound. If one closes their eyes and merely listens to the movie, the fear experienced is not as intense. Playing through the videogame with a blindfold on still elicited fear due to the eerie noises, but not as much as playing it with no sounds.

 

  • The above video game is called Sightless. This is more or less the experience that one gets when playing Slenderman with a blindfold.
  • The Netflix link to Hush can be found here. For the same viewing experience turn the subtitles off and the volume down.

This observation is important for two reasons. The first being that our society is one that has tried to accommodate people of all disabilities and handicapped status. We must ask ourselves, is there any way to make the future postmodern horror more inclusive to those that cannot see? Our technology is rapidly advancing and this might soon become a reality. The second reason deals with the future of the genre as a whole. If sight/perspective is the influential factor influencing fear in the horror works, why not focus on refining this technique? I believe that this could lead to a post postmodern horror that incorporates visual stimuli to new heights and pushes the boundary of the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

This new era would continue challenging Walter Benjamin’s beliefs as the current postmodern horror is doing. In his book Illuminations, Benjamin states “experience which is passed on from mouth to mouth is the source from which all storytellers have drawn” (Benjamin 84). This is no longer the case. In our current society experience is more commonly that which we see and not that which we share by word of mouth. There is a reason why movies are consistently being displayed in three dimensional form, and why virtual reality headsets are in high demand. The experience is dictated by sight, and sight the future of storytelling. If this aspect was not as important then new High Definition televisions would not be so heavily marketed, and the old standard TVs would still be in circulation.  I would encourage those that disagree to try the experience that was described when comparing Slenderman and Hush.

Overall, Hush and Slenderman were both able to create fear in their own respective ways. Whether it was the presence of the bloody female trope or eerie noises that were indiscernible, both media forms fit the postmodern horror genre. When compared, we see the role the visual stimulation plays in fear, and how its simple removal drastically affects the media’s impact on the viewer/player. This comparison also highlights the role that viewer/player control has on the mood created by the media. These observations would not have been achieved had the two differing media forms not been compared. Those who wish to dabble in this genre in the future would be wise to focus on these two aspects.


Sources:

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. Place of Publication Not Identified: Bodley Head, 2015. Print.

Creed, Barbara. The Monstrous-feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. London: Routledge, 2015. Print.

Grant, Keith B. The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film. Austin: U of Texas, 1996. Print.

Would Thomas Edison have had a Facebook profile?

Natalie Zarrelli’s article Dial-a-Ghost on Thomas Edison’s Least Successful Invention: the Spirit Phone  was informative, thought-provoking, and ultimately self-fulfilling. I had never been made aware, as I assume is the case with the rest of the general public, that Thomas Edison ventured into the spiritual nature of being. While I do understand that this is largely because of the failure that the device encountered, I would have assumed that this new approach towards reaching the undead would have been documented more often. This makes me wonder whether it was a societal norm that prevented Edison’s machine from being documented more thoroughly, as science was not seen among those fields that would take such matters highly, or give them importance.

The main question that came to mind when thinking about Edison’s failed technology was his displeasure at being ranked among those who believe in mind reading and the nature of dreams. It seems that Edison thought that he was too “high” for such grouping, but I believe this to be a great fault within the scientific community. All theories are the same, regardless of how one wishes to convey them. When theories become a reality, they are no longer theories but  actual proven facts. So, is Edison justified in saying that he did not want to be grouped among these people in a 1921 Literary’s Digest? Why does the scientific community completely disregard the “supernatural” when their own theories could also be categorized as “supernatural” because they have yet to be proven? Ultimately I believe that this dichotomy is what prevents our society from advancing further in our technological exploits. Why choose to not work with a certain group of people simply because you don’t disagree with their own “scientific” method? Openness to all ideas/ theories/ suggestions are what make for a more progressive venture into the unknown. Would Edison have made greater strides with his Spirit Phone had be chosen to be more open to the supernatural? Perhaps.

An issue of the Literary Digest from the year Edison was featured.

The last line in the article caught me by surprise. “While we don’t know if Edison was correct in his theory that our personalities inhabit physical ‘entities’, nor if he could hear them on his spirit phone, at least the inventor’s idea of using technology to speak beyond the grave lives on.” Not only does this idea live on, but it is an actual thing. I formerly referenced Facebook’s “Remembering” feature in a blog post. For those who are still unaware of the feature or are confused by what it does, it is meant to preserve a deceased person’s Facebook profile. Formerly, I viewed the feature as one creepy entity, as opposed to breaking it down. Taking Edison’s views of the personality that may still linger once deceased, I see the Facebook feature as being exactly that. Our physical form will be long gone, but the data that is stored on this social media will still be there. To Facebook we are not real people; we are a collection of data. Data from our searches, our likes, our favorite videos, and our shared posts. This data tells a story about us; effectively becoming the leftover personality that Edison believed in. Depending on technological advances within the next fifty years, we might be able to use this data to recreate life a la Black Mirror: Be Right Back.

Facebook records so much information about us through these data mining techniques.

 

Being a zombie, with and without actually being dead.

The beginning of Dead Set was interesting to say the least. At first I did not think that the disasters all over the U.K. would be tied to zombies until we see the car driver get attacked. I am not a fan of scary/horror movies or shows, so being scared at first was a natural reaction. However, what came after that wave of emotions really surprised me. As I began to see more and more people getting attacked by the undead I began to think back to Marjorie’s violent actions in A Head Full of Ghosts. Every time a zombie takes a bite out of a human I picture Marjorie biting into the priest.

Zombies biting into human flesh, akin to Marjorie’s actions.

Following this method of thinking I can see how Marjorie herself might be similar to the zombies on the show. They are both not in a fully conscious(assuming zombies are different people than their human counterparts) or autonomous state. Their actions are influenced by factors out of their reach, and they are not the same person that they were before. I like to believe that Marjorie ultimately did suffer from a mental illness, and that led to her actions. I think this connection brings up the more important issue of how we deal with those that have mental illnesses. In the show we see that the human’s first action is to freak out, which is understandable because they are being attacked. However, when Marjorie begins to act strangely, her parent’s first reaction is to freak out as well. Mental illnesses are  highly overlooked and misunderstood in our modern day society. I think the lack of understanding allows those affected to become a “zombie” in a sense by being marginalized.

I’d like to keep developing the idea of what it means to be a “zombie” by tying it into the name of the class. I think that Death in the Digital Age is best embodied through Facebook’s “Remembering” feature. For those who are not aware this is a feature that allows for people’s Facebook profiles to remain online after they have passed. When one visits the deceased person’s profile there is a sign that reads “Remembering _______” with the blank space filled in by their name. As I am looking through several of these pages on my own Facebook account I realize that this too is a way that one can become a “zombie”. The deceased are no longer on this earth, yet their presences is still felt. We can see where they have been, what they have liked, and even what they looked like. Yet, they are gone. This is similar to how zombies  in the show are no longer living, yet continue to be present.

Facebook’s “Remembering” Feature

To a certain extent we can say that these Facebook profiles haunt us. We as friends of the deceased may not have asked to see the “Remembering” feature, yet it still there. We may never come across it, or may consistently encounter it. Regardless, the page exists and will trigger mixed feelings. Technology has allowed for all of us to become zombies once we have passed. Whether or not some of us approve of that is a question that should be brought forth. Should we consent to this feature? Should friends of the deceased be notified that this is happening and be asked if they are ok with viewing it in their feed? These are questions that should be discussed.