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.
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.