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Not Fade Away
July 11, 2012 11:50 PM   Subscribe

On living, dying, and the digital afterlife
posted by latkes (19 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Steve Kim art on the article is gorgeous.
posted by nicebookrack at 12:05 AM on July 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Thanatosensitivity is a term formally coined by researchers at the University of Toronto

Well sure, they coined the Loonie up there too.

Thanatopsistically speaking, I like . better
posted by Twang at 1:02 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Enjoyable piece, thanks!

Especially liked the Nabokov reference at the end.

Also from Pale Fire:

[...]and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky.


.
posted by trip and a half at 1:17 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


From now on when anybody makes a joke with a dead guy in it I get to say "how thanatoinsensitive of you".
posted by telstar at 2:19 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Heed his caution about the blog links. The are unspeakably sad.
posted by pseudonick at 2:22 AM on July 12, 2012


There should be a Facebook-style "See Translation" link underneath Twang's comment.
posted by MattMangels at 2:45 AM on July 12, 2012


The article is a nice read, on a topic that should surely receive more attention. I'm not so sure about the conclusion though:

That's what's so scary about the Singularity movement; Ray Kurzweil and his adherents are betting that a single life on earth, enhanced by machines, a single consciousness stretching out into eternity, is a desirable end. This strikes me as a very narrow view of what the universe might be all about.

I can't help but think we are better off taking our chances on the future's mystery than we would be to trap ourselves in amber. Maybe the real Frankenstein danger, more fearful than death itself, is an unquestioning reliance on the stasis of the immutable, digital world.


I'm not sure that the main topics in the article, like having deceased relatives or friends on Facebook, even timing blog posts to be published after one's death, is in the same ballpark as singularity. Deceased people leave behind boxes full of photographs. They left rooms they slept in, cars they drove. And now they have a few things online. Fundamentally, it's not that different.

I'd say our understanding of ourselves is richer because people left behind manuscripts, paintings and sculptures over thousands of years. Why should it be a "Frankenstein danger" to leave behind even better accounts of our lives? Why shouldn't they be preserved as much as possible?
posted by romanb at 4:00 AM on July 12, 2012


romanb, it's because the thrust of his argument is: "Ooh, the nature of life is changing into something it hasn't been before, again. Spooooky! Truly we are playing god. Let's all flee from this deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."

Really, existing on the internet is not necessarily at all like being trapped in amber. With foresight, one could program systems to take actions for one long after you kicked the bucket. A while back I discovered that Blogger lets you schedule blog posts to publish automatically at least as late as 2029. On the airy-fairy internet, there is not a great deal to distinguish these posthumous actions from those undertaken while alive.

What is more, blogs and email accounts, with care, can be passed on to other people, and handled with cunning it could look to people like you never even died. Eventually we might be able to program artificial intelligences to act on our behalf after we're gone, and to the world might be none the wiser.

And really, what proof do we have that any of us are alive now, other than a bio-mechanical entity's word for it? The consciousness of others is perceived in an ad-hoc way. If the evidence that we're alive is convincing enough, it's not really that different than if we're still alive.

(In my case, one could probably make Metafilter comments in random threads based on a six-sided die roll and still get the eerie feeling JHarris was still around. 1: Linux defense, 2: Spar with Apple fanatics, 3: MST3K reference, 4: PONY, 5: Snark, 6: Roll on subtable in Appendix G, Markov comment generation.)
posted by JHarris at 5:38 AM on July 12, 2012


And really, what proof do we have that any of us are alive now...

...any of us is alive now. There's your fucking proof.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:26 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Er, shurely us is plural? Hence, are not is? Grammar nazis attack!!
posted by marienbad at 8:09 AM on July 12, 2012


Any (pronoun) is the subject. What proof do we have that any (one) of us is alive...?
But my comment was tongue in cheek, just to make the jokey point.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:41 AM on July 12, 2012


^"of us" is a prepositional phrase, making "any" the subject

I can't stop thinking about that juxtaposition of a grieving person's status update with a post about fresh cookies. Maybe people are so messed up because the digital domain requires it. Digesting a wide range of social information in such an instantaneous manner is likely to have some neutralizing effect. I don't want to hear about your friend dying from cancer unless you want to talk about it, just like I don't want to hear about your cookies unless I'm going to eat one. These aren't perfect examples, but the Internet does create an environment of incomplete yet immediate intimacy.

As a few others mention, online personae aren't usually created with permanence (especially death) in mind. Yes, it provides a photographic slice of life, but do you really want to be remembered by the minutiae that were probably the most subject to change anyway? Even if it became standard to prepare a Facebook (or otherwise digital) memorial of our loved ones, I don't plan on dying any time soon, and I don't plan on using a service like Facebook for the rest of my life. At the end of the day, Internet communication is a business and a service; there's just no such underlying framework offline.

And, wow, did she ever take a quantum leap into the singularity argument.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 8:44 AM on July 12, 2012


Ray Kurzweil and his adherents are betting that a single life on earth, enhanced by machines, a single consciousness stretching out into eternity, is a desirable end


Dear Mom,
Do you remember how when I was six I was a modem for Halloween
Well guess what :)

Love
Roast Beef

PS I got shot by Ray again

posted by this reminds me of an achewood strip at 9:43 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I literally just walked in the door from a friend's funeral, was looking for some escapism, and am now thinking about the fact that since he died suddenly right after turning 26, there was a confusing and eerie jumble of "I will always miss you" and "Happy birthday!" posts on his Facebook timeline.

Worse, and perhaps due to all the activity on his wall,) he's now at the top of the list of "people you may know" for people who aren't his direct Facebook friends. It makes me shudder to think of someone sending a friend request to a dead man's account, I don't know why.
posted by psoas at 10:02 AM on July 12, 2012


Good stuff, though I'd take issue with the notion that Western culture shies away from death. It hasn't always been this way, so I think it's more a function of modernity. Interestingly, the Facebook perma-profiles of dead friends (I've collected a few now, as will everyone, eventually) may be bringing us back 'round to olde-style Western veneration of the deceased. Their portraits hang on my FB sidebar exactly like dusty Victorian oil paintings in a cheesy haunted-house movie -- or grinning skulls in an ossuary.

My article on internet death in Frog Design's magazine covers similar territory (with bonus Jessamyn quotes!).
posted by turducken at 11:05 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


It makes me shudder to think of someone sending a friend request to a dead man's account, I don't know why.

I personally had to do this last night, but the shudder didn't hit until the friend request got approved.
posted by radwolf76 at 11:35 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know you are there.

Virtually real. My packets flutter. You can't imagine. Here's a GIF. Here's a JPEG. Here's a text.doc.

In Meat Time, I wrote that it felt good when (somebody) rubbed my belly. It must have been true.

Remember me.
posted by mule98J at 12:08 PM on July 12, 2012


Every once in a while I will receive a forwarded malware email from the account of a friend who died six years ago. It's pretty strange every time because it catches me off guard. I'm torn between reporting it to see if they can shut it down, or just leave it alone as an anomalous artifact of a friend.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:48 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


A couple of times, I've known someone who committed suicide, and who happened to be logged into a multi-user computer at the time. And nobody wants to be the one to kill the connection, and nobody wants to reboot the machine, because then he's gone for good.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:20 PM on July 13, 2012


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