Dear Social Networks...as I lay dying.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had the same telephone number. I inherited my first mobile number from my dad. It’s stored under my name on hundreds of different types of digital platforms. Sometimes it will have the associated title, ‘Bernie’ or ’Sweet cheeks’, 'Candidate or Anonymous User' and sometimes just, ‘weird guy from bar, don’t answer’. This saved number isn't actual digits familiar to anyone. Not like in the days when you had all of them memorized. It’s merely a pathway I’m inextricably linked to. To myself however, and I’m sure my phone company and dad, it’s a sequence of numbers I know like the back of my hand, allowing anyone instant access to my ear and my mind.
To cheapskates not willing to dish out that extra $2 for call identifier, it’s usually just the last three digits that associates them to the person. That’s 037, don’t answer.
Before the digital tsunami, I (we) had the same telephone number and address for 18 years. We didn’t move around a lot. It was ingrained in my memory and whenever I’m asked for a password number it would most likely be my old telephone number along with my favorite symbols in the same order, which are @$+, cause, you know, positive reinforcement.
You didn’t even had to have entered the email game that late to have had to settle for Johnsmith007 or 8 or 9. If you’re still old school you would have tried to create a word with the tele-numeric keys from the punch phone with your telephone number, like 010-DUMB-LAMB. For those who were born later than 1990, this will be a complete mystery and would most likely request you just MICOL them.
As the digital age descended, we opened more and more access accounts, demanding an endless amount of login names and passwords which, for the most part, are but one or two variations and more than not exact versions of these initial identity emblems, for convenience’s sake.
That’s right, if you are the studious type that perhaps even backs up their hard drives, you are most likely to have a password protected document containing all passwords being either Bigboom007 (as well as the password protected document) followed by @,$,+ in an ascending order depending on what the level of security they require. You know that one of these four combinations will eventually open the vault. You ARE Bigboom007 because you type it everywhere. You're not using your own name because in one small administrative community, you are your actual birth identity with a number that identifies you with monetary value and citizenship and Bigboom007 is rich with soul, witty and sassy and lives everywhere.
These presumed identities have served a much more useful purpose than any one of my actual formal identities which is supposedly the number God will have stored on his bar-code scanner during the rapture. My email address, my telephone number along with my twitter and Facebook identities are linked in a significantly more comprehensive and humane manner to my person. It’s an intimately captured record of who I am, where I’ve been, what I like, how I’ve felt and what I’ve looked like for a good part of my life. And it’s actually been reviewed and critically assessed by fellow collaborators who've had enormous input on formulating these identities.
My primary email account has 15Gigs of information. It’s over 16 000 communique strong, consisting of letters from Nigerian Royalty in desperate need of assistance (with an initial couple of replies I do confess), employment and rental contracts, loving and deplorable back-and -forths between siblings, letters to and from spiteful, rotten scoundrels, love letters to and from a number of former concubines and even insignificant yet priceless short little scribbles from voices out of the past asking, “what’s cooking good lookin'. In very simple terms, they are the actual tangible records and evidence of one’s social, emotional and administrative existence.
In the old days, after you were slid into the six foot shady parlor, the closest family member would ruefully rejoice that they could finally toss out your treasured collection of Western paperbacks and disassemble your cobweb ridden private gym. And they'd do it...to cope with the agony. Out of sight out of mind. These days however, you are securely immortalized in all your uncensored curious rants online. Bigboom007 will have an active analytics account for some time to come…if not, forever. Your "wipe browser history" bracelet is going to mean little to the person turning your private gym into a yoga room. I'm sure you've assigned a digital executor and set up legacy contacts for your social networks, so you can actually rest assured that your legacy will remain untarnished.
On the back of the toilet door in one of my old girlfriend’s home, they had a calendar. Her grandad was living out the remainder of his life with them and this, was his calendar. He was quite a tall man and the room wasn’t that big. He could easily study it, flip through it and add or remove entries from the comfort of his porcelain throne. I guess every year he would sit with it and copy all the birthdays and wedding anniversaries from the previous year’s calendar onto it. He was a sentimental guy and even if the person had died, their name would still appear on the calendar, but it would be highlighted in red. If the person died that same year, he would use whatever pen he had on him and draw a line through the name with the date of their passing next to it.
My girlfriend remarked that in the couple of years that he lived with them, the calendar consisted entirely of names highlighted in red. There was no one left.
I remember once seeing him cross out a bunch of names in his little address book as well. I didn’t ask, but I could only presume that these were numbers of friends and acquaintances who no longer expected a call on their birthdays. At that time he didn't have a cell phone yet. I don't know if he would have actually deleted the contact or just added a note to the contact that they have died. Abe (deceased) calling?.....
When I die I would abhor a dignified yet emotionally charged voice message from a my wife notifying the caller of my recent passing and informing them when the memorial would be. Hell no! I would like to have a message automatically activated which I dictated allowing me to inform the caller with just the right balance of wit and idiosyncratic idiocy informing these unfortunate souls unaware of my passing with an impression that doesn’t leave them feeling that perhaps, they actually really did not think I was a complete twerp. Dear Science, you need to make this a feature available on my caller plan yesterday.
Being the morbid voyeur that I am, I have found myself navigating to someone’s Facebook profile once an acquaintance mentions their passing. This notification is usually a short and sentimental little blurp lacking any of the sought after misery infused revelations most death accounts should carry. These public tributes are not unlike the ten cents per word messages of the obituary section in newspapers, only now, no-one has to pay, yet everyone still sees it and can comment on just how right they were. Update: “Dave, I’ll miss your laugh. You still had so much to give. You left way too soon brother. RIP”. Comment. “We’ll never forget him. You’ll live forever in our hearts Davey boy”, etc etc. along with people that ‘liked’ this. Thumbs up for Dave and his passing then.
One would imagine that Facebook would have an automatic function, once notified of a person’s passing, that creates one of those dumb “A year in memories” animations with his most like photos or at least have an administrator’s message notifying people who visit his page to see what ole’ Dave is up to lately, that he is not in fact up to anything. At this point there are some options for relatives to take charge and freeze the account, but it's much more a case of slipping into obscurity than celebrating Dave's love for frozen fish fingers.
So once you’ve navigated past all of the posts on the deceased's page from friends and relatives saying how much they miss him and in some cases actually landing some information on where and how he died, you still see Dave’s updates, his pictures, his snide remarks on Lady Gaga’s Superbowl performance and the meme he posted that let everyone know exactly the amount of fucks he gave about Milo Yiannopoulus’s political association.
If being buried in cemeteries were still common, it would almost be inconceivable that they won’t at least put a link to a Death Page, where people can navigate to some of your accounts and see who you were, and what type of loon you were on your tombstone. Perhaps something as simple as QR code. This off course depends on whether social media will wake up and face the truth of this inevitable biological human attribute in desperate need of allowing a proper Death Page to be brought into effect.
With more enlightened and green preferences being preferred when laid to rest, once you’ve been planted and developed into a tree, it would be even more inconceivable for the relatives and/or the company not to offer people visiting this “Forest of the Passed Park” the opportunity to see who’s remains have fertilized the tree, shedding the shade you and your morbidly enthusiastic companion are enjoying.
The other question remaining unresolved is how we are able to obtain their awesome domain name, their very easy to remember cell number or their email address, as they (in this case, he) might very well have been the original bearer of the Johnsmith@gmail.com account? If you are respectful enough to go find out “who that tree be” and scan his tree’s QR code, there should be a functionality to bid on these very valuable digital commodities.
At present, as a community of cyber personas, there are many reasons to come up with more creative, might I say dignified, ways to lay a person’s recorded existence to rest? Someone could write an algorithm to pic up all the positive phrases and facial features and edit a selection of these images, videos and social updates into a little story for visitors to the deceased's' profiles. It would not be insensitive to have a functionality where people are at least able to choose the song and background palette they would like to have accompanying this multi-media epitaph, before they're actually stricken from the social stream.
Would it be all too spooky to have an algorithm that further determines what your most liked type of updates, videos or articles were and to have the algorithm like similar posts after your passing and comment, “Dave would have like this”, say once a year?
The fact is, Dear Science, that I think it is high time that you face the music that even though you have now become an entity that would outlive every single one of those that contributed in building you into the ever present monstrosity you've become, that catering for the inevitable passing of real life users, is in fact not the deathly wallow of business practice, but simply a pruned branch in the tree of life.