The afterlife…in social media
Is there life after death? The Bible says so, and it is part of the Good News that Christians proclaim. Regardless of theological questions, there is certainly a kind of life after death in social media. Gizmodo offers “What Happens (Online) When We Die: Facebook”.
It’s strange to ponder. When we die, our online profiles linger. People will be able to write on our wall or look at photos. One of my Facebook friends died a few months ago. We’re still friends (at least, according to Facebook). It was sad, inspiring, and a bit strange to look at his wall after he died.
In this case, I think it was helpful. My friend committed suicide, and people were able to give voice to their sorrow, their anger, and their hope. Sure, they could have done this with without Facebook. But social media had a bit of therapeutic value this time, I think. It’s possible to look at his wall and notice that one’s feelings are shared by a wide community. People who never met each other could express their shared connection. Social media meets grief.
Gizmodo gives good advice, and as a priest, I couldn’t agree more. They suggest that you decide, in advance, how you want this to be handled. Discuss it with loved ones; make it part of your planning for death and for end of life issues. Maybe you’ll want to have your loved ones erase your profiles. Maybe you’ll want your profiles to continue unchanged. Or maybe you’ll want to take advantage of a feature in Facebook that switches your profile over to a special mode for the deceased. Some information is no longer available, but other information continues to live on in the online world.
There’s a potential upside to all this. At present, when people die, it’s almost necessary to purchase expensive obituaries in newspapers (at least out here in New England). Funeral homes make a killing (pun intended, for better or worse) on personalized this and that, including photo albums and video montages. With social media at work, the announcement of a death is instant and free. Friends can contribute memories, videos, and photos. This will be the latest frontier in the decline of big media, who get high profit margins from obits. Funeral homes won’t like this either, though they’ll try to find a way to profit. You read it here first.
The intersection of death and social media will, of course, become increasingly common. I encourage you to get past the squeamishness of conversation about death and sort out what you want. And, of course, I’d better follow my own advice. Time to write down all those passwords…