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…

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4 Responses

  1. Bob Chapman says:

    “You read it here first.”

    Dear Fr. Scott,

    Could you please help me with something in my life? I’m having trouble finding the fine line between being cynical and living with reality.

    Is there a difference between the two?

    Thank you.

    Living with a sure and certain hope of the resurrection through Google and Facebook, I’m your obedient servant,
    Bob Chapman

  2. Scott Gunn says:

    Bob, I’m not sure I can help on that one — except to say that I feel your pain.

    If you want to let one thing overcome your cynicism from this post, let it be this: local funeral homes will no longer be able to charge hundreds of dollars for something that is now free. Poof!

    Now, if you want to return to cynicism, imagine that funeral homes will soon offer a “Facebook profile management option” for only $695.

    Guess I didn’t help after all. I’m back to feeling your pain.

  3. Bob Chapman says:

    Oh, did I mention I have second cousins in the business? (grin)

    http://maps.google.com/maps/place?oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&q=shepherd funeral home, st. louis&fb=1&gl=us&hq=shepherd funeral home,&hnear=st. louis&cid=1920186910611473771

  4. Jessica says:

    The comments are as good as the article Scott.

    So, my friend Julie died in January and, of course, her Facebook lives on. Not many people wrote on the wall. It was pretty quiet.

    But the thing that gives me the creeps is this: Facebook keeps asking me to “reconnect with Julie.”

    Why, Facebook? What do you know that I don’t?