When we leave this earth, what traces do we leave behind?
I can pick up the Sunday paper – I had one delivered to my house – and can read the obituaries and learn a few bits about someone’s life. Something about their character, their accomplishments, and those they left behind. All of this composed in a predictable way by a family member or friend for the public to read and know. And it’s typically very impersonal.
Recently, there have been a couple of instances of the deceased leaving a much more intimate, and immediate, trail behind them. Facebook profiles still waiting for the next status update; blogs with entries that herald something more coming; profiles in social media that still present the person just as they were – or are – in the minds of those who don’t know.
Snapshot: “Barbara”, whose blog has a post just over a week prior to her death. No mention of any illness. The marquee on her blog: “afk, but not for long!” with a subtitle “got a second life?”. Links from her blog take you to her VodPod video collection. Another link takes you to her Facebook profile – her info page still alive with the last touches. It’s not until you see her Facebook wall that you see the trend in messages – “miss you”, “lonely without you”, and even “happy birthday, we miss you”. Even a link to her presence on the Fastcompany “influence project” list.
Traces of our networks, the trail of our travels, our relationships – moments in our lives captured, tagged, and connected like so many still frames on display, extending across a virtual bookcase. The absence of those who have passed is now felt by a much larger audience.
Last post dates become more distant, friend requests receive no answers, activity meters dwindle, but what happens to the information? It may make us ask, “What kind of trail do I want to leave?” And, “To whom might I give the rights to my digital identity?”
Check out this interesting article by Rebecca Rosen about the ‘permanence’ of Facebook.