"Rest in peace" may no longer be the appropriate and literal sentiment towards the deceased if Facebook and other technology companies have anything to say about it. The phrase "and live on in your digital afterlife" may have to be attached to it. While I doubt those will ever be the words spoken, it just may be more accurate for many. I'm not quite sure whether I think that's a good thing or a bad thing. I am positive that it's not for me to judge. And while I am also sure that everyone mourns differently, those differences have already begun to take a digital twist of sorts.
Facebook recently extended the afterlife of its users by giving them the ability to have someone else continue running their account after death. The company's announcement has added more fuel to the already burning debate about what should happen to your online presence when you die.
Previously, upon a user's death, Facebook had only allowed for the memorialization of his or her page. The account was locked and no one was allowed to log in. Now, the company has expanded the rights of its users by allowing them to decide whether they would like to appoint someone to manage their account after death. This person, known as a Legacy Contact, has the power to post on the person's page, respond to new friend requests, and can even update the profile picture and cover photo.
While Facebook may be the first major social media platform to allow users to transfer control of their account to another individual upon death, more services are in development to keep users active after death. LIVESON, which is in beta testing right now, is a service whose slogan is "when your heart stops beating, you'll keep tweeting." As you undoubtedly guessed, the company will keep your Twitter feed going by tweeting on your behalf after you're gone. By using artificial technology to analyze your original Twitter feed it is able to learn your style and syntax so it can effectively post as you. LIVESON does require users to nominate an executor to decide whether to keep their Twitter account live. Honestly, I don't get this one. Seems to be getting excessive.
The troubling aspect of both Facebook's policy and LIVESON is that they allow for someone else -- in one case a person, in the other a machine -- to assume the identity of another person, which could lead to confusion, disagreements and of course internet trolls. What happens if a Legacy Contact decides to post content that family members consider hurtful or offensive? This seems a likely possibility considering that prior to instituting this policy Facebook received complaints from relatives of the deceased for the memorialization of pages alone, as some family members did not want their loved one's profile still viewable after death.
Both policies have not only social, but also legal implications as well. Facebook's policy gives the Legacy Contact the power to delete the Facebook account. If for some reason there were a disagreement between a Facebook user's Legacy Contact and a legally-appointed executor, what would happen if the Legacy Contact were to delete the account before the executor obtained what was needed from it?
Today almost everyone, will inevitably leave a substantial digital impact. With countless photos, videos, tweets, posts, comments, eternal Facebook profiles and never-ending tweets, our online presence is sure to remain long after we are gone.
And with the continuing advancements in technology, one has to wonder, what's next? Our own personal avatar that looks exactly like us, sounds like us, and depicts our mannerisms perfectly? Actually, yes, and not only will he be able to emulate your personality, but he'll also be able to speak with your family and friends when you no longer can.
Eterni.me, which the site says will be launching soon, collects and processes the digital material that you create throughout your lifetime (videos, photos, writing, etc.) and processes it using complex artificial intelligence algorithms. The company is then able to generate a virtual "you," or rather, an interactive avatar that mimics your personality -- or at least, the parts of your personality you displayed online. It seems fair to assume that many of us censor ourselves to maintain a particular image within the online community, meaning our avatar would mimic the censored version of us, and not necessarily our true selves.
With all of this focus on using technology to keep people around forever -- at least virtually -- are we hindering our own natural ability to move on? It's one thing to set up a page for mourning and remembrance, but it's another thing entirely to create an avatar to continually interact with. Is this a step too far? It seems to me that these interactions would be limited and superficial, much like the current social media interactions of the living.
Perhaps instead of trying to recreate some digital version of the people we loved, we should go the old-fashioned route and simply remember them, as we knew them, and more importantly, as we saw them. No matter how remarkable the computer generation is, there are certain special attributes a machine cannot emulate, that are best left to human recollection -- like the glint in your wife's eye when you proposed, or the sound of your father's car pulling into the driveway after work. These moments, sounds, and small yet significant details will bring back more than a memory, they will bring back a good feeling that no avatar can mimic.