Death and Tech

Artificial intelligence can tweet as if you were still here. And we've definitely developed the technology to create functioning holograms of the deceased, it's just the ethics of turning the proposition into a business...

Driving back from Glastonbury this year a friend of mine tragically died. I still have texts from hours before he passed, directing me to the exact tree he was sitting next to in the stone circle where he reunited me with my best mate I hadn't seen for a good 12 hours and conducted much elation in the Monday morning sunrise. The next day driving towards a service station, with two of my mates from school in the car, he crashed his car on an a road and died at the scene.

The event made me question everything. I split with my boyfriend, became plagued by the materialism and superficiality of the industry I worked in and generally wondered what the point was of anything. At the funeral we coined a phrase 'jeif' - a horrible mixture of joy at remembering a beautiful life lived, among a group that could only ever have celebrated it because they were united in grief. For me most exemplified when Chaka Khan's 'Ain't Nobody' played to a room full of his friends and family in the pub he frequented as a teenager, while they sang along and pointed to a huge picture of him on the wall.

Since then he lives on - in the relationships of old friends re-discovering each other assembled by their loss, to an actual charity that's been set up for the work he did getting clean water in Nicaragua where he went surfing. And so do his social networks - which really fascinate me. His Facebook wall is covered in personal messages from people experiencing their bereavements, most monologue-esque like what you'd say at a grave - except totally public, with people 'liking' stuff. There's tunes "I thought you might be into" anecdotes "the first time we..." and tender sentiments "I'm sat here working the night shift to make more of life, I know you'd understand. Sorry I didn't make your send off man, I dunno I just thought it wasn't for me..." It's alot.

Personally I find writing a diary can help make sense of experiencing extreme emotions, so understand looking to heal through words that document. I think we all definitely know how comments from other lone souls behind a computer supporting statements - from check out my new hat, to "faaack just fell off the cross trainer at the gym cos I wasn't wearing my contacts #cringinghell" - can comfort. It does make me wonder though if in 2013 something has to be public for it to be true. Are we constantly looking for validations of our feelings from others, that means we can't just experience something alone and let that be ok? Writing something down definitely makes you feel better, but when you publish it who are then serving? Your ego? Or are you bravely admitting something on a quest to empathise with others experiencing a similar change in brain chemicals hoping to find contentment. Another option could be that it feeds our insecurity, we look for acceptance from peers in joining them in experiences (you've just got to look at Twitter during x-factor if you're talking bandwagons). Or do we even truly consider Facebook wall posts and tweets as brash publication as it's so normalised in our society and we post without a toss for narcissism and perhaps I should just chill the fuck out?!

Whatever the answer is, social networks have taught us to focus on our individualistic self (what's on YOUR mind Facebook status ask). Facebook's integration of the 'view your profile as' button so you can easily check how you come across to a specimen of your choice fuels a dangerous but salacious human trait to look in the mirror and wonder what everyone else is thinking.

Amongst this I've wondered what the online etiquette should be in dealing with the death a friend, and feelings you can't express in 140 characters, and frankly that deserve a bit more respect. It's one thing considering how you should behave online as a mourner, but what about when we also eventually pop our own clogs? Is it worth considering the management of our social networks when - as Claudian said - death finally renders us all equals? is a Facebook app that uploads a video clip of your final message to be played on your profile in the event. Or rather just not let go? Artificial intelligence can tweet as if you were still here. And we've definitely developed the technology to create functioning holograms of the deceased, it's just the ethics of turning the proposition into a business...

This is where the lawlessness of new-media that I normally find so exciting can be detrimental. It can't keep up with technology so the government hasn't decided if people profiting by pretending to be a dead person on Twitter or re-creating someone out of light intensive lasers is illegal. Even fairly simple stuff like a parents right to access their dead child's email is in the grey; Gmail and Hotmail allow access with proof but Yahoo doesn't.

Google's latest venture Calico is trying to delay the inevitable for as long as poss, a 'moonshot' for the company that focuses on dramatically extending human life - headed up by biochemist Levison. It's press release is pretty ambiguous on specs, but obviously it's vat of data is ripe for aiding research into easing "the challenge of aging."

I never realised what a dirty word death was until I experienced it, if you're looking to avoid small-talk try dropping 'a close friend of mine died and to be honest I've been feeling a bit weird' - you'll soon be reading your book in peace. Our online footprint is going to be a huge part of our reputation when we're gone, Eric Schmidt's book 'The New Digital Age' even pontificates that parents will consider algorithms when naming their child, spelling names unusually to make sure they stick out in search results or going for common denominators to ensure privacy.

It'll be interesting if over-sharing is a phase or a whole new social adjustment. Perhaps something drastic will have to catalyst for us all to re-assess the longevity of our virtual trail, will an innocent selfie ever really stop us from getting a job? Are we gonna start googling people using virtual reality device's like Google glasses before we even approach or make friends with someone - adding a whole new shallowness that some will call efficiency to networking IRL? Mike skinner said "you can't Google the solutions to people's feelings" but that won't stop us trying.


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