In this extremely thoughtful piece, Preston de Guise considers the consequences of what happens to our digital selves after our physical deaths. This is no longer an academic question, as the technology platforms we use have increasingly become generational.
I recently reflected on this consideration upon the birth of my son. In this Medium post, I came at the question from the opposite perspective. What kind of responsibility do we have when using social networks and representing our children.
Both questions center around representation. In Preston’s case, it is literally about presenting again those that we have lost in digital form, and who should have the rights to do so. In my case, the question of representation comes for those who cannot do so on their own, but someday will have to live in a digital world possibly defined by the choices of others.
While the digital manifestations surviving death might be a new societal phenomenon, it is not completely without cultural precedent. Anthropologists have long separated the individual from personhood, ie the difference between a physical body and the social role it inhabits. Personhood surviving physical death is a well known phenomenon, albeit perhaps more visceral when it comes to a digital presence.
As Preston points out, we are very much in early days when it comes to dealing with death in the digital age. The best we can do is realize that there are no current best practices and try to at least make deliberate thoughtful choices.
Preston de Guise comments:
What happens, then, when we die? In this, we are not asking the question-eternal, whether there’s a spirit, etc., but what happens digitally to us, and even those around us, when we die?
Read more at: Death in the information age