Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Digital Ghosts

An old school friend of mine recently died. I hadn’t spoken to him in approximately a decade. The only reason I’m aware of his death is Facebook. As has become customary, my former class mates and I have vacuously honoured our past acquaintance by becoming friends online, while in the real world crossing the street at the first sniff of an awkward encounter. We occasionally ‘Like’ someone’s status or photograph when they get a job/get a baby/get fat, and exchange asinine comments about bygone halcyon days whenever an old class photo surfaces. So it was only when these shades of the past began leaving their condolences on this old friend’s page that I realised something had happened.

There is a small but growing number of Facebook profiles on my friends list now that belong to the deceased. They have been maintained as digital memorials, a more convenient alternative to tending a grave. Once a year erstwhile familiars unearth their blanching memories, like estranged relatives at an obligatory family reunion, to type a few words of remembrance. Some profiles are even created posthumously as a contemporary take on the inevitable idealisation of loved ones when they’re gone.

There is often anger or chagrin when a deceased celebrity is employed from beyond the grave in the name of advertising; Marilyn Monroe expressing fondness for a perfume she could never have worn; Gene Kelly unable to contain his hither-to unknown break-dancing passion at the sight of a car he could never have driven; various genocidal dictators being wheeled out to testify their love of Nandos chicken. I may not be famous, but need I still worry how I will be represented once I am dead?

A statistic recently revealed that 11% of Britons have included their various online passwords in their will, the ultimate tick of the ‘remember my log-in’ box, so that, amongst other priorities, their Facebook/Twitter/secret fetish dating site profiles can be dealt with accordingly when they die. We used to worry about our souls being consigned to infinite damnation. Now we worry there will be no wi-fi connection in the void.

The last time I left my Facebook open within a 5 mile radius of any friends I returned to find I had become a fan of Ballbusters Gay Porn and had left comments to half my female acquaintances offering them a thorough spit-roast. What would happen if they had my log-in details once death had rendered me defenceless? The thought of being mercilessly ‘fraped’ for the remainder of eternity concerns me more than it should. Most people will respect a gravestone. Far fewer respect a social media profile. 

Many years ago I came across the MySpace page of a teenage girl who had committed suicide. Years later random men still visited her page to express their anger at never having had the chance to fuck her, no doubt spurred on by how much longer it was taking them to knock one out over her pictures. The profiles of other suicides become a breeding ground for religious propaganda, insincere declarations of remorse, finger-pointing depression awareness campaigns. The cacophony of voices drowns out the person at the heart of it all.

One day soon I expect Facebook to cater funerals. An event invite will appear on your homepage, the ceremony and wake taking place over chat. A sarcastic commentary can run alongside on Twitter with the hashtag, in my own case, #DeadDave. Those people I used to know can pay their condolences with memes of sad-looking cats in bowties. Then for the rest of time I will be immortalised by my pictures of drunkenly humping a tree and old status updates of smart arse pretentious banter until my inexorably lengthening Timeline stretches too far into empty space for there to be anyone else left to remember. Meanwhile, my physical body can be fly-tipped down the verge of the M27 and devoured by voracious badgers.

I’ve come to hope that I will be forewarned of my death in some way. Just to give me time to delete every last kilobyte of my online presence so that I will require no plot in the ever-expanding digital graveyard.

I knew this old friend for 11 years. I consoled him the best a 9-year old could when his parents got divorced. I bought what was very likely a stolen copy of Mortal Kombat from him. Years later he pretended to mug me in the street then laughed when I fell over with fright. These are my memories of him. I did not go to his funeral. I do not even know how he died. I visited his Facebook profile once to register my condolences. And now I have no reason to ever go back.

No comments:

Post a Comment