(Week 5) Death and Social Media

Death and Social Media

(Article by Jacquie Cheng)

This article brings up some interesting questions about preserving the writings and social-media postings of a person after s/he has died.

The topic emphasizes how much we have become creatures of electronic media. Instead of writing letters (by hand) and mailing them to others, or writing in a physical journal, we have migrated to performing these tasks online.

The good thing about this migration is that more people are putting their ideas into words to be shared with others.

The not-so-good thing about this migration is that the writings have become more ephemeral.

Rather than a shoe-box of hand-written (or even typed!) letters to be gone through after the writer has moved on to different shores, what remains are bits and bytes residing on some corporate server.

Rather than a stack of journals filled with musings and doodles, the writer has left behind a blog, perhaps, or a website: again, these are housed somewhere in cyberspace.

And so some corporate third party has entered the picture.

A friend of mine died unexpectedly a couple of years ago. Shocked by that event, I quickly googled her name and found the website where she had published her wonderful and quirky cookbook. Not wanting it to disappear, I downloaded all the pages as HTML files to my own laptop.

We don’t want our friends to disappear so easily as entering a DEL command would do.

We gather at the homes of our deceased parents, grandparents, other family members, friends, and we walk in the rooms where they walked, we sit in the chairs they sat in, we look at the pictures on their walls, we EXIST in the places where they EXISTED.

It is hard to comprehend how this “co-existing” can be done, or be as effective, when the space we’re “co-existing” in is hyperspace.

In the past, the writer’s family and friends would most likely have had the task of deciding what to do with the (physical) letters and journals.

For example, the first volume of love letters exchanged between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz has recently been published as a book — My Faraway One, edited by Sarah Greenough. This 700+ page book includes letters they sent each other between 1915 and 1933. (See Stieglitz and O’Keeffe: Their Love and Life in Letters.)

Now, I’ve got mixed feelings about my own love letters being published and read by the general public, but the point is that at least the O’Keeffe/Stieglitz letters survived beyond their writer’s deaths so the option to publish exists.

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