Social media and afterlife

Social media and afterlife

This post is a response of sorts to what will happen to my online identity when I die? by Lizzie Kirkwood. It theorizes that one might attain a sort-of virtual-afterlife through one’s social media presence. I do not believe this is possible in the strong sense, this post will explain why.

Firstly, I would like to point out that the type of preservation granted by social-media is nothing. Social media is a form of memory preserved outside the human mind. Before it, we had mementos such as clothing and tools used by the deceased, afterwards, we made paintings and later photographs. These are all just forms of memory, though they contain nothing of the person as such. With all of these forms of memory, the likeness of a person is preserved. Inheriting an Axe from your great-great-grandfather, might indicate that he was a lumberjack. His likeness is preserved in the object.

Social media preserves a great extensive-likeness. Many aspects of life are preserved in great detail. The article lists and explains the ways social media does this quite well. It even goes into the ways people use technology to animate this likeness. From tweet-bots that analyse your messages and imitate them, to deepfake algorithms that can animate your face and speak with your voice.

What one should remember though is that these are still forms of preserving one’s likeness, not one’s life. This can be seen quite easily, after all, pictures, recordings and deepfakes can preserve one’s likeness while one is still alive. If these systems of preservation preserved one’s life, we would have stumbled upon cloning technology. The article hints at this concern as well when it discusses teleportation technology.

Lastly, I think one should remember that the likeness we present of social media is often not of the life we are living, but the life we want to live. Look at nearly any social media page, and your conclusion will be that the person behind it is happy. That they are living their best life, have lots of friends, care about their health, spirituality etc.

This too is nothing new, it is just exaggerated within social media. If you look at early portrait pictures, you will notice that people rarely ever smile in them. A photograph was meant to preserve one’s entire being, the image most wanted to portray was one of seriousness, not of happiness. We know that some authors boasted more about their accomplishments then might have been warranted. Even when we tell stories of the deceased, we are warned “not to speak ill of the dead”. All of these methods preserve a certain side of one’s being, the likeness of whom we want to be. They do not however preserve us as such. We will not attain consciousness within memory (be that in minds or otherwise) and as such, I think it cannot be said that there is an afterlife to be sought in social media, any more than there is afterlife in one’s story being told.