Estate sales. Selling off someone’s shit when they die. Strictly physical things: cameras, chairs, chandeliers, cars. Maybe a china plate set or two. Leaving behind material objects as your soul rises up to heaven (or sinks down to hell, or just floats around aimlessly in purgatory, like a balloon in a suburb that’s only partially inflated, hanging lazily at a low height until a semi-truck drives hits it.); you know, the ancient Egyptians, unlike today’s West, liked to keep their possessions, sealing their bodies in tombs with all of their gold and shit, thinking it would go with them to the afterlife. Sometimes, they’d even throw in cats or even live servants.
Only to be cracked open thousands of years later by a wealthy British adventurer. A Richard Branson but with guns, steamships, and Her Majesty’s blessing.
But a question arises in post-internet discourse. Recently I cracked open a digital tomb, or I guess more accurately, a digital estate: a Facebook profile of a guy that went to my high school, who died trying to rob a marijuana dispensary’s delivery van. The driver pulled out his sidearm and shot him. The profile, at the time of his death, was full of posts from both friends and “friends”, posting the typical “omg RIP, we miss you so much”, you know, fake shit you say to appear sensitive and caring, because it’s the right thing to do. But sensitivity is extinct in 2013.
What happens to your social media pages after you die? A friend of mine pointed me to an interesting article, which reported that over 30 million Facebook accounts belong to deceased individuals.
Identity online, manifested via:
your Facebook profile, your Instagram, that Google+ account that you never really use, that FetLife or CollarMe account that you only check in your browser’s private mode when nobody is looking, and all your different email accounts. Maybe that Tinder app too, the one you check even though you’re kinda dating someone. All of these digital/cyber entities that you construct yourself in, or, as Sherry Turkle puts it in Life On The Screen (a book from the 90’s that pretty much predicted, quite accurately, how the Internet affects us today) what you project your ideal self as, using these websites as tools taking up space in the form of bytes and pieces of HTML or Java code. There is you as your body, and then you online. Only one of them dies. The other one just floats around aimlessly, waiting for people and things to kick it around, just like that purgatory balloon.
If nobody knows your passwords except you, then does it go with you? Sealed forever, just like an ancient Egyptian tomb, waiting to be plundered thousands of years later? That one guy never predicted his death, he never told his girl, you know, something like “Hey so I’m gonna get shot tomorrow so here’s my password to my Facebook if I die.”
There’s probably some kind of procedure in place for these types of things. Maybe if I asked some people at Facebook what they do with dead people’s profiles, I’d get a solid, rational answer.
Or maybe they just keep floating around in cyberspace.