Where do you go when you die? I don’t think I’m quite qualified to answer that question; but here’s the more tech-oriented analog: What happens to your Facebook profile when you die? As I’ve joked recently, Facebook is Forever, and I don’t mean that glibly. I mean to say, quite literally, that your Facebook profile will outlive you.
The literal answer, for the curious, is that when you die, and Facebook is informed, they lock your account, remove it from public searches, and allow friends and family to continue posting to your wall. A sort of cyber-memorial in your honor, where people can leave you e-flowers and commiserate with each other over how much they miss you and how awesome you were, (or so you would hope). All the conversations you had when you were alive, they will still be there too, archived to be relived by anyone who might care to. Perhaps one day a friend will read a funny exchange and laugh. Perhaps they will forget themselves and post a reply, forgetting for a moment that you won’t respond.
I’m really not trying to be flippant or morbid in my tone. If it sounds a little strange and alienating, it’s because the future is a little strange and alienating.
The impending foreverness of the Internet is something we’re just becoming aware of. Presently it is tied to our concerns over privacy, but unlike our concerns with government spying, or our concerns with the reality that these companies have so much data about us, the foreverness of the Internet is something that is entirely in our court. I’ve said it before and I know it is very much against the common grain, but our relationship with privacy is facing a technological disruption not unlike those that have already disrupted markets and businesses models the world over, and like how bookstores had to “deal” with e-books, we have to “deal” with the fact that we’re constantly leaving data breadcrumbs and they never go away. We can try to hold the companies with this data responsible, but this is sort of like Borders holding consumers responsible for the demise of their business. It’s not technically untrue, but there’s definitely a lot of dishonesty in such an accusation.
In a few years, the first generation of kids who recorded all of their awkward social blunders on the Internet will be hitting the job market, and the foreverness of Facebook will become more apparent. To some extent there’s going to be some age group unfairly bushwhacked by foreverness, born at a time after everything about them was recorded but before it was apparent that people were actually going to be held personally responsible for the things they said and did online. I’m not actually suggesting that something stupid you said in high school is going to haunt you ten years later, but Internet culture is still clinging to anonymity and hasn’t quite accepted that no amount of cursing Google’s usage statistics will liberate them from personal responsibility either.
Foreverness cuts two ways. There’s an argument that foreverness could be unhealthy. Our own brains, after all, forget for a reason, (they really do). There’s a point, perhaps, where you should be free from your past. However, we also have the opportunity to never lose anything to antiquity ever again. We’re blind to it now, but imagine if we had the amount of knowledge about the 1500s that we are leaving behind about our own time? Well, in 500 years, your average person will have that much access to knowledge about the world of 500-years-before, (our time). Where will we go when we die? Into the future.