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Web immortality: Social networking sites that keep you alive in the digital world

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Do you want to survive in the digital world after you die in the real world? Jenny Kleeman meets with people planning to postpone their recent participation.

Laurence Darani dies. Two years ago, doctors told him that his pulmonary condition was incurable and he had been given only two years to live. But the day I met him, he felt perfectly comfortable, drinking tea, sitting on his chair in his bright living room in south London, his black cat in his lap. He is completely calm, because he will be immortal.

Like thousands of people, Darani developed plans to survive in the digital world after leaving the real world. He signed up for DeadSocial, a free online service that allows people to survive through their social media accounts. Users can upload an unlimited number of images, video, voice and text messages to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and DeadSocial after their death. They can schedule messages to be published at any time, up to 999 years in the future. With this kind of service, Darany can wish his grandchildren all the best in the beginning of the next millennium.

We meet shortly after the recording of the first video to be sent after his execution – his wife Lucy – told DeadSocial that he died. “While I was looking at the camera, I thought, my God, I’m not talking only to my children, I’m talking to my grandchildren, all our generations for years to come … there will always be, the cloud, there’s something comfortable about it.” , From the window, towards the Thames, where generations of his family were working on shipyards. “Through DeadSocial, you can make sure that the essence of your identity stays online.

The version of Darany’s Code is the carefully orchestrated and carefully orchestrated version of Him that He wants to give eternal life. In the flesh, he had an atmosphere of little study – his shirt collar unbroken, his sleeves wrapped, and there were scales on his cheeks for several days – but his bright white hair was rigorously pressed to sharp extremes.

He is a social worker and a former teacher who loves to read philosophy and was thinking about how his grandchildren would remember him before he was diagnosed, realizing that memories are as fleeting as objects and subject to distortions by those who do. .

“We all want to leave some legacy, so in the future someone will say, ‘That was the decent man,'” he says, “I saw who you thought you were, those celebrities were intrigued by their 100 relatives 150 years ago. All they had was a picture of the person – they could only guess what kind of characters they had. On a journey to discover something good in their grandparents and their mothers, in a kind of hope that they still have these genes, so I thought, with technology now, you can do it right for yourself. ”

Regardless of whether we have considered it or not, our presence on social media will build us up, either in carefully orchestrated portfolios or in uncertainties, such as the Twitter account Peaches Geldof. Our resources and memories are increasingly stored in the cloud, not in shoe boxes. This is the place where we left a thread in our personality that might someday be used to rebuild us, like the Black Mirror. Just as our profiles on social networks are an ideal reflection of ourselves while we are alive, some people want to sculpt the identity they will leave when they die.

DeadSocial is the latest in a range of services that meet the digital afterlife. Some, such as Legacy Locker, Cirrus Legacy, and Secure Safe store passwords for users and important files and release executors to the death of their owners. This is not the same delivery keys treasury: formally, can not inherit a lot of our digital ownership. Your iTunes music, for example, is yours only on the license and can not be transferred to anyone else. If you want to send your recordset to your children, you’ll be better off spending your money on vinyl.

The services that manage your relationships after his death are a bit more, well, creepy. LivesOn (slogan: “When your heart stops beating, you will still sing”) will keep your Twitter feed alive by analyzing your old tweets, learning your favorite syntax and themes, and using it to predict what you’re saying. You do not have to be dead to use: it was originally designed for people who were too busy writing their own tweets. I’ve been very impressed and you’re missing out at the moment – the tweets that have been billed by_ liveson are pretty cool – but their makers promise the service will improve.

Of course, you do not need to apply for digital afterlife: You can only ask someone you trust to carry out your online desires after you go. Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, Chicago Suntime and a Twitter pioneer, has been battling thyroid cancer for more than a decade when he asked his wife Chaz to become his digital real estate manager. More than 100,000 people were registered on his Facebook page at the time of his death on April 70, 2013, and he had more than 850,000 followers on Twitter. He wanted to make sure that those relations did not die with him.

“Roger has been a great communicator,” Chaz said. “After losing his physical voice, he kept his voice alive through the Internet … It was important to communicate with his readers because he was good at it – and that’s one of the reasons he’s been so popular for a long time.

A few weeks before his death, Ebert made his wife promise to boost his accounts on Facebook and Twitter to keep her active and updated frequently, and to make messages personal, although he knew she was a very ordinary person. She had no idea that the end was too close when she handed her to her own passwords. “In my opinion, it was not an expectation of death, but when I think, in his own country, maybe it was.”

Being the digital executor of her husband gave Chaz some consolation. “Maintaining this connection with Roger and the people he has worked with has helped the process of grief.” But she came with a sense of duty: she had initially planned to pass accounts to another writer after a few months on her head, but when it was time, she found she could not do it.

Roger used to sing like a teenager. In the short time when Twitter was there, he made Twitter about 32,000 times. I’m not good at keeping up. My heart is in it, I am engaged, I do not have time to respond to things as he did, and this bothers me, during the first year I was very sad, so I could not.

Getting a person instead of a piece of software to implement your digital desires is not as clear as it sounds. While Chase was given a special permission from Twitter to keep the Ebert account, it is technically against the Facebook and Twitter terms of service to allow someone else to control himself. Facebook would prefer that the deceased person’s file be transferred to a “memory” state: once notified of the death, Facebook will remove status updates and contact details from the page and stop asking friends to call the deceased or wish them a happy birthday.

Your legacy will continue only as long as your port is ready to keep it alive. What if I run out of things to say for you? What if 30 years have passed since your death, or have a new partner? For those who are serious about maintaining their digital immortality, it makes sense to use a dedicated service.

I do not expect Darany to tell me what is in the videos he filmed for DeadSocial, but it’s amazing. He says he approaches messages such as moral will, determining what has been affected and what stands for his wife and three children (ages 26, 19 and 16), and Darrens the future.

Darany is in these letters and is the man who ran three marathon races and has the medals to prove it, who launched a campaign to free Nelson Mandela and got his handshake, the first person in his family to obtain professional qualifications, quotes from the ancient philosophers and brilliant modern thinkers, who were commissioned at the time of The times are a professional artist who prints their own nobleman’s logo and keeps his hair carefully.

This is the man who is proud of Darany, a person who can be edited, updated and shoved from the comfort of his chair. He is not a real person. “There’s a risk you can inflate yourself,” he admits. “I have my weaknesses, but I went to great depths about who I am and what motivates me, what I need to improve.” Life is about being honest about yourself, and letting others be honest about you, too … I’m sure my wife will say that! ”

Lucy has just returned from work as a receptionist at the local GP. They married for eight years, the father’s wife to his three children. “I’m interested in knowing what is in the videos,” she smiles as she crosses her arms on the couch. “I did not really ask because I respected the fact that it is something destined for people after passing through, like financial will.”

Turn to Darani, gently. “Is there anything for me?”

“Of course, but it is not the same with your children, you want to influence them more and make them think more about things.”

Lawrence Darany: “When I looked at the camera, I thought, my God, I’m not talking only to my children, I’m talking to my grandchildren and all our generations for years to come.”

But why should they wait to die so they can hear those messages? “That’s a very good question,” he says. He seems to have thought more about leaving a digital legacy than what he might have been receiving. When his family registers for his hearing, it will always be a one-sided conversation. Will always be the last word.

“It is very rare for a family to find the right time to say these things.” “This gives you time to think about it, be thoughtful and interested in what you want to say, this is a way to clarify your values and pass them directly.”

His children are uncomfortable with his plans. “They know about videos, but when I try to prepare them for my death, they seem a little like they do not want to look at him,” Darani sighs. “I hope the videos are comfortable for them in the future, even if the idea is not comfortable now.”

“Do I do that?” Lucy says. “No, I do not see the need to advertise myself this way, for me, I’m focusing on the present, I want people to get to know me and see me while I’m in the neighborhood.” “I mention instead when I’m here.”

I met James Norris, founder and CEO of DeadSocial, on his board of directors in Camden, North London. It is a common workspace for designers and entrepreneurs on the Internet, with white brick walls and a ping pong table at the front desk. In his white shirt, with black buttons and a black collar, and dark hair, Norris looks younger than thirty. The board seems too big for us.

“Before that, we were trying to immortalize ourselves with a tombstone,” he says. “If we’re rich, we’ll get a bigger grave, if we’re really rich, a hospital wing or a football field, your tombstone may be eroded, or the hospital will fall and you will lose your wing, but you will not go anywhere, all digital content and archived information will exist.”

Norris will not tell me exactly how many people have signed up for DeadSocial, but says they have a lot of users since its launch in March 2013, and numbers are increasing every day, between the 20 and the months like Darani who know they’re nearing the end of their lives. Tell me they have released several messages from users who have died.

“There are two ways we have identified the people who use them: the first is as an end-of-life tool, they say goodbye in their own way, and the other way is more futuristic, where you live by default and instead of ending your friends when your life ends, you extend those friendships. Since you can not receive messages, it took time to think about how you want your friendship to continue.

I wonder, is not it self-defeating that you use a lot of time in your real life to create and schedule all the messages, pictures and updates you’ll need in the digital life’s next monologue?

“Now we spend a lot of our lives online, how much time you invest in your friendships, and your communities on Facebook, which – especially for Internet breeders – now known as Generation Z – are becoming more valuable.” Norris replied. “When we go beyond, our digital footprints become our digital heritage, a way to organize and own your digital content, and change it to the way you want to remember it.”

He had an idea of the service after seeing Bob Monkhaus in an announcement for the Center for Prostate Cancer Research, the first time four years after his death due to illness. It was designed using sound archives and audio commentary, but it was convincing enough to show that Monkhouse had his pictures alive when he was standing in a cemetery to motivate people to support the search that could have saved him. “The message was amplified tenfold because it appeared in the context of its presentation only after he died,” Norris says. “I thought, if you can pass some words of wisdom like that, in the field of celebrities, why can not we do this within our own social network?”

The letters are certainly more attractive when they come from the grave, be it in a message from a fallen soldier, or a note buried in a time capsule or in a scheduled Facebook message. It’s a force that can be abused: If you tend to, you can use a service like DeadSocial to stalk someone, harass him and torture him for years after his death.

Norris looks uncomfortable. “These messages are public, and they know what people will see of you, you do not want to be seen as a terrible person.” He turns in his seat. “You can not stop someone from saying something on Twitter and / or Facebook, and if you want to get something from their chest, they can do it, if that’s part of their legacy, they’re left to them.”

In the increasingly crowded digital services market, DeadSocial’s closest competitor is If I Die, an Israeli-run application launched in 2011. Its free service allows users to record one message that will be posted on their Facebook wall when their deaths are reported and you can get Five videos for $ 25. His creator, Eran Alfoneta, says he has “hundreds of thousands” of users and is expected to get a million this year.

“Our analysis shows that these people are family members, children with children are more open to understanding the importance of service,” says Alfoneta. “In the last few months we have seen a sudden increase in the people who use it from Syria.”

Once you start thinking about your digital afterlife, it may be hard to stop. “I’m one of the most addicted users – not because I’m thinking about dying all the time, but because I travel a lot, and I’m afraid to fly.” Every time before traveling, I check my messages to see if there are any change needs, “says Alfoneta. “I recommend that everyone try to record only one message, because it has a very strong positive effect on how you behave, on what you think is important.”

We cultivate our public identities selectively. For Alfonta, it is only a matter of time before everyone uses a service like that. “People are on Facebook before they are born, in the form of ultrasound, they are born on Facebook, they grow up and get married and they are called Facebook, and we die on Facebook, I think this is a very natural complement to our real life.”

What if you do not want digital afterlife? Even those who want to disappear from the social media once they die, have to plan for them. Wayne Dean, 33, has a subscription of £ 15 per year to Cirrus Legacy. Cirrus carries his words and instructions to his wife to close his social media accounts as soon as he leaves. “The last thing I want is to leave a Facebook account open, that part of me is when I’m here,” he says.

But even the seemingly apparent desire like this can be stimulated through confusion and pride. Dean began to think about his digital life after seeing the consequences of Facebook after taking a friend’s private life. “I went to her Facebook page and watched the comments … Some people were angry about it, and they had to leave their opinions, which I did not think was fair.” His friend did not leave his passwords with anyone, so no one could remove the comments. “I thought it was an open way to leave this land.”

Paul Golding, who runs Cyrus Legacy, has set his own plans for his wife to run his profile on Facebook – but he wants his page to be commemorated, not removed. He can not understand why people want to disappear from Facebook when they die. “It’s like saying,” When I’m dead, can you burn all the photographs, do not put a monument, and do not lay a big stone for me. “I think this is a bit strange, people want to remember by nature, and I want to have some form of impact on what I have achieved.

No matter how cautious some may put it, no one can control the person who lives. Even if your profile is left entirely to your liking, you can not prevent others from leaving conflicting memories online, or control how you appear on Google in the future when your grandchildren see you. As an organizational package, our plans for living less about who we really are and about the values of the society we live in now may end.

Darany’s family did not have to wait long to figure out how he wanted to remember. Six months after our first meeting, I heard that he had died. Although he knew it was coming, he suddenly came. For Lucy, it was a real shock. She kept the first set of videos for Darani for two weeks before watching herself to watch. “I did not have the courage to open it,” she says. “The person who says goodbye made me really confused … I had to go out and take some fresh air after seeing him.”

His personal messages – designed exclusively for Lucy – are still posted on his Facebook page. Are you happy to make it? “I,” she says immediately. “It helps me to go on, I do not feel desperate, I’m gone now, everything is gone, I want to keep doing the things I would have done as if he were alive, somehow keeping himself alive.”