Death And Facebook: What's Your Status?

By Jorge Cino Comment

Let’s face it: the idea of social networks as a natural extension of your daily life is being ingrained in us with every day that goes by. And with this cultural change, the subject of death and what happens to your online persona can only become more relevant for both users and social media companies in the future.

Depending on how Facebook and social media turns out, there is a good chance that our online profile will outlive us. Moreover, depending on how we view death and mourning, we might want that to happen.The accumulation of your photos, messages, birthday wishes, and every funny Facebook Status exchange you’ve ever been a part of at first seem trivial, pointless… but add them all up and they gain incredible affective value. For some of us, for example, a late person’s Facebook profile has become a sort of a virtual memorial where family and friends write one last goodbye, pay respects to the family, or simply go through the person’s photos and “stuff” to remember them.

In a way, this reminds me of the video we shared last week, “A Life on Facebook.” At some point in the near future, whole generations of people will have stored so much information, will have formed (and broken) so many relationships online, will have chatted and commented and “liked” so many people and stuff, that it will become natural for our loved ones to see our profile as a real memorial site. An augmented, virtual gravesite, if you will.

It’s also something that was indirectly pointed to at Facebook’s announcement this past Monday. The entire success of what Facebook is trying to pull off with the new “Messages” relies on the assumption that all those meaningless, “small” interactions with people do amount to something meaningful –worth going back to– in the long run. Wouldn’t it be nice to keep all these interactions with your loved one stored somewhere after they’re gone, or have access to their pics and statuses whole thing at will?

There are, to my knowledge, two social media companies that are already building the kind of service that Facebook might one day want to provide: 1000Memories and Entrustet. Each of them take slightly different approaches to death and remembrance. While Entrustet focuses on “passing all your info into the right hands” (that is, they are counting on you caring about what happens to your online assets after your death), 1000Memories is more about “letting your memories live here where family and friends can see them.” A short visit to 1000Memories is at once touching and odd, as you see slideshows of new “members” being remembered.

“As social media grows and the time we have left shrinks, death on the Internet needs to, and will, become more normal,” says John Good, one of the founders of 1000Memories. His latest blog post (which inspired this one) throws some revealing numbers:

– About 400,000 American Facebook users will die in 2010.

– About 1 to 1.5 million Facebook accounts globally will “outlive” their users this year.

Take these numbers for what they are worth, of course (the math, and the stats themselves, aren’t too scientific or rigorous). However, I hope they stir your mind the way it did mine:

1- What in the world is going to happen to all my online stuff once I pass away, and do I care? Will I care? Do I want to have some control over it?

2- What commercial ideas might companies like Facebook come up with once I store all my data online over the years?

I’d love to hear what you guys think about all this. How have you been handling others’ passing online? What do you think will happen to your “stuff” once you’re gone? Should we care?