Thursday, October 27, 2011

Eternal Life Through Technology?

This article by CBC's Colleen Ross has prompted me to write about something that's been on my mind for a while. It all started when my dear friend suddenly died three years ago, shattering my world and taking a piece of my heart with her. I didn't know what to do with my grief, so I started frequenting her Facebook page, where posts from people I knew about and didn't know about started appearing, along with pictures of her interactions with those people. People shared their hearts with her and told her how much they were grieving, speaking directly to her about the things they were missing. It made her seem alive! I cried as I read what people wrote directly to her and I did the same. We all wished her happy birthday, Merry Christmas, and visited her page on the anniversary of her death. Very therapeutic (and a little creepy), right?

Essentially, I was becoming part of her world in a way I hadn't until her death. Her friends and I started to bond and comfort each other by visiting and re-visiting her FB page and sending each other messages. "Oh, YOU'RE the friend who was with her on that big adventure in Costa Rica?"

I have since learned that Facebook will memorialize the profile of your loved one if you fill out a form, and this means the account is locked to prevent future log-ins and hacking but people who were their friends can continue to post on their wall. As Max Kelly explains, Facebook is trying to reflect reality by acknowledging that "when someone leaves us, they don't leave our memories or our social network". Ok, that's maybe true, but why are people talking to the dead for all to see?

I think being online gives us the courage to connect and write our heart-felt sentiments. We say things we might not say in the physical presence of others. It's a modern-day tombstone, really, but much more convenient. How many people do you see talking to tombstones these days? Imagine how this same brand of courage could play out in our learning while we're alive! We should be courageous online by making connections, posting comments, asking questions, and showing our passion.

I subscribe to a weekly newsletter which is emailed from someone in my profession. One day, I received the announcement that after a long struggle (who knew?), she had finally succumbed to illness and had passed away. But, the good news was that her husband would keep her weekly emails going. I continue to receive emails written by her before she died, which appear to be sent by her. Nothing has changed: her tone, her picture and her name remain as if nothing has changed. The testimonials speak directly to her "I always learn something new from your E-newsletters". Yes, her husband is able to feel she lives on by sending these on her behalf, as if they are directly from her.

Is technology, then, making us live forever? Do we ever die?

Of course we die, but long afterward, the public will have access to pieces of us.

Each time I receive my weekly newsletter or find comfort in the the Facebook "pokes" my girlfriend sent while she was alive, I somehow feel these individuals are still around. Intellectually, I know they are not but I do know that they are still making a difference in my little world. It shows that our digital footprint matters and is here to stay.  Be deliberate about's your legacy, after all.

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