Yes, seriously. It’s true. If I Die is a relatively new Facebook App that allows its users to create a video or a text message that will be published once the users’ death has been verified. While this may seem morbid, Eran Alfonta, co-founder and CEO, sees it this way: “We all have things to say and don’t necessarily have the audience with the patience to hear us. Actually, we all want to leave something behind, we all want to leave a stamp behind us.”
Now that you’re curious and contemplating your mortality, let’s get to how it all works. It’s simple! Download (or install) the app, create a message or two, or three, or more and then select three people, called “trustees,” who will verify your death. And you’re set! It’s just that easy.
As of today, according to Sinderman’s article on Mashable: Social Media, “If I Die currently only publishes to a user’s public profile, but the team is working on features to allow for discrete messages and even messages that can be sent to people not on Facebook. The public postings will be free to use, though the discrete messages will work on an annual subscription model.”
Now, some of you may be thinking: doesn’t Facebook already have something in the case that a user dies? Facebook does have an official process to aid family members in the memorialization of their deceased relatives but, according to Powell from Daily Dot, “Facebook is quickly becoming the world’s largest e-cemetery [and therefore,] there’s a legitimate need for this (If I Die) sort of service.”
So, just how popular it this little app? According to Sniderman, it is unknown how many active users If I Die has, as the team has been fairly silent when asked, but Alfonta expects to reach 100,000 in a few months. And guess what, there’s more! If I Die isn’t the only death-focused digital service out there to help you manage your virtual life. Here are seven others: Entrustet, Legacy Locker, My Webwill, Futuris.tk, Deathswitch, Great Goodbye and AssetLock.
All of this brings me to a bigger theme: technology and death. Is it good? Is it bad?
I already did encounter one less than optimistic response, specifically to If I Die. Hehir, of the Nerve, generally expresses the sentiment that “life has gotten unnatural enough with social networking.” She sees the potential for one too many “inarticulate, embarrassing, and self-indulgent rants [with] far too many people us[ing] it just to spit vitriol, spite their enemies, and further desecrate whatever good merit they managed to hustle for themselves while they were alive.” (FYI: ifidie’s youtube video even explicitly mentions “settling an old score.”)
While I do not disagree with Hehir’s sentiment entirely, my interest at this particular time is concerned with the American attitude toward death rather than a critique of the flaws of human nature and judgement. With that being said, according to anthropologists, there are three different cultural responses to death: acceptance, denial or defiance with American culture exhibiting that of denial. Defiance and denial are associated with cultures in which there is a strong belief in or desire for immortality. There are a multitude of aspects in American culture that scholars use to argue for (and against) American denial: life insurance policies, euphemisms, taboo on death conversation, cryonics, the way in which caskets are styled, medicalization of death, the process of preparation, the committal itself, “pornography” of death, etc.. And now with the advent of social media and other technology, this list just might be growing.
Social media technology (TV and video gaming included) is impersonal; it creates distance–a kind of bubble–allowing the user to create, perpetuate, and live in their own reality in many ways, in addition to the opportunity to distort and thereby control a situation. This, over time, can (or may) succeed in lessening the weight of reality itself whether by desensitization or separation, or a combination of the two. For example, consider Digital Death (Buy A Life). The premise is that, through a donation, the donor can “buy life” or resurrect a famous individual from the dead (albeit digital death). It’s the most blatant example of the user controlling death, specifically the death of another. All this being said, digital life– life after death– begs several questions: is this simply an extension of our denial? Is this an attempt at immortality? Is it representative of another shift in the American perspective on death? How will this affect the mourning process? Will it result in emotional stunting? Will it present or lend itself to the creation of complicated grief? Will it help families grieve more fully…?
Where do you stand? What do you think social technology will do to death?
For another interesting article relating to technology and death, please see: Life After Death, in Digital Form