2012.03.28 Social immortality can be yours

Written by David Green.


I asked a friend Saturday if she knew about Deadsoci.al. She didn’t know what I was talking about and that was good news to me. I knew then I had a column.

I live in danger of being one of the last people to know about things. I’ll discover something interesting that’s old news to everybody else.

At the same time, I often run across something that really is fresh and I’m the one with the news. That’s the case with Deadsoci.al. Turns out it was introduced only a couple of weeks ago.

I quickly explained the service to my friend this way: It sends out e-mail for you after you’re dead.

“That’s creepy,” she said, and that was the perfect answer. When I heard an interview that morning (“On the Media”) with James Norris, the founder of Deadsoci.al, the host of the radio program said that people often describe it as creepy.

Norris said his inspiration for the program came from a British comedian who recorded a public service announcement about prostate cancer that was broadcast four years after his death.

Norris first came up with a Twitter device called Grave Tweeter. Users would create a series of tweets that would be sent out after their death. That evolved into Deadsoci.al which Norris describes as a more delicate and suitable approach, something that would appeal to a broad segment of the population that’s active in social media.

How does it know you’re dead? You must choose someone to trigger the mechanism for you. He’s also working on a “dead-man’s switch” that kicks in based on your absence. For example, if you visit Facebook every day and then there’s no activity for a month, Deadsoci.al begins sending out notices of your departure.

A scheduled release of tweets, e-mails or posts to Facebook or your Google+ account begins to flow. Ah, social immortality.

It allows you to extend your digital legacy, Norris says, to amplify your voice and personality from the grave. 

When Norris said that death should not stop someone from keeping their friends up to date on how they used to live, I could hear interviewer Brooke Gladstone start to laugh. I laughed with her; I who haven’t visited my regular Facebook page in I don’t know how many months. Sorry Friends, I’m not keeping up with your lives. It’s challenging enough to keep up with my own.

To Norris, a dead social media account is a great way for people to give their final good-byes, for example, or for someone to develop a relationship with their unborn grandchildren. OK, I’ll say it myself: “That’s creepy.”

He says a person might use Deadsoci.al to say things to someone that couldn’t be said during real life.

What came to my mind was telling someone, “You know, you really are such a jerk.” Brooke Gladstone took it in another direction: “Here’s where I buried the money.” That would set off a flurry of activity.

If the next great social media tool arrives before the user dies, all of the data in the account can be transferred over so your messages can continue for years. “Happy Birthday” from your husband who died seven years ago. I can accept that many people will find this terribly appealing, but I’m not among them. 

As for the creepiness of the thing, Norris says that we in Western culture don’t accept death well. It approaches us before we approach it. He thinks the messages from the crypt will be well accepted by the receiver and the idea of his program will change from bizarre to something really appreciated.

There won’t be a big crowd around your deathbed, he said, and your good-byes will be limited. With Deadsoci.al you’ll be able to reach the wider crowd of all your associations. Write a general “it’s been nice knowing you” letter or create a special message to individuals.

Death is no longer a barrier to your social life. Your Facebook friends can remain interested in you forever and ever and ever, whether they want to or not. I hope my e-mails won’t become annoying. You won’t turn me into spam, will you?

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