Death in the Digital Age: Life after death, you dreamed about it, the internet did it

Before, the memory of our dead remained through objects that had been dear to them, letters, or at the bottom of a photo album. Now, their digital traces make them ubiquitous and change the relationship to mourning.

He died a year ago, but his Facebook profile is still active, transformed by his “legacy contact” into “commemoration account”. At the top of the page, we read: “Remembering Martin X. We hope that people who love Martin will find comfort by consulting his profile to remember and celebrate his life.” What a lot of his 1500 Facebook friends do not fail to do. “Do not be too wise if you’re up there. Here we drink a drink with you, “wrote a grieved man two weeks ago. “I miss you every second,” posted another.

S├ębastien, himself, was struck down at the dawn of his thirties, nine years ago, and his profile still haunts the social network, like a strange specter: his posts published by him before his death are gone, but his contacts can still write him messages. Last missive 2.0, dated a fortnight ago: the picture of a sunset, with this word: “For you, my friend.” Since his death five years ago, no one has asked for Reorder the account of Jean-Paul, and all his posts, comments and photos stagnate on his wall, giving the singular feeling of being able to resurrect him …

Permanent proximity

With 2.13 billion Facebook users, it is now estimated that three of them die every minute. And the accounts that survive them are changing the relationship to grief, according to semiologist Fanny Georges, head of a vast research program (Eneid) on post mortem digital identities and innovative memorial uses of the web. “Very few people have the courage to remove the account of a deceased, and when they do, they regret it,” she says.

The dead thus haunt the social web, and their digital traces of life become new supports of therapeutic remembrance: we will consult their profiles to reflect on what was his life with them. It is a little like the visit to the cemetery, except that it remains a spatiotemporel space delimited, it is the place of the dead. Whereas the social web imposes a permanent proximity with them. On Facebook, even, the dead continue to have an activity, via “Remember” injunctions that can arise anytime … ”

Beyond the circle of loved ones

Of course, this digital recollection has nothing philanthropic and remains a way to “continue to circulate the affects very simply, by offering everyone to click or comment, to pump more data and make an active inactive profile”, emphasizes the teacher-researcher in digital information Camille Alloing, co-author of Web emotional, a digital economy of emotions (Ed. INA).

Social networks especially favor a contamination of death: we are informed of a greater number of deaths, even that of this old classmate lost sight of for twenty years, but “friend” Facebook … “The rituals of mourning , which were shared by a circle of relatives, extend to the entire social network, while our relationships are increasingly digitized, “says the researcher.

Grimaces on Snapchat, comments on TripAdvisor or LinkedIn, last holidays documented on Instagram … like a Tom Thumb 2.0, each leaves more and more traces, which inevitably affect those responsible for sorting them, after we bowed out. “It was already painful to store the deceased’s objects, but having to rummage through his computer requires a paroxysmal intimacy with him: Tinder messages, search history, most listened to songs … everything is memorized, and this wealth of information can make the impossible to mourn, “explains Fanny Georges.

Be concerned about your e-reputation

“Companies are starting to offer to manage their e-reputation post mortem, not to overwhelm their loved ones, but also to control the story that will survive us.” Alas, everyone does not always have time to think about it, recalls Fanny Georges. Like this girl, who died in a car accident when leaving the box, after a last post where she geolocated, writing “Super Soir” … Or this other, savagely murdered by a neighbor, just after posting: “Here, my neighbor is ringing. “” These traces generate traumatic situations, because they make us viewers of death in real time, and create a special empathy. You can get back to the skin of the victim ad vitam aeternam. ”

Large virtual graveyard

It is also after the early death of someone around him that the photographer Calypso Mahieu, recently graduated from ECAL, became interested in digital mausoleums that is becoming Facebook. His work I will live for you is exposed until May 27 as part of the Photographic Days of Biel.

“In 2065, there will be more deaths than live on Facebook, which will be a large virtual cemetery. Everyone is already using it to support his sentence, in a very shameless way. But I find this phenomenon positive. It’s a new way of communicating with the dead. “After all, many were already spying on the medium to contact the afterlife when wi-fi did not exist yet …

And necromancers of a new kind are now promising virtual eternity. This is the case of the start-up Eternime, which offers to entrust its access codes, so that an algorithm goes to search the accounts of a user to identify his personality, with the aim of creating a “virtual self” Which will interact with loved ones once deceased. The Russian coder Eugenia Kuyda also created Replika, an artificial intelligence capable of integrating memories and expressions of the deceased, to send SMS to the entourage as if they came from him. Not to mention this Korean start-up who offers to make selfies in 3D with his dear missing …

The robot replica of the disappeared

“There is also an American who tried to recreate his father chatbot, to continue to interact with him, says Camille Alloing. Before, rituals of mourning were inspired by religions, now they are dictated by new technologies. But when you have been in close proximity with a person, can you really be content with a conversation with a robot? What is certain is that our digital traces will allow survivors to reconstruct an infinity of significant narratives to accompany the work of mourning. And to control them, you’ll have to think about making your digital will … “