Monday, July 30, 2007

Frozen profiles

CNN has an article about a website called MyDeathSpace, a site that functions as a digital graveyard for dead people who had pages on MySpace. I haven't actually looked at the site, so I can't comment about its setup or how tastefully it deals with its subject matter. But it's a pretty creepy idea, imagining a website that links back to the profiles of people who, presumably, were not aware of their own imminent deaths when they created their profiles.

Since pretty much everyone in my generation seems to have a Facebook or MySpace page, it is nearly inevitable that I know a couple people who have died while their profiles live on. Their profiles strike me like more of a time capsule than anything else, a pause where you can see how they presented themselves when they were alive. But it's also true that whatever is in a person's profile at the moment of their death is just a sliver, not just because people are their own censors but also because people update their profiles so often. I've never looked at my Facebook profile and wondered, "If I die today, is this the profile that I want people to look at forever?"

A girl in my graduating class in college suffered a stroke a week before graduation. She's still alive, but she's in a coma. Part of her Facebook profile reads, "I'm feeling better about school now. I still am excited about graduating, but I think I'm really going to enjoy this year now that I've made some changes schedule wise." In the context of what happened after, it's a sad and poignant thing to read. Nine people have posted on her Facebook wall since her stroke.

Our culture's obsession with death is creepy but also sweet. As more generations grow up with social networking websites, I imagine that this issue of frozen profiles will become more prominent. I find the name of the MySpace "archive" to be less than tasteful, but I kind of like the idea of people visiting my profile after my death, and finding solace in it. When my uncle died when I was ten, I had a desperate need to contact him and somehow be able to talk to him, not to get a response but just to feel like he was listening. Posting a comment on someone's profile might serve a similar need.

Online profiles are a way for everyone to have their own little space that others can view. Leaving them up after death seems like a way for one's impression to be left on the world. But maybe we should all start specifying these things in our wills. You know--I leave my entire estate to my granddaughter, and please delete my MySpace profile when I die.

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