Offline Forever

by Sheldon

An open grave (which has a collectible pistol in it)

Los Santos Cemetery, as featured in Grand Theft Auto 5.

Last week Christina wrote about (one of) the Cemeteries to be found in Grand Theft Auto 5.  When she text me asking if it was alright to write about a Cemetery that didn’t physically exist, I immediately said yes, it was such a good idea for a post that it would be silly to ignore such a feature in such a hugely popular game.

Such an intricate online cemetery with its flowers and headstones reminded me of the peculiar immortality (roughly speaking) the online world has created for us now. Power supplies permitting, and without our interference, our online profiles could technically still exist long after we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. Grandad’s holiday snaps from Menorca in 2005. Aunty Emily’s video of an N-Dubz concert. Great-Grandma’s tweet about the iPhone 5S. Social media sites are allowing us to look back at our footprints, save them for posterity and potentially allow our descendants an unprecedented insight into our thoughts and feelings.

timehop copy

Timehop. Also a great way of seeing how easily confused you could get between ‘they’re’ and ‘their’

I utilise a handy little app on my iPhone called Timehop, which shows me everything that I’ve shared publicly within the last seven years. The Sheldon I see staring back at me, decked in Topman shirts and hair straightened to the point of snapping is long dead, yet there he is, clutching his bottle of Magners in the University of Warwick’s Student union. This blog focuses on the past and present, but I felt it important in this post to realise and understand this social phenomenon that will be manna from heaven to those in the future researching culture and heritage.

Facebook and Twitter profiles can serve as an online memorial, and this has been well documented in the press. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but I have a friend on Facebook who’s been dead for six years and yet his profile remains untouched, and I’d never have the heart to delete him. In a rather nice gesture, people write on it occasionally with the sweetest of messages, which sites such as Gone Too Soon or Much Loved specifically exist for, bringing a far more involving presence to the deceased than row upon row of headstones in cemeteries. Can you imagine if such a thing existed in the Victorian era? What a rich resource that would be, and how widely used it would be too.

My Great-Grandfather, feeding his Pigeons. Until the last few decades all we had were photos. Now we have Vine, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube...how would such things in his day influence what we know about the time in which he lived?

My Great-Grandfather and his brother, feeding his Pigeons in the 1920’s. Until the last few decades all we had were photos. Now we have Vine, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube…how would such things in his day influence what we know about the those days now?

The Gone Too Soon page for US Author Tom Clancy.

The Gone Too Soon page for US Author Tom Clancy.

Memorials can also have a purpose, a notable example is that of my former schoolmate Sam Guidera, who was killed two years ago after shortly disembarking from a train in Penge. The nature of his death sparked a massive campaign to try and track down those responsible, with a particularly moving Crimewatch reenactment that to this day still sends shivers down my spine: supported by a website chronicling all media coverage and developments connected with his case. Utilising the social network, others have used this as a way to help them grieve and hopefully bring those responsible to justice.

Another example are people like Dr. Kate Granger, an Author and Doctor who happens to write about her experiences of being terminally ill with Cancer. There are many other people like her who do the same so courageously, and when the unthinkable happens as it sadly has to, their battle is recorded and unforgotten.

In researching for this topic I came across Google’s own policy of what to do with your account when you pass on, which is expanded on a little here in this article by the Telegraph.  It’s an important read: for example it’s a breach of Facebook’s terms of use if you post in a deceased user’s account. A growing number of people are including their social media profiles in their Wills to be updated or deleted when they die, which make perfect sense considering how so many of us now have an online presence.

With the sudden realisation that the life we leave behind now holds a digital footprint that could be seen for many years to come, its startling to think that from now on, our successors will have an untapped view of the lives we led in a much clearer way than that of the Victorians or Georgians. Despite being a result of technology, grieving and remembrance have always been fluid: this is but one of a new and another way we remember those who’ve gone before. From now on, our experiences could be immortal.

© Smabs Sputzer 2013

© Smabs Sputzer 2013

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About SheldonKGoodman

I'm Sheldon, a City of Westminster guide who has a love of all things Cemetery! Co-founding the Cemetery Club in May 2014, it's my ambition to challenge the perception of Cemeteries are mournful places but to champion them as museums of people and libraries of the dead. I also co-lead the official Pride in London tour and do guided walks for Open Garden Square Weekend.
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One Response to Offline Forever

  1. Pingback: Your Digital Legacy | Cemetery Club

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