The Final Check-In

Social media has changed how we communicate, but it’s also redefined the who and why. Inane 140-character bursts to swarms of strangers have replaced actual correspondence. Instead of just going somewhere, we now feel the need to check-in so everyone knows what we’re doing–whether it’s noteworthy or not. Arriving backstage at a Foo Fighters concert is exciting; waiting for test results isn’t. The why of social networking makes me question where we’re heading as a society.

There’s a Facebook application that allows you to update your status after you die. That’s right, folks: You can now post a text or video message after you’ve checked out, but why do we really need this? Do we want our first official duty in death to be changing our location to “the ground”?

The tagline on the “If I die” application’s website asks, “What happens to your Facebook profile if you die?” I always assumed that when I died, I’d be too busy being dead to consider what the world was doing without my status updates. While still in the land of the living, wouldn’t the time invested in planning our final broadcast be better spent rekindling relationships that have lapsed because of our fixation on maintaining hundreds of virtual friendships?

The application requires you to select three trustees, whose job it is to agree that you have died. Once they concur that you have in fact passed on and aren’t just hiding out in Tijuana, your pre-recorded message will be uploaded, presumably advising your Facebook friends that you are no longer. Unless, of course, you opt to make your final salvo something witty like “John Smith needs to get milk on the way home”, in which case you’ll only succeed in scaring the bejesus out of anyone who happens to be both a Facebook friend and an attendee at your funeral.

While I can see the benefit of this application in advising friends who aren’t in your immediate circle that you have died, I have to ask whether “If I die” is proof that we are becoming a society that will eventually be devoid of all but the rarest instances of personal contact.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-social networking. I use Facebook as much as anyone, and I’m toying with the idea of succumbing to Twitter in the not-too-distant future. I have friends that are scattered across Australia and the other continents, and through The Dissemination of Thought, I’ve come into contact with amazing people from all corners of the globe. Given the distances and time zone differences between us, social media is a great way to keep in contact, but it’s not quite the same as sitting down with someone to get a face-to-face status update over a cold beer or latte.

With so much emphasis on the instant sharing of thoughts and the trend towards publicising every moment of our lives with those that we don’t really know, I worry that those opportunities for genuine personal interactions are being replaced by texts, tweets and pings. As we become more and more self-indulgent and obsessed with amassing as many “friends” as we can, will actually meeting up with someone become an afterthought? A hindrance? Is it possible that sharing an amusing video clip with your 962 followers will one day be deemed more socially acceptable than watching one person laugh as you joke with them from across the table?

Technology makes it possible to maintain instant relationships across all latitudes and longitudes, but it’s critical to remember that people and friendships exist outside the 15.6 inches of your laptop screen. Social networking will continue to evolve, but if users are drawn into believing it’s the only way to communicate, we may eventually get to the stage where our best friends–and trustees–become people we’ve never physically touched.

As for me, if I have to choose a status update to send from beyond the grave in order to advise the masses that I’ve turned up my toes, I’m torn: I can’t decide between “Lyndon Keane has left the building” and “Has anyone seen my funeral pants?”

When Lyndon Keane isn’t blogging at The Dissemination of Thought, you will find him at either a cafe, casino or bar. Or a magical place that has blackjack, vodka and triple-shot lattes under the one roof: his Utopia. He is currently completing an undergraduate degree in journalism, and believes that pancakes make study easier.


8 thoughts on “The Final Check-In

  1. I’m addicted to Twitter and have met lots of fantastic (and a couple of not-so-fantastic) people – it is how I met Ceil and this blog. Currently wondering how I’m going to cope without 24×7 access to twitter, email and facebook while I travel for a week because I’ve learnt my lesson from my last trip with a huge global roaming bill to face.

    Anyway, it is rather ridiculous how addicted we become to it all. I’d like to think that when I die, technology will have become so smart that all this will be hooked up to my heart monitor or something, and upon my passing, when I ring the bell at the Pearly Gates, this will automatically update all my statuses.

    1. There’s a flip side to all this: There are many people who are a part of my life that wouldn’t be if not for Facebook and email and twitter. Some are people I haven’t physically seen in years, some are very close friends who simply live far away. I’m a freelancer, and get much of my work through the net, some of it even through Linkedin, the “work” version of Facebook.

      Although all that kind of reinforces Lyndon’s point: We’re isolating ourselves. For some, this isn’t a problem, but I have days when I must get the hell out of the house and change the scenery. The hum of indistinct conversations around me is soothing and allows me to concentrate more fully.

  2. Sometimes when I’m drying out I get morose and I think about what will happen if my parents die. Will I be left to stare at the wall for all eternity? Will well-intentioned but freakily morbid person suggest I be buried with them?
    It seems so narcissistic to plan a beyond-the-grave message. The sort of people who will do it are the sort of people you’ve already categorized in previous posts–painfully ordinary attention seekers.

  3. Perhaps we could simply leave My Last Will, Testament and Update. A nice, neat package in just one document.

    While we’re alive, though, I agree that we might want to tweet less and meet more. We should enjoy human contact while we can.

  4. There is an application that allows you to update postmortem? I think that’s ridiculous. I’ve always kind of thought it was ridiculous that friends and family would keep a person’s account open and active a long time after their death. We’re not talking a few months here. We’re talking over a year. No offense to anyone out there that practices this. But, it’s creepy. When a person dies in real life, all that is left behind is their stuff. So, it stands to reason that when I person dies in real life, then after a couple rounds of mourning, the account should probably be shut down. Virtual life after death? Not for me.

    Now, here’s the worst part of it. I attended a work required seminar in September of last year that was a two day long communications workshop. Although it was very entertaining, it brought this one haunting thought to the forefront. Does all of this communication really help us communicate better?

    The answer is no. As high as 90% of communications between people are nonverbal. This encompasses everything from the tone in someone’s voice, their posture, and their facial expressions. Nonverbal communication is difficult to fake. And even when it is masterfully faked, a good eye will catch it. Call it BS radar. The presenter offered us a situation between him and his daughter. She texted him, butchering the English language (as if it could get much worse), telling him that she wanted to talk about something. And he told her to come downstairs and talk to him face to face. Electronic communication is removing an emotional and physical element to communication in general. And, as humans, that’s not good.

    Don’t get me wrong. I use Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, etc. I am very into social media. I have friends scattered around the US, and it’s easier to keep in touch that way. But, when inane updates are posted all day, it takes the “social” part out of it. “*Yawn* Tired on Monday morning. Gawd I hate Mondays.” Yeah, me too. Hey, there’s a club for that. It’s called “Everyone” and they meet at Starbucks. (BTW: I will not get started on Starbucks today.)

    And one would think that with all of this social media, our usage of the English language would become better in order to convey thoughts and emotions better. Nope. It has gotten worse and degraded into this awful textspeak. Sometimes, I sit here and stare at the monitor with my little teenage cousin to translate for me. It has opened up a whole new medium of bullying and harassment. It’s easy to talk trash behind a computer monitor, because that person doesn’t have to face me.

    Now, I love that this kind of communication exists. I have been able to be honest about mental health issues and find support in a community. That may not have been possible for me otherwise. It has also afforded me the opportunity to connect with others who share my sentiments, the likes of which I may have never met in a lifetime.

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