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.