Is there (digital) life after death?

Click here to view original web page at

Plan your digital afterlife and rest in cyber peace

From Facebook memorials to avatars, people are thinking about what happens to their digital assets (1) after they die. Facebook is expected to be the world’s biggest virtual graveyard by 2098.

By the end of the century, many of us will rest alongside each other in the world’s biggest “virtual graveyard.” The number of dead people on Facebook is expected to outnumber (2) living members of the social network by 2098, a statistician claimed earlier this year. Although our profiles may not have the same grandeur (3) of some of the great Victorian cemeteries like Highgate, thanks to our strong interest in online and social networks our digital legacy – be it goodbye messages via social networks or avatars fuelled by artificial intelligence (AI) – has never been so in vogue. (4)

Each of the social networks has different rules regarding what happens to your account after you die. While Facebook gives its users the option of having their account permanently deleted once they die, last year it launched its Legacy Contact feature, enabling users to elect someone to manage their “memorialised” account after they have passed away. (5)

“Memorial pages are a place to remember and honour those we’ve lost,” says Jasmine Probst, content strategy manager on the Facebook Memorialization team. “For a while we offered basic memorialization, which meant an account could be viewed but couldn’t be managed by anyone. But, by talking to people who’ve experienced loss, we realised there is more we can do to support those who are grieving and those who want more of a say in what happens to their account after death.” “Instead of your last post saying ‘I’m just having a coffee’, you can send your own goodbye messages on Facebook and Twitter,” says Dead Social founder, James Norris James. Users can choose text or video posts and assign a digital executor to press the button and send the message once they’ve died.

The digital afterlife is in fact fraught with (6) issues linked to privacy rules and regulations and questions about who owns what. Consequently, online assets are viewed as an increasingly important subject. “Customers can include a clause in the will bequeathing (5) digital assets to a named beneficiary and expressing the wish the beneficiary deals with those assets according to their instructions,” says Kate Maybury, senior associate of trusts, wills and estates at Raworths solicitors. Is a Facebook message declaring your death enough? Some start-ups certainly don’t think so as they dream up (7) ways we can live on virtually.

Take Eternime. Using AI, Eternime collects your thoughts, stories and memories and creates an avatar that looks and converses in your manner. As you chat with the avatar for the remainder (8) of your life, they’re able to learn more about you and your personality. “In the beginning the avatar is limited because it knows very little about you but by talking to it a few times per week for the rest of your life, the avatar will collect a lot of information about you,” explains Marius Ursache, founder and chief executive of Eternime. “The more information the avatar can access, the smarter it will become, until it will be able to reply to most of the things people would ask you in the future.” The site has yet to go live but 33,000 people have already signed up. Eter9 is another social network that is offering a similar tool. Its founder Henrique Jorge says the avatars are clever. “For example, if the user posts some videos and music about a particular band in a specific time of his life, his counterpart won’t post about that band for the eternity. It will have learnt about him during his life, so it collates (9) all the information gathered and will post according to his patterns.”

But isn’t having an avatar chat to your family and friends years after you’ve died a bit creepy? “We are very aware of the emotionality that is attached to the topic of death or to that of robot clones or avatars,” replies Ursache. “For us it is really important to emphasise that we do not want to preserve the banalities of the life of a person, but would much more like to create a legacy that allows your great-grandchildren to interact with their great-grandfather – and beyond.”

While living on as an avatar certainly sounds fun, it flags up (10) many issues. Can an avatar really replicate your own true thoughts and style of messages across social media? What happens to all the data that’s collected once you’ve died? (Eter9 insists the information is only stored in its system servers and is not transmitted to third-party websites). One area that could throw up (11) all sorts of problems is if the family of the bereaved (5) are unhappy with the posts of an avatar. Will family warfare continue even long after you’ve passed away when your avatar, knowing you disliked your family, spouts out (12) less than complimentary posts about your siblings?

Scanning through Instagram, perhaps many of my generation will be known long after we die for being avocado-obsessives and fans of coffee boards with not-so-funny slogans. Maybe it’s time to get cleaning up our cringeworthy (13) Facebook and Instagram posts – or asking our avatars to do that for us.

Adapted from a story by Suzanne Bearne, The Guardian

The bereaved and the bereft

Since time immemorial, humankind has handled uncomfortable topics through euphemisms, that is, less direct words or expressions to avoid shocking or upsetting others. When somebody dies, which is an unhappy fact of life, people rarely describe the event using that same verb. It is much more common to hear “verbal tranquilizers” as in My aunt passed away / on yesterday / He said that when he passes on, he does not want his Facebook account to be on any more. Besides these neutral, elegant ways to refer to that moment, language has some more humorous, informal expressions to lighten up the tone of what is being said. Some of these are “to buy the farm” ( the farm being the burial plot), “to cash in one’s chips” (the chips being the counters which are exchanged for cash at the end of a gambling event), and “to go to the happy hunting grounds” (in reference to a paradise in which hunting is plentiful and game unlimited.) “To push up daisies” and “to turn up one’s toes” are quite physically transparent images.

When you pass away, if you have written a will, you bequeath your possessions be it digital or the traditional sets, to a person or an institution or even your pet! “To bequeath” is to state this explicitly in your last will and testament.

When somebody passes away, “the bereaved” are those people who are in deep sorrow for the loss of somebody loved. It is interesting to note that both “bereaved” and “bereft” are past participles of the verb “bereave,” which means “to leave desolate and alone, especially by death.” By convention, though, the former is more commonly used for the case in question and the latter is usually kept for other types of losses. Thus, one might be bereft of one’s house after a natural disaster.

Will it be wise – one wonders – in the face of this remarkably puzzling future, to consider bequeathing our digital assets before we … buy the farm?

“assets” (1)

An asset is an item of ownership which has exchange value, which is expected to provide future benefit. What seems to be happening now is to view whatever you create online and belongs in the cyberspace as a personal asset, having exchange value, convertible into cash.

“outnumber” (2)

The verb “outnumber” means “to be more in number than.” The prefix “out” is combined with other words to mean “more – as in this case – better, further, longer,” as in “outwit,” “outgrow,” “outlive,” “outrun.” Consider He’s outgrown his clothes (i.e. become too big for them) He’s outlived his wife (i.e. lived longer than her) She outran last year’s winner (i.e. ran faster than them.) When combined with nouns or adjectives, the meaning is also “beyond something,” as in “an outbuilding” (away from the main building) or “outlying areas” (away from the center)

“grandeur” (3)

Grandeur is the quality of being elevated, of being grand. Synonyms of this noun are magnificence, greatness, majesty, splendour. Amidst the grandeur of the peaks, valleys and rivers, the village offers her visitors a rare and singular experience.

“in vogue” (4)

In the current fashion or style, à la mode. That style of shoes is no longer in vogue.

In English, it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to something fashionable as “in vogue.” Yet, you may find this other spelling “en vogue” in the pen of someone who would like to evoke a sense of French style.

“passed away, bequeathing, bereaved” (5)

See “The bereaved and the bereft” above.

“fraught with” (6)

This expression means “full of” unpleasant things, dangers or problems. The talks were fraught with obstacles / difficulties from the very beginning / The scene was fraught with drama, the negotiations fraught with difficulties from the very beginning / Economic and market environment have been fraught with uncertainty for a couple of decades.

“dream up” (7)

When you dream something up, you invent it by using a lot of imagination. What an odd name for a software company. Who dreamed it up? / He dreamed up a plan to expand his business which was successful in the end.

“remainder” (8)

The remainder is what is left, what remains, as in For the remainder of this year, we will continue at a slower pace than originally planned / We hope you enjoy the remainder of your stay in our town.

“collates” (9)

The specific action of “collating” involves putting pages in a correct order and also the action of critically comparing multiple texts, as in The journalist collated data from different sources and published an extensive report. In the field of computers “to collate” is to merge data from several sets or files and produce a new set or file All the information will be collated in the next few days.

“flag up” (10)

If you flag something up, you mention it in order to bring it to somebody’s attention, as in They’ve already flagged up several problems.

“throw up” (11)

Among the many meanings of this phrasal verb, the one applied here, which mostly found in British English, is “to produce something that you do not expect or simply something new,” as in The system has thrown up a few problems.

“spout out” (12)

A clearly onomatopoeic verb, to spout out is to blurt something out, to speak out suddenly, usually revealing important information. She spouted out the name of the person who was going to replace him when he’s gone before anyone could stop her.

“cringeworthy” (13)

When you cringe, you feel disgust or embarrassment and you show this feeling or sensation by a movement of your face or body. If a person does something that is cringeworthy, they do something that causes feelings of such embarrassment or awkwardness that you cringe. The actors did their part well, but the dialogue was unforgivably cringeworthy.