It’s weird when you hear out of the blue about friends who have recently died but whose profiles are still on Facebook. Not quite believing your ears, you check out their latest postings and on their timeline they look as lively and as connected and engaged as the last time you saw them. But now their profile looks like a tombstone, albeit surrounded by adverts exhorting our deceased friend to buy a hair transplant.
For all their vitality and here-and-now-ness, Facebook and Twitter and their online cousins don’t deal with the reality of existence fully at all. You exist in the sense that you have a presence but once you exist, there is no undo button which allows you not to exist.
Of course, expecting any social network to step up to the existential plate of what it’s all about Alfie is unfair on the Zuckerberg enthusiasts who have transformed how we interact with friends, enemies and colleagues on line and in real time. The Big Z would be the first to throw his hands up to protest that the purpose of Facebook is nothing to do with questions of what it is to be alive and everything to do with answers of how we fill our time whilst waiting for the delete button to be pressed on our real time profile.
But one of the internal contradictions in Facebook is that the Big Z and his enthusiasts cannot delete you as the only person who can delete you is you – and if you’re not there, then clearly you can’t delete yourself. of course, if you indulge in some real time trolling they can cut you out of their biosphere at the flick of a wrist, but if you continue to live your life in an innocuous and uncontroversial manner, and then are unlucky enough to keel over in the middle of your Chinese takeaway, you end up, as far as Facebook is concerned, in a permanent state of living and not living: also known as purgatory.
Twitter offers even more extreme existential opportunities. You don’t even have to exist at all to have an account on Twitter: you can generate an identity just by following a few commonly available algorithms on applications such as Weavrs.com. And you can end that identity, just as easily, or let it survive ad nauseum, independent of any human agency. Twitter, in that sense, allows for immortality of things independent of you. A bit like God, I guess.
There should probably be a Facebook graveyard where profiles are ceremoniously laid to rest although how they were deal with different faith’s approaches to the funeral arrangements beggars the imagination. One thing we can be certain of is that even in life or death, Facebook will continue to ply us with adverts which try to sell us hair transplants, life insurance or holidays in the Cotswolds. The optimism of the sales force at Facebook never ceases to amaze.