Tag Archives: death

How do social networks deal with the death of their users?

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.

A Waiting Story: Stupid ways of dying

Waiting for the next big call can be a mundane experience with the minimum of drama, pathos or tragedy. It can include being hit by a firework which has been fired along your street; a piano falling on your head from a first floor flat; or your offices being blown up in a gas explosion.

Slipping in the shower and drowning in an inch of water might qualify too as would falling under a bus. Whilst there may not be any recorded incidents of people falling to their death by stepping off the pavement only to be struck down by a No 19 red London bus, our thoughts and sympathies are with the family of Matthew Wood who was struck down by a helicopter falling out of the skies in London yesterday.

Being hit by a cricket ball which smashes your car window whilst you’re watching a cricket match at a village green whilst sat in the safety of your car, parked on the perimeter boundary would be irritating in the extreme but could only be capped by falling out of the doors of a stationery train which is parked at a railway station.

Choking on your mobile phone when you use that app which pretends to convert your phone into a pint of beer too seriously would take the biscuit.

Death is clearly a serious business but has its ridiculous aspects too. I aim to die in circumstances which come close to being farcical.

Give Us This Day: a Toast to Reincarnation.

At a recent education conference, our presenter talked about the value of the green curriculum, stressing its importance in Eco-viability, sustainability and all good things in general.  Ironically sponsored by Pepsi Cola, she added that as we only had one life we best make the best of it, that we only had one life on this planet and that it was our moral duty to be good guardians of it.

In an important nod to her audience however she also recognised that there was more than one way of looking at our lives on the planet: “to those of you who believe in reincarnation” she finished, “ the greening of the curriculum is not so much about saving the planet now, but making it a better place for you when you return”.

Reincarnation is a particularly handy idea to deal with common sense notions that we only have one life; that life is not a dress rehearsal; that death is a foregone conclusion and like taxes, we best face up to the giant tax collector in the sky and pay what’s due on time, with no argument and with good grace. Reincarnation allows us to plan for the second, third, fourth and who knows how many times around, hopefully securing a better deal on the next visit unless we have been particularly obnoxious on this occasion.

Planning for reincarnation would be a useful addition to funding applications as it would be a tacit acknowledgement that our cultural efforts are always flawed, no matter how many business plans we write. A box which asks us how we intend to produce the production, deliver the curriculum or save the world when we are reincarnated either a) as a lizard or b) as a superhero would make writing and reading funding applications a lot more of an entertaining process for everyone.

My Lords, Ladies, Gentlemen and Members of the Jury, please raise a toast to Reincarnation.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Toast: read all about toasting here.

What’s the big deal about sustainability?

In much public life, the idea that ones efforts – whether artistic or educational or economic – should be sustainable is a highly persuasive piece of rhetoric. If your work is any good, the argument goes, and if you want money for it, then you must have a sustainability plan. You must want to see it existing over and beyond the short time of its current life time. If you can’t argue that it’s sustainable, there is an almost automatic burocratic frown placed against the merits of the project. It can’t be that good, they say, if it can’t be sustained. If there’s no more of the same, then what is the point of the project in the first place?

But why? Our lives are unsustainable. Like it or not, our death partners will call for us all one day. No-ones going to be left out of that particular public project. Our lives are the essence of unsustainability so why do we expect it of the artefacts we make, the dreams that we dream ?

Death and decay is much a part of creativity as its more user-friendly sister, birth and generation. Perhaps we should plan for project ending, closure and fading away in the public sector as much as we argue for sustainability, legacy and immortality.  It would at least make for much shorter funding applications and mean that the short time we have on this planet has one less burocratic task attached to it.

The poignancy of the school photo: how to live the good death.

We’ve all seen them or got them lain at the bottom of a drawer somewhere: the old school photo from when we were 3, 5 or 15, with all our friends ancient and modern, remembered and forgotten. Whats amazing is how common those types of photos are across the world: rows of faces stare out at us straight at the camera, arms folded, some kneeling, some sat, some stood. Hair parted, clothes neat and tidy, expressions ranging from vacant to bored to quizzical; postures shifting from angular to argumentative to aggressive.

Whats touching about those photos looking at them decades later is the recognition that year on year, names get forgotten, bodies merge into the background scenery and faces disappear.

It comes to us all at some point – the failing knee, the ligament, the problematic cartilage, the sense that we’re looking at friends and colleagues who one by one are starting to drop out of the school photo we have in our minds.

We show more interest in death – we build coffins, we know people who are dying or who have just died – and actually we’re all dying, that’s a given, we’re all coming to the end of something, although we might not know it at the time.

And yet this is not easy for any of us, we trouble over the missed and the missing the dead and the dying as if this is the first time it has ever happened in the history of humankind. Why do we find it so difficult to accept that that we are not the be all and end all, that there are millions of others like us, growing, failing, struggling dying, there is nothing unremarkable about this, what is unremarkable is just how prevalent it all is.

Anno domini my mum calls it – the knowing that our years are limited (how bloody obvious is it all?) and slowly but surely we are all fracturing, fading, fragmenting away. It started when we were conceived, it continued when we were born, it seems to accelerate as we get older. We’re staring it in the face all the time and we continually shy away from it, won’t look at it straight on and continue to think we are immortal, invisible, god-only wise.

The question is not so much how we live but how we die – this is not a question of how we live Aristotle’s good life, but how we die our own good death.

In memoriam:
Geoff P.
Hilary W.