It’s like a Schrödinger’s box that no one wants to open. (Though does anyone ever want to open a Schrödinger’s box?)
I recently went through my Instagram, I looked at the people I follow, trying to hone it down to a reasonable number instead of 300+ people/blogs/bands/etc. While I scrolled I came across a wonderful girl who I went to college with.
Her name is Mackenzie. And she passed away this year after a long struggle with some terrible illness. I never asked, probably because we weren’t very close, and it seemed rude to say “what’s wrong with you?” to someone you don’t know very well. Her death didn’t affect me too much emotionally, the last time I spoke to her was almost a year prior, but it was strange to see people memorializing her with her Facebook tagged.
She will never see those messages in person (if you believe the psychics I’ve met through work then she might see them in the afterlife) and she’ll never log in to like the statuses.
I hovered over her name on my Instagram. I pondered. Should I unfollow her? She won’t post anything else. The account will just sit on my followers list, collecting imaginary dust. So on the other hand, what’s the harm in keeping it there? There is none.
Still, I chose to unfollow her. In the interest of full disclosure, while writing this I had to check my Instagram to see what my decision was. I follow over 200 people, so it’s easy to lose track.
But it sparked a thought I haven’t been able to shake for weeks, and a thought that only intensified after reading Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking. She talks at length about her best friend/mentor/father figure/pseudo-therapist Anthony. Recently Anthony died, and she chronicled it via her social media in the only way Amanda Palmer knows how to do anything, artistically. At the end of the book she tells readers to check out Anthony’s website and his memoirs.
Unless you take it down (or a website gets deleted/archived*), everything you ever post online is probably out there somewhere, floating around. Which allows for people to be both very much dead, and very much alive. Not in the way that all of Shakespeare’s writings are available online even though he is very much worm food. I’m thinking about people who made Facebook pages, and updated their Twitter with clever jokes, and kept blogs about their favorite meals. People like Mackenzie, and Anthony, who had entire lives that they lived on the internet.
The idea of being able to go back and look at someone’s photos, to see what they were thinking in the weeks and months before they died is, and knowing these things probably won’t be taken down any time soon is strange. It all at once reminds me of the permanence and impermanence of the internet.
These profiles, and thoughts, and feelings, all live in the strange limbo of the internet. So choosing to stay “friends” with a dead person, or follow their twitter feed is both terribly meaningless and wonderfully meaningful at the same time. Let’s look at both sides of this coin.
One one side you have the decision to unfollow/unfriend the dead. If you unfollow/unfriend them, that’s it. That is the end of your tangible relationship to that person (or at least internet relationship). There may be some nice cards you exchanged, and some lovely memories you hold dear. But by taking them off your internet plane you’re removing them from your every day life in a small way.
For example, just before I entered 8th grade a girl who went to my middle school died in a freak cheerleading accident. I don’t think I was her friend on MySpace, but some of my friends were and they saw people posting on her wall (or whatever it was called on MySpace) and saying they missed her, and wishing her well in heaven, and calling her an angel. But after a while the messages stopped, and her profile just sat there, untouched. My friends eventually unfriended her and everyone moved on with their lives. I could not tell you this girls name, (Ashley? Brittany?) and the world kept spinning.
Perhaps unfriending/following someone is an act of closure sometimes. A sign that proves you’ve accepted this person will never respond to those messages, so why bother looking at them all the time? Perhaps it’s just to unclutter your Facebook friends list. It means whatever you want it to mean, or it means nothing**.
On the other side you keep them on your feed, timeline, dashboard, etc. Sometimes someone posts on their wall or sends them a tweet. But mostly it’s just a profile adding one more number to your followers list. It lives in that limbo space, between fully alive and fully dead. You can look at it when you’re sad, or scroll back and find your last conversation. It can bring comfort or sadness. It’s the ultimate Schrödinger’s cat.
I have no answer for any of these questions, just a lot of rambling thoughts. But the idea that someone can be both alive and dead comforts me somehow. Perhaps one day, when I die, my children (who I assume I will birth one day) will find this blog and they’ll read it fondly, thinking of how ridiculous their mother was. They’ll look at their Tweetbook (the social media site of the future) and keep me there as a reminder. I’m always with them.
Or I’ll die and no one will remember this exists and it too will fade into the chaos of the internet. But I like to think someone will eventually find this useful.
*Sadly, my Quizilla fan fiction has been lost to the world because Nickelodeon or Viacom or whoever decided to get rid of the website.
** Kind of like life, man.