Wednesday, July 6

One person leaves, thousands of images remain: mourning and mourning in the Internet age

On “Right now i’m coming back”, The first episode of the second season of ‘Black Mirror’, Martha and Ash are a young couple who move to a country house in the middle of nowhere. The day after moving in, Ash travels back alone to return the truck they have used for the move and Martha stays home unpacked and working. But Ash has an accident and passes away.

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Martha discovers that she is pregnant and to face the terrible pain of having lost the father of her future daughter, she is offered to continue in contact with him through software that is capable of generating new conversations, based on the records that said person shared through social media. By using all the content that the person has digitally generated, a “new Ash” can be created, but of a virtual nature. Martha agrees to try to live with the pain that the loss has caused her.

Photo albums are not new and obviously the ways of remembering our deceased loved ones are not exactly new: in the 80s digital cameras were already popular, in the 90s home video cameras. Then would come mobile phones and the era we know well: photography or video have constantly and massively flooded our daily lives, exponentially multiplying the number of images that exist of us and that document our memories. Sometimes even without us being aware of it.

The BBC echoed from this Twitter thread where a person shared: “I go to Google maps to see images that were taken before my father died and so I can walk a little around the world where he was still with me.” This other user answered: “I can go back to 2009 and see my parents walking down the street with their hands held. I lost them both 8 and 6 years ago ”.

And obviously there is more: “My beloved father, who died in 2013, still on Google maps”, a user said called Dawn. “I just saw my mother in her garden, her favorite place to be”, He said Sandra Parkin. BBC journalist Neil Henderson also weighed in on the thread to share a picture, also in Google Street View, and a reflection: “The strange thing is that obviously I have hundreds of images of my father, but the Google Street View thing shocks me because it seems as if he is still around.”

Leaving aside the impact that mourning may have generated and the impossibility of being close to loved ones who have died during the Pandemic, the truth is that this topic has generated the interest of the academy in recent years. Elisabeth Beaunoyer, researcher at the University of Laval (Quebec, Canada) published a little research about what he calls: “Cyber-tanatology: death and beyond in the digital age.”

The research makes it clear that mourning customs are changing: “Digital technologies are reshaping the way interactions between the living and the dead are negotiated. In fact, emerging technologies are not only embedded in end-of-life, death, and grief experiences, but are also changing the global context in which these phenomena take place. Although the interactions between death-related phenomena and technologies are not new, the ubiquitous presence of digitized spaces dramatically increased the prominence and magnitude of these interactions ”.

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“Two years ago my father died of cancer at the age of 52 and today I found these photos, including a passport photo of him, so I decided to try the Tiktok filter,” said Carla Otero, a 21-year-old Tiktok user. And then he added: “Although it may seem like bullshit, to see a person with a certain life who is not there today and you miss it, is very exciting.” The comments on the video suddenly become an impromptu space for mutual support between people who have been through similar situations. And it is appreciated: we are used to complaining, with good reason, about stories of hate and polarization in networks, but there is also room for care and empathy.

Legally and since 2017 in Spain there is the Law of digital wills. Fundamentally, the figure of the digital successor is introduced: a person who will take charge of that digital trail in terms of privacy, honor, etc. There are also, obviously, many companies that have begun to offer services associated with the digital legacy once we die: from those who seek preserve our digital images for a small price per month until those who do business deleting information and with the right to be forgotten. The planning of the digital trail is sometimes even the subject of artistic projects.

The artist and DJ Ómar Álvarez passed away in March of this year. Before and after having previously communicated that his colon cancer was incurable, he prepared several projects. The podcast “Omar dies”, Where he was humorous about the disease and many other issues with the humorist Antonio Castelo. Another, a session that he conceived and recorded as a “love letter to techno culture” and that was published on May 8: “The last rave”.

Obviously this works for certain people. It is the same as when loved ones maintain an active Twitter account or schedule it to republish old content. It is chilling to read responses from people who think that they are still alive and at least in our socio-cultural context, apprehension is one of the most common feelings in this type of situation. Maybe because we live in a thanatophobic culture? Is death a taboo?

It is what affirms Montserrat Lacalle, collaborating professor of the Studies in Psychology and Educational Sciences from the Open University of Catalonia (UOC): “We live with our backs to death and everything that surrounds it. We do not know what to transmit to the children, the funeral homes are out of the city, we continue to live as if we were immortal … However, more and more people are speaking publicly about their feelings for the loss of a loved one on platforms such as social networks , openly showing how they feel ”. And obviously, not all cultures experience death and mourning in the same way.

A few days ago the feminist feminist researcher Laura Gaelx shared in On twitter a funeral very different from the ones we are used to living around here: “We have a lot to learn from the Protestant culture about death. A friend told me about the amazing Dutch and lay funeral * streaming * she attended last week (…) Her friend’s father (let’s call him Hans) was old and sick for two years, so she had time to organize it all himself. To begin with, he left the list of people summoned to his funeral. You can only go there if they invite you. In addition to being in person, the funeral was broadcast via streaming (by invitation). But all currado, with several cameras, production and integrated sound. The master of ceremonies also addressed the people who followed him around, during the ceremony and also during the agape. Between acts, the music Hans had selected played: BON JOVI. And a video was played, all produced, with an interview with Hans in which he reviewed the most important moments of his life and sent messages and comments for the people who were going to survive him. But what surprised me the most is that it turns out that there were little ones (6-8 years old) in the room. That, at one point and at the direction of the master of ceremonies, they put stickers of colorinchis in the coffin! ”.

Cultures are spaces for negotiation where political tensions, social trends and technological advances converge. We could consider that a sign of change in our relationship with death and social networks is that during the hardest time that we have had to live in our lives, the meme that became fashionable it was one who was humorously ironic about death.

What happens is that that would be unfair with the story and with an approach based on humor. More than 100 years ago, Ramón Gómez de la Serna wrote in the “Prologue to the work of Silverio Lanza: “Another hobby of Silverio Lanza was to die, to kill himself in all the novels. He saw himself die many times. He assisted himself in death, calm and ironic. He kills himself as many times as he needs it and comes back to life in the future work ”.

Be that as it may, in the coming years we will not only see the highest percentage in the history of older people with tattoos on their bodies. We will also attend our forms of grief that will coexist with increasingly changing and sophisticated tools. And who knows if soon even the chapter of ‘Black Mirror’ will cease to be science fiction to give way to a world where the link between the dead and the living is rewritten thanks to technology and new rituals that are yet to be discovered.