Books Knowledge Bank
What to read about digital immortality
PostNauka continues to talk about modern technologies and their impact on our life in the “Knowledge Bank” project, prepared jointly with the Corporate University of Sberbank.
Since the beginning of 2010, experts in the field of communication theory, sociologists, philosophers and developers of human-machine interfaces have actively engaged in discussions about the afterlife of man. Of course, representatives of social and humanitarian knowledge have long studied the practice of dying, various aspects of rituals of sorrow, mourning, mourning. And the historians of religion, as well as representatives of those or other denominations, were very aware of the strategies of confessional “treatment” of death. But at the beginning of the 21st century, digital technologies were gently invaded the everyday, private and professional, public spheres of many. And it quickly became clear that the “figure” can offer solutions not only for managing the quality of life of a person, but also for planning death.
Strictly speaking, the digital environment generally does not know death as a physical and simultaneously existential dimension of being. It can die that is alive, within the limits of digital interactions it is a matter of data transactions. Therefore, death in the digital world exists predominantly in the format of obsolescence of “things” and services (which cease to function properly), like the representation of former conventional models of dealing with the dead, communication around the event of dying in the new online reality and as a game in the social life of postmortem for example, by constructing chat bots based on the data of the deceased). However, even this understanding of the “artificiality” of digital death does not prevent interface designers, for example, to think about turning the online world into a “tanatosensitive” system whose interaction will allow people to feel relatively comfortable, and even in such crisis situations as the experience of leaving another . Researchers, on the other hand, often use the old vocabulary to critically consider those new tools and behaviors that are becoming more common for users.
Carroll E., Romano J. Your digital afterlife: When Facebook, Flickr and Twitter are your estate, what’s your legacy? – New Riders, 2010
One of the first books, written by designers and researchers, since 2008 has studied only the emerging postmortem digital community. Some of the theses of the book are reflected on the original site of its authors, while others are more elaborate and detailed reflections on the legal, financial problems of the functioning of the online digital life afterlife (digital afterlife). Since at the time of writing the online immortality cases still seemed marginal in the digital life fields, the authors begin by describing the specifics of the digital presence itself.
Reasoning about the communication services, which are more often used by users, they come to talk about a digital heritage consisting of all consciously or accidentally left traces. Postal services that store data about transferred documents, accounts in online libraries, where the links to favorite movies, serials, photos and books, computer games (where on the linked accounts, by the way, can lie real or convertible into real money) are stored, the devices themselves – all these are elements of a personal user heritage that would be good to transfer to descendants. What for? Well, because their value is not only significant in the virtual space, but also quite visible within the mixed online-offline daily routine. And how can you convey all this? Here there are problems. Far from always the system of law stipulates the possibility of inheritance in such cases, therefore there is some arbitrariness of the services and their owners. The creators of software often independently regulate (not) the possibility of relations between testators and heirs, and these rules have to be reckoned, because it is they who determine the security features of those personal data archives that constitute fragments of our identities designed online.
The situation of such dependence on the engineers and architects of the software looks somewhat risky. It is enough for the business owner to decide whether to stop the work of the platform or change its algorithms, how users can lose access to the archives or face inconvenience in the event of access to them. Therefore, the authors propose to plan their posthumous digital existence, the more so that the first services of this kind at the time of writing the book have already worked. Of course, these recommendations are practical in nature. But, probably, for many of us, concerned about the preservation of their data (for themselves and their descendants), it is primarily the desire to take control of these assets. And then plunge into the discussion of the fundamental foundations of digital death and immortality.
Maciel C., Pereira V. C. (ed.). Digital legacy and interaction: post-mortem issues. – Springer Science & Business Media, 2013.
A close look at the table of contents gives the impression that this collective monograph was created based on Borges’s encyclopaedia called “Celestial Emporium of Beneficial Knowledge.” Probably, this experience is connected with a variety of declared topics, which ideally should mark out the diversity of possible research problems.
So, talking about the digital legacy of dead users, the authors are concerned with the specifics of developing services that are fundamentally sensitive to data security problems, they talk about how these platforms work with the remembering and grieving practices that their clients want and / or can show, and even do not miss It’s worth noting that all these questions often seem not to require special discussion – at least within the communities of young users who are used to remote communication and seem not too sensitive to zmozhnosti posthumous communication with the dead friend. Parallel to the narrative, there are stories about the impact of digital technologies on real burial processes, in general funeral industry. And a constantly emerging vignette is a discussion about the role of post / transhumanism in the conceptualization of a person’s social death, whose electronic emanations may well continue to interact actively with the survivors.
One of the big claims to the monograph is the actual equalization of the offline and online identities of the user. Still, our digital accounts, used in the everyday situation as digital versions of us, are specially designed “things.” At least, they are the managers and programmers of online services. It would be a great assumption to compare their attitude to their clients with the behavior of the heroes of the sci-fi movie “The Matrix”, who had the opportunity to recognize in the lines of code the emanations of people in the machines created by reality. But, what exactly is true in this metaphor is the cynical ability to see in avatars only a collection of data. In this regard, talk about the need to maintain digital “posthumous privacy” (that is, be concerned about the ethics of manipulating the accounts of the deceased) look slightly divorced from the realities of established business models. But in any case, should be conducted, because these models in the context of the urgency of the problem of social immortality on the web are not exactly the only possible.
Moreman C. M., Lewis A.D. (ed.). Digital Death: Mortality and Beyond in the Online Age. – ABC-CLIO, 2014
As in all the other books listed above, the authors begin their narrative with an appeal to popular culture. Images from the series help to describe the reality of life on the web as something potentially close to any reader. Once something appears in the series, it means that this is a fact that appeals not only to scientific, but also to “naive”, everyday criticism. However, unlike previous works, this is formed as a clear set of problem fields, which are often consulted by experts of the emerging research field Digital Death Studies. According to the authors of the collective monograph, in general such fields are practices of online grief, the representation of which is helped by multiplying communication services, features of online memorialization of the deceased, the problems of inheritance of their digital property and the reflection of the fact of death in different virtual spaces.
The description of the inheritance of digital data may seem to the reader familiar with previous books, a hackneyed topic. Although, I will note that the discussion of digital obituaries, cemeteries, scenarios of virtual remembering of close and social values of “ghost” accounts belonging to the deceased, is evidence of non-trivial approaches that indicate a greater degree of critical reflection on phenomena. Still, the authors of the essay try to describe the strategies of the online life of the deceased and their loved ones on specific platforms. For example, the authors try to answer the following questions: “How do they report about death on Twitter?”, “How do they grieve about death on Facebook?”, “What kind of photos are laid out in Instagram?”, “Can people be counted, condolences on any occasion, supporters of a new dark tourism or bearers of ostentatious virtue? Or do they play in grief? “In turn, the study of the depiction of death in video games, implemented in the third chapter, raises the question of how game designers process conventional, cultural attitudes toward death to increase user engagement, empathy (note, game characters and game events).
Finally, the book is useful because its authors and editors rely on the emerging research tradition and do not hesitate to mention colleagues working in the same field, including offering quite practical recommendations to a wide range of readers. As we get acquainted with the monograph, the reader sees references to the work on the theories of futurists and programmers regarding the digital posthumous status of users, a book about digital thanatology intended for specialists in the field of education and psychological support, and a guide for those who have lost loved ones and is looking for including online – Ways to survive your grief.
Arnold M. et al. Death and Digital Media. Routledge, 2018
The most recent book of the collection, published in 2018. Some of its authors may be known for the article of 2015 devoted to the study of hashtag and other “languages” of online platforms, which are used to publish death reports. In the same text, the researchers decided not to limit themselves to social media analytics alone, but to look at modern ways of understanding death as an event, in relation to which a whole range of operational, tactical and strategic decisions have been developed that in a significant number of cases involve access to digital services.
In particular, the authors share all possible products and services offered by agents, somehow related to the funeral industry, to those that need to worry about beforehand (pre-need, on the eve of death) that help to solve the problems of specific death (at-need) and that help regulate some issues later (post-need). This simple classification allows you to look at, for example, the activity of concrete funeral bureaus in social networks, the technology of online death planners, permanent online wake-ups, performed on the personal pages of the deceased in social networks. As a result, the authors manage to outline several aspects of the work of digital media with the phenomenon of death.
First of all, they are interested in the new dimension of “humanity”, the identification grounds associated with the intuition of the discrepancy between physical and social death among modern users. Can we say that in the zombie accounts that continue to lead a social “life” after the death of the owners, is there something “human”? Then the authors undertake to clarify how the rules of the digital world are correlated with the existing legal systems, customs and rules governing the rituals of death and mourning. Another problematic issue is the question of the possibility of quality aesthetic, design solutions to help the mourners live the event. For example, virtual cemeteries in one form or another – is this a solution for those who want to somehow “see” the deceased? Finally, the authors are interested in the problem of new temporal and temporal (spatial) characteristics of death and farewell to the departed. Traditional rituals offer solutions on how, where and when to burial, how often you can visit the deceased, how many, to whom and how exactly to keep mourning. But the “figure” destroys all these conventions or, perhaps, comes up with their own versions of the rites.
About how much these solutions can be considered workers in the era of digitalization, in the conditions of total publicity, we all – researchers, business representatives, lawyers and generally users – will find out in the near future. For example, at a time when the “population” of popular social networks, blog platforms and messengers will largely consist of “ghosts.”
candidate of cultural studies, associate professor of the Department of Cultural Studies and Social Communication of the Russian Academy of Science, Assistant Professor of the Department of the USPS MShSEN, Director of Studies of the Research Bureau for Digital Humanitarian Studies “CultLook”
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