In search of digital immortality

There are people in Russia who welcome the idea of digital immortality. Source: Alamy / Legion Media

There are people in Russia who welcome the idea of digital immortality. Source: Alamy / Legion Media

It may soon be possible for people to not only bequeath their capital, but also the right to manage their social network account. Besides farewell letters, their families will also receive notes with logins and passwords.

There are many Internet services that make you wonder what will happen to your social network page after you die. One of them, LivesOn, provides an answer with one of its advertisement slogans: “When your heart stops beating, you'll keep tweeting.” LivesOn promises to continue your Twitter account even after you are no longer alive. Moreover, the electronic mind will generate new messages, indicating subjects that interested users when they were alive, as well as the words they frequently used.

For those who are afraid of entrusting a robot with their digital afterlife, there are less drastic alternatives. For example, sites such as Entrustet, Legacy Locker and My Webwill advise their clients to designate someone who will have the right to access their accounts after their death. Other companies, such as Future.tk and Deathswitch, offer the service of a deferred letter. The user composes a farewell note (or video) with his last words, a love letter or financial information, which will be sent to the addressee of his choosing as soon as the computer determines that the user's Internet activity has ceased.

Virtual cemetery

Russia also has a resource that Internet users have called a social network for the dead or a virtual cemetery. It is the Pomni Pro virtual memorial. Pages on this social network are created by the deceased's family or loved ones. The deceased's profile provides space for photographs, his biography, and on the wall of memory every person can leave words of gratitude or even an electronic gift.

Reviews vary. Some thank the network's creators. A message read, “Our life is becoming inextricably tied with the virtual world, therefore this memorial is justified. We are leaving memories of our loves ones for ages in electronic form; perhaps their grandchildren will know about their ancestors.” Someone else adds, “My son is buried in Novosibirsk, while I live in the suburbs of Moscow. Thanks to you I can visit his grave every day.” Others are not so content. “This site cannot remove the grief and the loss, but it can definitely create psychological problems,” writes a sceptic. Some even ask when there will be a section for animals.

‘Un-Christian’ idea

These services are not very popular in Russia. “After I'm gone, activity on my social network page would frighten my family and friends. It would be a constant reminder of grief. I am dead, but nevertheless put messages on my page? It's not really a Christian thing,” explains Ilya, a 24-year-old student. Pavel, a 48-year-old art director, agrees. “If someone is seriously considering this, then I think it's savage and blasphemous.”

Alexander Voiskunsky, an expert on Internet's influence on the human mind and pioneer of Russian cyber psychology, does not believe that these services will became mass oriented. “There are really not that many out there of my age and older,” Voiskunsky, who is 67, says. “And they would be the ones interested in these services. But we don't make weather in Runet. Most young people don't care much about what happens after their death.”

Another factor that, according to Voiskunsky, can make such services unsuccessful is that in Russia people are not considerate towards the spiritual side of the testament. “The Russian's desire to put his worldly affairs in order and prepare himself for the transition into the afterlife is natural, however, indifference is often greater,” he adds.

Not an end, but a new beginning?

And yet in Russia there are people who welcome the idea of digital immortality. Some have a pragmatic approach. “A page as a testament - that's interesting,” says Vladimir, a 22-year-old student. “For example, some famous blogger could bequeath his page to his son as a family business.”

Others note the services' possible positive psychological effect. “I would use the service that offers the possibility of a gradual posthumous publication of the posts I prepared in advance,” says Vladislav, a 25-year-old businessman. “I could support my family with my messages. People get used to death itself, but the impact of a sudden death can really have bad consequences on the minds of one's family.”

Julia, a 35-year-old yoga instructor, explains that she “would like for this site to be able to instill light and hope into the users' souls, so that they would think.” She adds, “is this really the end or just a new beginning?”  

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