Missing in Action


I think most of us would like to live forever. Teenagers certainly think they will, and some folks enter their names into the Darwin Award pool, gleefully shouting YOLO! all the while.

Darwin award candidate[1]

The sad fact is, the bus will come for each and every one of us[1] sometime within the next 115 years, based on mortality statistics. For me it will come much sooner than that, but I’m certainly in no rush.

With the advent of social media, however, there is now the option (and inevitability) that our online presence can or will outlast our physical presence on this green earth. As the first picture above alludes to, some of us would rather not have our online presence be quite so public.

Whatever the case, we now have options to handle any situation. Like anything else, a little bit of advance preparation goes a long way. For people heavily involved in the online world who would like to buy a bit of immortality, Google has launched a “Data After Death” tool, which arranges for your email, blog posts, Google+ data, contacts, documents, photos and YouTube videos to be sent to one or more loved ones or deleted entirely if your account becomes inactive for a length of time. Of course this can be done manually by putting instructions into a will or codicil, but that presupposes you have descendants who give a rat’s south-40, and who are technically savvy enough to carry out your wishes. As for deleting your browser cache and history, at this point only a human can do that for you; fortunately, my wife and all my kids are fairly connected, and will probably be willing to help out.

More than craving any sort of immortality, this essay was spawned by the loss of some online friends and acquaintances. One, a long-time participant in an online forum, passed away suddenly, and the other forumites only learned the sad news through fortunate happenstance. A second, a very prolific and talented digital artist, completely vanished from the online world without a word; the third, a web cartoonist and blogger par excellence shut down her blog, deactivated her email account, and left a two-sentence explanation for her readers that she  would probably not be heard from in the foreseeable future. All of these were cause for concern. Whenever the bus comes for me, I want my friends to know about it.

In my previous post, I mentioned The Last Sermon of Ladson Butler. I may do something similar – and hopefully I’ll have time before a meteor lands on me – but I will almost certainly do it electronically. I’ve already got instructions in my will file on how to log in to my Facebook account and the forums I frequent most often, to let people know that I’ve shuffled off to the great beyond, in case anyone cares. Even if they don’t, knowing what happened is better than seeing someone just go silent.

To my now-silent acquaintances – and this includes many people with whom I interacted over a period of years on various fora and listservs, and who have simply moved on or drifted away – I miss you – and I hope that wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, life brings you all the joy and happiness you deserve.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

[1] If you haven’t already, watch “Heart and Souls” with Robert Downey, Jr. A delightful film.


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