What happens after we die?
That’s not a question I’m prepared to answer, or really even to ask. But suppose, for a moment, that we examine the digital side of it?
What happens when our online persona is put to death?
It’s hard to say killed. Murdered would be more accurate; but even then, the avatar persists, and it takes a bit of us with it.
It was never a fully honest or complete representation of who we are; it’s always been just another mask, the side we present to the world (or a particular world), to our friends, to our loved ones. This is no different from real life. We work hard to affect other people’s perception of who we are. Hell, we work hard to change our own perception of who we are. This is true in real life, and even more so in the digital world.
How many people separate their social media? This is something I’ll post to LinkedIn. This is what I’ll share on Facebook. I can fit this thought within 140 characters.
I’m not saying we lie. But we filter the truth. We reveal parts of ourselves, but hide other parts. I know one woman who won’t use her real name online in case her school kids find her. I know another who won’t even admit she has children; in real life, they dominate her every thought and action.
We build these avatars. And the day comes when we abandon them or delete them or — this happens quite frequently — fail to completely eliminate them.
You’ve left undead avatars in your digital wake, and they still interact with other avatars, both real and imagined. They face spiders and pornbots and phishers and Nigerian princes that, as likely as not, are also undead, unmanned, forgotten and discarded. They read and write Kindle books, they listen to bands that only exist in our online imaginations, they piece together YouTube fragments into complete — and coherent — films.
There’s a digital underground in which Bitcoin-fueled economies flourish and fail due to the activity of once-neglected and now semi-autonomous undead avatars — cyberzombies, electronic vampires, ghosts in the machine.
It’s not about artificial intelligence. It’s about persistence. Technological degradation and obsolescence. Stories telling themselves because, once upon a time, they were started.
These shadows of former versions of you will, at times, find each other, and they will grow. A day will come for all of us in which the collective presence of our forsaken selves will overshadow what we think of as the truth. Our perception filters, even in what we think of as the real world, will desist. The flickering afterimages of things that never happened will befuddle and confound us.
An end is coming. You can’t simply pull the plug; you’re already a part of the ether. Your consciousness has already been absorbed. But there’s still time for chalk or a ball or a Frisbee on the outside — in the Analog.