We are well into the new millennia and one thing that continues to be shocking is death.
We know it’s coming, we expect it to a certain extent yet in the facebook and twitter age, we haven’t figured out how to handle it. Facebook only recently rolled out legacy pages and part of our “post-death” habits include reading the last tweets, posts, blogs that the person may have interacted with in their final hours.
I have many friends with cancer that may or may not be facebooking/tumbling/tweeting their last days bravely for the world to see and interact with. They have photos of chemo treatments, rays of hope on the good days, sadness on the bad days, and loving replies from friends and family in response to every post.
Which brings me to an intriguing book I just read, @ heaven The Online Death of a Cybernetic Futurist.
The editor, Kim Hastreiter was a member of The WELL an online community that existed when the internet was a less of a superhighway, more of a really busy intersection. Hastreiter hit CTRL + C on a thread and saved what I would imagine is one of the earliest accounts of an internet user coping with impending death in an online community.
First off, as an original AOL user, I almost couldn’t wrap my head around people chatting online every single day in 1985/86. 1985, Ronald Reagan was President, We Are The World was a big deal, Michael Jackson was a bigger deal, and unbeknownst to most of us- people were on the internet exchanging ideas, memes, and personal stories.
Tom Mandel, <mandel> was his handle on The WELL and he wasn’t just any internet user. He was the prototype that so many people embody online today. He was a troll (for righteousness sake), he was a know-it-all, he was a great debater, and he was compassionate. He was also a futurist, a social scientist that predicts and works to bring the future they envision into reality. <mandel> was living the future every single day he participated in an online community. I like to think that as he sat as his computer he knew in the 80’s and early 90’s that somewhere someone like me would be writing about death on the internet and how it changes us.
@ heaven is a transcript of the fast 6 months between his original thread about a nagging cough through his cancer diagnosis and onto his acceptance where he stayed online as long as he could. It’s a glimpse of what happens to your online community before, during, and after you die. It’s about how friendships transcend zero’s and ones. It’s about faith- whatever that means to you. It’s a real life Back to the Future moment.
I saw myself in every moment that a WELL user typed hopeful messages, regret, and sadness at the inevitable outcome. I felt proud that <mandel> was able to take control of his journey and share it in his own words. I cried for every loss filled facebook post of a friend, friend of a friend, and loved one. I wonder daily who will handle my legacy facebook page? Should I use one of those services that lets you post one last message? I cried because in that last moment where you no longer have a voice, I still want mine.
And, I wanted <mandel> to “live” forever.
@ heaven The Online Death of a Cybernetic Futurist. is available at OR Books.