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Once upon a time, only those who had indebted mankind by their grandiose deeds (or misdeeds) were immortalized. Today, it can be any of us.
It seemed to be another quite ordinary day in 1888. A successful Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who patented dynamite and became rich selling it all over the world, took his daily newspaper in his home in Paris, the very same ritual he repeated every morning (as he did every morning). And on that day, he really had something to read about. No less than the fact that the man himself, Alfred Nobel, had died!!! This must really be a special experience. I don’t know anyone who read about his own death in the papers. We don’t know how Mr Nobel felt at that moment and what kind of thoughts came to his mind. We do know that the text in which the news was published was written under the title “Trader in Death” and that it accused the inventor of dynamite of being responsible for countless deaths all over the world due to his discovery. It would later turn out that the reporters of the French paper had mixed up Alfred Nobel with his older brother Ludwig, who was the one who had actually died. It happens…
Reporters will be reporters – they don’t always double-check all the information coming their way, and this creates mix-ups, yesterday, today, and always. Anyway, Alfred Nobel learned on that day first-hand what the world would remember him for once he was actually dead. He obviously didn’t like this too much, so he went to the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris on November 27, 1895 and personally wrote four pages of his testament in which he bequeathed only a small part of his vast fortune to relatives and employees, while setting up the larger part as a fund, and specifying that the interest on capital invested was to be used for annual awards to individuals who had made the biggest contribution to mankind in the past year. He also clearly defined the categories in which prizes will be awarded – physics, chemistry, mathematics and medicine. He also added a special prize in the equal amount of money for people who gave the greatest contribution in that year to the spread “brotherhood among nations, abolition or reduction of army forces for the purpose of promoting and maintaining peace in the world”. Alfred Nobel really died next year, in 1896, and the first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901. The name of Alfred Nobel is now associated with the prosperity of humanity, and his name, is especially powerful identification of peace in the world. Nobel succeeded in being remembered in the world not by what he was known for while he was alive, but by what he wanted the world to remember him.
I remembered this episode of history a couple of days ago when I read a newspaper text… (God forbid, it wasn’t THAT kind of text) about a British company from Dorset, called QR Memories, which offers services of engraving QR codes into tombstones, so that when someone comes to pay his respects, light a candle or lay flowers on a grave equipped with this code, he can scan the QR code using his smartphone and get additional details about the deceased – images, texts, links, even clips starring the dearly departed. There are other similar examples. For example, if you are a Twitter person, you can register on www.liveson.org and your tweeter communication is analyzed by their algorithm so that when you die, the machine continues to communicate instead of you, because it learned about you and everything about you very well during your communications. After all, the slogan “when your heart stop beating, you keep tweeting” explains very clearly what it is about. True, there’s a catch, the machine will only provide this service for the period of time you’ve paid for, but don’t worry – you can find someone to manage your profile, prolonging its life for as long as you wish, or for as long as that someone pays for your Twitter afterlife. “Eternime” is a company which offers a similar, more complex service which isn’t just limited to Twitter, namely it offers “virtual immortality” in the form of an interactive avatar who communicates as if it was you. You can find out more about life after death by visiting the blog “The Digital Beyond”, which offers assistance in “projecting and planning the future of your digital content”. This is all a bit surreally reminiscent of the legendary slogan of a local funeral home: “All you have to do is die; we’ll take care of the rest!”
Let’s be realistic – this should not be either shocking nor surprising. This is a logical consequence of the overall transformation of everyday life under the influence of the latest technological revolution. If the “smartphone” has become a practically human organ without which it is no longer possible to live without and which enables us to live in a virtual world, and that virtual life on social networks for more and more people today is more important than the real one (whereby a real question is what is real life today – the one that is virtual or the one that is real and who we prefer to live) and when we know that virtual reality and augmented reality (“virtual reality” and “augmented reality” are not the same) areas where information technology grows rapidly, and world’s biggest companies invest in that technology billions (“Oculus VR” that bought Facebook is just one of the examples), then it really should not be surprising that the boundary between life and death is also being relativized. Technology is just one and not the most important element that leads to it. Human behaviour is a key factor that made virtual life more important than the real one.
Let’s leave dead be dead, at least for a moment, and turn to alive. There is a thesis, which I myself often repeat in my texts and presentations, that today every individual is a medium that produces a certain content and at the same time broadcast it, so each of us has become a medium. It is in our nature to present ourselves as we would like other people to see us, not what we really are, and we have always done it. When the “presentation” of us is transformed into media broadcasted “remotely” and practically without limitations, this need becomes even more insatiable, because, on one hand, we have known and accepted models from the mass media we imitate, and on the other, the truth of content produced and broadcasted in this way is less verifiable. Thus, we increasingly form our own virtual personality and character. The intensity of communication and interaction with others in this virtual world is also constantly increasing and it takes more and more time and energy to keep this image of ourselves, feed it and develop it further towards the ideal image of ourselves. As other people behave the same way, more and more artificially created characters, not real people, communicate with each other. And in time, they start looking more and more alike. Paradoxical as it may be, if you want to be noticed in this world, you have to follow an imposed model that dictates your appearance and behaviour until more and more of us are the same, and a Kardashianization of sorts has occurred. Over time, this gap between the real me and the ideal me widens, and the real “me” becomes increasingly subordinated to the ideal “me”. We don’t need anyone to make avatars for us – we have already created our own.
If we go further and make this thesis more radical, we can ask the question of what is the difference between the virtual content produced for someone who died and the virtual content that alive people create about themselves on a daily basis? Or even better question would be – what is the difference between the dead who continued to live in the virtual world and the alive who live in the virtual reality?
One of the basic assumptions of the digital era in which we live is a permanent presence manifested through continuous online activity. As we see, it is no longer necessary for you to really live because your social activity is no longer related to physical space and immediate physical contact. Death is no longer a strong reason to be absent on social networks, or, to put it simply, the dead don’t have to be necessarily offline.
Once upon a time, only those who had indebted mankind by their grandiose deeds (or misdeeds) were immortalized. Today, it can be any of us. All we’re waiting for is a status that we’ve all become Nobel Prize winners.
Source: Media Marketing