This article deals with the topics of death and loss and may be upsetting for some people.
When a person dies, we instinctively look for things they made, did and said in their final days. Things that will remind us of the most recent version of them. We look for things that may give us a window into the reality of their life as it came to a close. In the modern age, this often takes the form of social media accounts, which become a kind of time time capsule of a person’s life.
But what if the last thing you shared before you passed was horrible? What if it didn’t reflect the person you truly are? Those final posts, in a way, becomes your epitaph. Your final words. Take a look at your Twitter account now – would you be happy with your most recent tweet becoming something that will define you forever?
You are what you share
For non-celebrities, social media is the only outlet available to make public statements. If you have a public Twitter account, as most do, you are sharing your thoughts and feelings with a potentially endless (well, it ends at about 7 billion) group of people. No matter how small your following or how insignificant you may think your social media prescence is, it defines you to anyone who happens to come across it.
This is something Facebook has recognised; when you die, your Facebook page is not automatically deleted. Instead, it’s turned into a ‘memorialised account‘, a kind of shrine to who you were. Facebook says that, “memorialised accounts are a place for friends and family to gather and share memories after a person has passed away”. So what you post may not matter now – but it might be everything that’s left of you one day.
Let’s talk about dying
Death; it’s a part of life. As much as we may all like to conveniently forget the ever-present reality of our own mortality, there is no getting away from the fact that any one of us could die at basically any time. It’s what keeps us living. Like everything in life, death is unpredictable, and not everyone is granted the luxury of time to put their affairs in order before their time comes. In a world of constant online sharing, this can prove a huge problem.
You might not have a grace period to delete those troll tweets or rethink that particular meme you shared. What’s there is there.
Is there a solution?
The obvious solution would be to micro-manage your social feeds like a death obsessive, carefully curating everything you post to be as profound as possible. But this isn’t impossible. If you feel like you want to try, more power to you. But a Twitter account with nothing but deep, ‘love the world’ sentiments would not describe your normal life. It wouldn’t reflect you, in your small, boring or even flawed moments.
Human beings are not ethereal beings. We are very flawed, that is what makes us who we are. Yes, it may be that your final tweet to the world is a silly pun about some chicken nuggets. But hey, that’s real. It’s not a santised, holy version of you, it’s you, the messy person that you were. But this leaves as at an impasse – stuck between the rock of wanting to live our lives in an authentic way, and wanting to make sure that our lives are remembered properly when they’re over.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t fix things
There isn’t a stronger incentive to more thoughtful, than the prospect of dying. Contrary to a culture that obsesses over ‘haters’ and seems to have little time for criticism, none of us are perfect. We could all do better. You can have an online prescence that you wouldn’t be ashamed to leave behind not by changing who you are, but just by thinking more before you post. Sure, you hate that celebrity, but do you need to tell them how much you hate them? Sure, you may be angry at something in the culture, but do you have to use that kind of language to describe it?
We all have moments where we see red, or are careless. You don’t want those moments to be your legacy, however. So take a look at what you project out into the world. It doesn’t need to be perfect, or poetic, but it needs be you – because it may well reflect your life, whether you want it to or not.