Facebook is like a parallel universe. Our 3-dimensional world is chronicled through tangible occurrences of people doing tangible things. But then there’s the online world that serves as a time-delayed Looking Glass to the real world — Facebook confirms the occurrences of our actual world. Did you go out on New Year’s? You basically didn’t, unless there are blurry mobile uploads of you at a party amidst champagne glasses and fireworks. Are you and that guy from your Spanish class dating yet? Well, no, not until it’s Facebook official. You leave your friend’s suite and return to your own to log onto Facebook — the ultimate online living room.
Let’s admit it — Facebook causes us to lead two simultaneous lives. But what about the afterlife? Facebook is moving in on that, too. A new app called “If I Die” is, according to its website, “The first and only Facebook application that enables you to create a video or a text message that will only be published after you die.” To truly understand this app and to satisfy my curiosity, I installed it.
Upon installation, the voice of an amused-sounding old gentleman began to play, reminding me of the unpredictability of death. I was prompted to record a text or video message to be posted on my wall postmortem. I was then asked to carefully select three “trustees,” Facebook friends who would have the task of confirming my death so that my message — be it final words of love, a lifelong secret, or instructions to an island of treasure — could be posted for all to see.
According to the app’s website, in October 2009, Facebook administrators announced that the social networking platform will maintain the profiles of users who have died, allowing friends and families to keep posting on the user’s wall as a memorial. It used to be that if you died, given that you led a relatively good life, you’d live on in people’s memory. With Facebook and “If I Die,” your presence lives on virtually. When I installed the app, it had over 8,000 “likes.” Do we fear irrelevance? I checked my wall, looked at the typed words of people I wished I could see in the flesh more often. We divide ourselves between our online and our actual selves. Perhaps we should go out and have more conversations — we should be concerned more about enjoying the party and the presence of friends and less about recording the night for Facebook. Let’s lead fuller, more three-dimensional lives. Perhaps we won’t feel the need to make sure we always have a place on our friends’ newsfeeds — in this life or after it has passed.
But as I was about to close the “If I Die” window, I decided to leave a quick note to my friends at Yale, just in case. Like the disembodied voice in the video reminded me, I never know when Death is waiting, and I’d hate to be forgotten.