What Happens Online When a Person Dies in Real Life

March 24th, 2008

This post is a little macabre. It is also personal and I am having trouble sorting through my feelings in a coherent way, but need to get a few thoughts out of my head regardless. Apologies in advance.

A friend died suddenly and tragically two weeks ago. His friends and family organized (and continue to organize) a number of real-world events to celebrate his life and to say goodbye. This is about what happens in the virtual world.

Matt had a Linkedin and a Facebook account. The accounts are free, of course, so presumably they will stay up unless/until someone figures out how to get his passwords, log in and remove the accounts.

I don’t know why anyone would want to do this any time soon. Friends have left messages on Matt’s Facebook wall and turned the page into a memorial of sorts. His Linkedin page is more sterile, predictably, and stands as a record of his work life. People could leave messages of some sort (post-mortem recommendations, perhaps?), but no one does.

I find it comforting to visit his Facebook page once in a while and see a reminder of Matt the way he recorded his life unfolding. There is a memorial blog as well where people can leave comments for/about him and that is also a really nice thing, but it is about him. His own pages are him.

Writing this has produced a lot more tears than I expected. Facebook is “a social utility that connects you with the people around you”. It is also designed to be transient and ever-changing as the page owner’s life unfolds. When the person isn’t around any more his life-record freezes, but the connection continues as friends stop by, leave messages, tag him in their photos, etc. It is extremely poignant.

Maybe someday someone will decide that the Facebook page has served its purpose and remove it. For now, though, it is a way for Matt’s friends to reach out to him any time and remember him the way he wanted to be remembered. It helps.

So long Matt.

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