the mortality of text (and other contributed content)

I have a flood of random high-level thinking that has been trapped inside my head, backed up behind the dam of finishing the book project. I’m going to take a quick break and just take the time to write it down. Who knows where this will go…

It started when @cindi (Cindi Trainor) published a tweet several weeks back about how a friend of hers had passed away this year. That friend’s flickr account was still online. She was grateful, she said, of the opportunity to be reminded of her friend every now and then. I responded that my sister, knowing she was dying, had methodically set about the task of deleting herself online before she died. Friendster: gone. My Space: gone. Website: gone.¬† I don’t think she was every on facebook, flickr, or other social networking sites, but she did delete herself from my online world far before she passed. In some way, it helped me prepare I think. Take, for example, the comment/testimonial she had left on my friendster account. “Chrystie is the first person I go to for any reason and on any matter,” she said, “for all of it.” When she deleted herself on friendster, her comment left my testimonial. I wish I had copied it. Printed it. Something. There are always regrets.

After Rosie died, I became somewhat obsessed with building her online presence back up. Memorials online included friend’s groups in facebook and flickr. People changed their avatars to include a photo of themselves with her; they published videos, pictures, stories, and all kinds of “this reminds me of Rosie” over the course of many months. I’m still getting some of that and posting it here. It’s all organized via delicious, flickr, and other memorial tags or sets. I lurk in facebook groups of strangers who have lost siblings and pour over memorials of the same ilk. Online condolences may be a metric of community health. Or, we just can’t help ourselves.

At dinner with Alane and George last month we talked about how our colleague Gary Houk still has a “presence” in our lives via his facebook profile. We wondered if it could be possible to request that dead people be added to a group, a social network of the deceased. So that you could go and visit them in their new context; so that we could mourn them more appropriately online. Last week I discovered the cemetery 2.0 website via attendees at #idea2008. It’s a little gadget that links to digital memorial from the site of your headstone – so that the deceased’s epitaph online is linked with the physical space. I wonder how these two ideas can mash up.

All this talk these last few weeks about publishing anonymously and how or whether the authenticated author and the text are connected, put together with the (culturally constructed?) impulse we have to associate them, has me wondering if it’s ever possible for us to allow an author, any author, to “die” and to also let their text/content be¬†disembodied from them. If we were able to do so, would it change anything? In the case of the actual dead, probably not. But in the case of the living, the texts might be better off without their authors.

If this seems like a crazy turn for the LBC blog, perhaps it’s a sign of things to come. I do like to play in the theoretical space. It’s tangentially related to community building in that it considers the humanity of online content, and how important personal identity is/isn’t in the context of new media.

All said, I go back and forth between the extremes on this one. To write, or not to write. Is that the question?