Digital Afterlife

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, considers digital afterlife as she emails her dead daughter and photoshops her digital duplicate.Don’t tell me I’m the only one emailing a dead loved one, “still loving you and missing you lots.” Admitting I occasionally email my daughter, who’s been dead six years, is no longer an embarrassment. Because now people are texting their deceased loved ones – and getting text messages back from beyond the grave.

The possibility of digitally interacting with a loved one who died is not science fiction anymore. If your beloved chatted online, texted on a cellphone, posted on social media sites, emailed or blogged, she left behind a digital footprint. Billions of gigabytes of data can be collected from this. With a trillion gigabytes, digital afterlife technology can capture speech patterns, expressions, and personality, and then craft a digital version of an individual. And a computer system modeled on the human brain now allows this digital version of your loved one to process new information and keep up with current events, so her digital being can continue to evolve long after her physical being has passed on. Is this eternal life?

This could change a lot about how we view death, and how we grieve.

OMG, I used to tell my daughter she was spending too much time on her electronic devices. And now, if only she’d spent more time on them, she could be living on in my computer. Or in my phone. And then I’d be the one glued to these things. But would I really want to get texted from the Other Side, “Mom, get a life,” and “Way to go, mom. You just showed everyone on the internet how clueless you are”?

Anyway, most of the healing and comfort come from my own communications to my daughter. Writing to her, talking to her. Unloading my heart calms my grief. I don’t need a digital duplicate of my daughter. Her voice still echoes in my head. Almost daily. And even without digital afterlife technology, our relationship has evolved. After six years, instead of her bellowing “Mom, you’re a wimp,” I now hear Marika whispering, “You can do this, mom. You’ve got this.”

 

If you could get a text message from the great beyond, what would you want it to say? If you kept “hearing” from the one you’re missing, how would this change your grieving?

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12 thoughts on “Digital Afterlife

  1. Mike Seybert

    Perhaps the dead we’ve loved look after us, if we have the imagination for it. I know they remain with us for a long time, to the end of our own days if our minds remain intact. I keep telling myself to let her, my late wife, go, that she’s gone, that there’s no bringing her back. Which is the cold, hard truth. But what harm is there, I also tell myself, if my dreams and reverie summon her? (Or is it that she summons me?) None, really. Grief makes us human. How we live with it is something for each of us to figure out. A few lines from this poem capture the feeling better than I:

    this is how our dead
    look after us
    they warn us through dreams
    bring back lost money
    hunt for jobs
    whisper the numbers of lottery tickets
    or when they can’t do this
    knock with their fingers on the windows

    and out of gratitude
    we imagine immortality for them
    snug as the burrow of a mouse

    —from “What Our Dead Do,” by Zbigniew Herbert

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I love this poem, Mike. I just read the rest of it too. And you’re right, no harm in listening for our loved ones who died. Especially if it helps us find all the beautiful things in the world that they’re missing. If hearing them “knock with their fingers on the windows” opens us up to looking outside beyond the grooves we’ve made pacing in our comfortable kitchens, then let’s keep them close and let their presence, or the memory of them, move us to live in magnificence.
      I’m sorry your wife is now your “late wife.” I hope she’s looking after you and giving gentle nudges to get out and love living. Thank you so much for your words.

      Reply
  2. Elaine Mansfield

    Interesting. What a thought! I know it’s out there, but it doesn’t appeal to me. I’ll take dream messages instead–and that’s what comes naturally to me. Vic is different in every dream. Sometimes he’s 40. Sometimes he’s older than I am. Sometimes he’s sick. Sometimes he’s 40 years old and full of juice. Occasionally, he’s a young child. It’s nearly always good to see him.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I wish I could have dreams of my Marika like you have of Vic. It’s rare that I dream of her. But I agree, dreams definitely are better than compiled digital messages. There’s a life, a freshness, to those dreams, even the ones you can’t decipher. I do have dreams of my father quite often. I love being back with him in the house of my youth. It’s strange how I am always the “me” that I am now, the mother of my 2 children, even though I left that house long before I became a mother. Yes, it is always good to see him. Now, if only my dreams could be invaded by my Marika as well.

      Reply
  3. Lucy Bergström

    I stored a short conversation about coping with the loss of a spouse from a French movie: “Of course I talk to my wife, and she answers. How else do you think I stay sane?” Who is to say that you can’t communicate with Marika? If I could get a text message from the one I was missing, I’d want to hear, “You can do this, Mom. You’ve got this.” Sometimes I get a whiff of the opposite flow, of my children and grandchildren getting worried about losing me. “Grandma, you have to live forever. You promise?”

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Oh, so sweet to have grandchildren loving you. I’m wondering what the next part of the conversation sounds like after they beg you to live forever. If I had a grandchild I’d do the whole thing differently from when I had a child. I’d listen more. I’d be more open and honest. I’d be more careful about making promises.

      Reply
  4. Monica

    And look at you, you are doing it, Robin. I have also noted how my daughter’s messages to me have softened as she’s “aged.”

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      It is so good to hear that happened to someone else. So it’s not just me. Not even going to try to think about who’s aged and who has not. This is beautiful. Cheers!

      Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Lynne, the sci fi and tech is so appealing. To be able to see and/or hear your loved one right in your cellphone is too awesome. Like, we could carry our beloved lost ones in our pockets all the time. I’m really curious about the way the digital being can evolve. Because listening to the same old phrases could get old pretty quickly. But yes, when it comes right down to it I have to admit that I’d probably not go for the digital avatar. Mainly because, when I started talking to the life-sized photo of my daughter that was given to me, I heard less and felt less of her presence than before I had the photo. Maybe paying attention to the digital messages lessens the ability to keep your loved one in your heart and head. Just maybe.

      Reply
  5. gayle gray

    This is beautiful Robin. As always I am moved to tears, and therefore closer to my own heart.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Thank you, Gayle. It’s a strange feeling to see videos and recordings of the one you love. It’s like being elated and flattened both at once. Do you have any footage of your father or brother? Isn’t is eerie and wonderful and heartbreaking to see and hear them again and yet know that it’s only digital and will disappear with one click?

      Reply

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