I recently observed an interesting phenomenon.
About a week ago, I noticed an update in my Facebook ‘News Feed.’ The update was a post on my friend Nate Day’s ‘wall’ made by his wife, Joleen Day. What is most interesting about this is not that my friend’s wife left a note on her husband’s wall or that this note showed up in my own personal news feed. No, I found it interesting because my friend was buried 35 days before I played voyeur to this exchange between wife and husband.
Like over 500 million others to date, Nathan Day created a Facebook account for himself. Maybe he did it to find old friends or to stay in touch with current ones, perhaps to meet new people or maybe just to broadcast his own thoughts, ideas and achievements. In any case, he did it. Created an online profile of himself. He uploaded words and images, shared thoughts, feelings, links, quotes and probably created some market data about 30 something Internet geeks along the way. And while this story is about Facebook specifically, this one website is not (and certainly would not remain) the sole repository of these online profiles – they are now found on almost all websites, in varying degrees of depth and complexity.
Regardless of where the information is uploaded to, the Internet (in this case through Facebook) remembers these things. Because of the data that Nate shared, the Internet knows Nate and is able to represent him, at least partially. What the Internet does not know – at least not in the way that we know it – is that Nate is dead.
The moment that my dear friend shuffled off this mortal coil I lost the ability to communicate with him directly. In the past this meant that I could only whisper to him silently and alone or talk about him with others. This is where the current Internet – specifically social media – gets interesting.
Nate’s Facebook profile is unique to other, previous forms of communication in two ways: It’s public and it’s “free.”
Most communication through social media avenues is akin to sending messages to your friends via billboard or radio advertisement. Yes, they get the message but so does anyone else in the vicinity who cares to pay attention.This is the attribute that allowed me to see a message sent from wife to husband at all. My Facebook news feed contains plenty of this historically private chatter.
The other thing that sets most current Internet communication apart from the past is the fee structure. End users are actually not the customers in this model and as such are not expected to pay for their communication over these services (at least not in dollars). So, while a billboard announcing my love for my wife and children would soon be taken down if I didn’t keep coughing up money (assuming I could pay for it in the first place), I can announce the same (almost as publicly) online for no fee at all. The great thing about not having a fee is that there is no time limit – the message (or profile) can stay there forever.
And so it is that a month after his passing, I can still eavesdrop when my friends speak directly to Nate. I can still read his basic info, his likes and dislikes. I can read back through his updates and the updates left for him. I can interact with the online profiles that represent Nate, almost exactly as I did a few months ago.
This reminds me of the Sci-Fi I grew up with and the notion that we may someday upload our Selves into the cloud to live forever. It makes me wonder again at how possible that may be and about what immortality truly means…
Regardless, I know without wondering that Nate’s genius and love can not be easily duplicated and that he will live forever in the hearts of his family and his friends, among which I am proud to count myself.
Be at peace my friend.