Getting older means you know more people who have moved on, passed away, or simply died. Of course they stay part of your lives in profound ways and their birthdays are reminders of their presence and their absence. I think of friends and family both recently passed and gone for twenty years whenever the triggers hit me. It can be a scent, an image, a place and I’m sure this is the experience for many. The most obvious trigger is their birthday.
What is different these days is the Facebook existence of these friends and family and how those virtual spaces linger despite the owner’s death. I just visited a friend’s Facebook page feeling terrible because I missed his birthday. He has been dead since last September and it still pained me to be so late in remembering to celebrate the day he was born. Why am I feeling so bad about that? But none-the-less I feel terrible in my delinquent well wishing. I miss him but more importantly I wanted others to know that I miss him and that I still celebrate his life. I don’t know what there is to gain for such a public expression. To some degree it acknowledges our need for spiritual validation or at the very least to have your companion, friend or family there to listen to you as they did when they were alive. I talk to my deceased father on a regular basis to check in on some ideas and get his advice. Obviously he is not talking back but my brain changes gears and tries to look at something from another perspective. Facebook gives me a virtual environment to evoke another perspective and check in with people who connect to me through this persn that is with us no longer.
So will these persistent virtual warehouses of old friends and family linger forever? How will they migrate into the future Web 3.0 and beyond? Who are the stewards of their statuses? Can I check in twenty years from now to wish my friend a happy birthday because I miss him and want to be sure he and everyone else knows that I am still thinking of him? Will we finally virtualize the spirit world in a way that feeds us emotionally? I wonder. And while I wonder I will continue to talk to my father’s lingering presence in my life and wish my deceased friends happy birthday on Facebook.