Sarah Hampson’s April 13 column in The Globe and Mail, brilliantly titled “The tweet hereafter”, gave me the creeps. Those social media innovators never stop thinking about how we can expand our online presence (and their wallets).
Hampson reports that a British service called LivesOn will soon be available. This AI tool will analyze your Twitter feed so it knows all your interests. It will also copy the idiosyncracies of your vocabulary, spelling, and syntax. In this way, it can create a virtual “twin” of you and fulfill the company’s tagline: “When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting.” All you need is an executor who agrees to keep your account alive after you die.
Facebook, always keeping up with the leading edge, already allows a personal page to be turned into a virtual memorial after you pass away. Such a page could simply be used as an online site for people to share tributes, memories, and photos of their dead friend or relative. But a service called DeadSoci.al makes it possible for you to create an inventory of scheduled messages that will be posted on specific dates after you kick the bucket. Could it comfort your loved ones to receive jokes, birthday wishes, or familiar nagging complaints from you until they, too, are gone?
I don’t think so. I think these “messages from beyond the grave” make a mockery of a person’s last months and moments of life and of the grieving process that their loved ones go through.
The emptiness that exists after someone you care about passes away is something you have to get used to over time. “Normal” reminders of a person who is no longer there—their clothing, personal items, photos, etc.—are painful; it’s a contradictory pain because though it’s difficult to see these reminders, it’s also hard to discard any of the dead person’s belongings. To do so finalizes the reality that they are gone, and it can seem disrespectful, too.
Soon after my coach George Gluppe died (a year ago), I put up a large photo of him on the bulletin board next to my desk. For a few weeks I couldn’t look at it. Now I like to see George’s smiling face to be reminded of all the times he was happy and carefree.
I don’t care how clever an AI program is at creating plausible personalized tweets; the idea that this “fake” digital creation could in any way replace a human being is repugnant to me. I’ll never forget that behind real social media messages (because already, not all are real), there is a living, breathing, emotional human being. And though I have fun exchanging witty messages with people on Facebook, and appreciate the links, jokes, and information they share, I know I won’t develop a full relationship with anyone that I never meet in “real” life.