Looking At A Dead Guy’s Online Life

by Patrick on May 7, 2009

smalllastlecturecoverToday I received a notice that a former Metblogs writer had passed away. He was a writer back in 2007- way before I started writing for them. I told the mother ship that I’d write a small post about his passing and I just started thinking about this guy I don’t know yet I know everything about.

In the age of websites, blogs, and Facebook,  I was able to find everything about him. It was weird and creepy to be reading the Facebook wall of a person that was deceased.  There were status messages about him cooking dinner and exchanges with his friends- now the top of the feed has messages of prayers, all following a message from his sister that said he was in the hospital.

Not only did this man leave behind friends and family, but he also leaves behind a footprint that is still fresh in the earth of The Internet. Thinking about me as a blogger and all of the other bloggers out there- we will all leave similar footprints when we leave as well. We will all leave incomplete posts and unmoderated comments in the queue and Facebook requests that will go unanswered. Much like the physical items, there is an online presence that we create as long as we walk The Earth.

I think of Randy Pausch and the words and images he’s left behind. His famous speech is now immortalized on video and in print. His online legacy will be slow to fade- but we may not be so lucky. The Internet can keep you alive forever, but it can also make you disappear in an instant. As time goes by pages will close and profiles will be deleted.

When I first heard of this news I also thought of a blog post I read last summer. Herb of DC, pondered what would happen to his blog if he died. I remember thinking how I often schedule posts ahead of time- writing them all out over a weekend afternoon. It could be possible that this blog would be alive for a few days longer than me.

Some somber thoughts to think about, how our lives and our legacies have changed with the advent of social media.

Update: Looks like Time Magazine decided to answer the question themselves.

  • http://lustyreader.wordpress.com Lusty Reader

    Great post Pho, this is something that I have thought about, but never spoke out loud since it is awkward. I had a friend from college pass away 2 years ago and I checked his facebook page every day in a masochistic, bizarre, compulsive way until it was deleted 3 weeks after his death.

  • http://francobeans.com f.B

    Really good post.

    My blog would just sit there. I’m strangely ok with that, too. It would just sit there. How would anyone know what had happened? No one else has the password to write a new post to explain or anything. So it would just sit there.

  • http://www.dmbosstone.com Patrick

    Lusty Reader: Are we way into blogging that we now treat our sites like pieces of our estate that must be delegated upon our death?

    f.B: Now that you’ve thought about that- do you trust someone in your will with your blog? Apparently in the case of Mr. Clifton- somebody was able to post a note on his blog about his death. Luckily I only moderate new comments so I’m sure someone would post on my last ever post that I died after trying to hail a cab in SE.

  • Katie

    It’s really creepy that you posted about this today because I literally JUST FINISHED reading his book and fell asleep last night wondering if he had lost his battle with cancer or if he was still in the middle of the fight. My book club is meeting tomorrow to talk about it. How very sad.

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  • http://www.dmbosstone.com Patrick

    I’m sorry Katie, I don’t mean to be a creep. I do hope you liked the last lecture. I watched it on an airplane ride and it was very touching.

  • http://www.photo-cyn-thesis.blogspot.com Cyndy

    This is an interesting topic. I feel very sorry for his family and friends to have lost him at such a young age. I wonder how it must feel for them to know that a part of him is just as alive as ever out on the internet, via his posts and photography. Is it comforting to them? It might not be just yet.

    A few of my friends have passed away in recent years and I’ve mentioned them by name on my blog. I remember feeling a little angry when I’d get hits from someone searching their name right after they’d died, but I was probably just dealing with my own personal grief.

    These days when someone visits my blog via a search for one of them, I’ve noticed that I feel comforted and a little bit pleased to know that there are still other people out there thinking about them too. For me that is one of the very beautiful things about the internet in general, and blogging in particular.

  • http://www.dmbosstone.com Patrick

    Cyndy that’s a real interesting way to think about it- I was nervous writing this post but I realize these are real thoughts I had after respecting a writer that’s passed away. I feel that it’s a topic that becomes more relevant in today’s world.

  • http://washingtoncube.blogspot.com Washington “I Dream of Ghosts Like Lincoln” Cube

    I’ve actually shown someone where I keep my various online identities and passwords so if I “do” die, they can go to the source and deal with all of it…thinking ahead. The bizzare thing is, I think I have “everything” rounded up, then something new pops up…Don’t I have a Flickr account? How many gmail names? It’s appalling how much there is.

  • http://www.dmbosstone.com Patrick

    Our online lives are as complicated as our real ones- I applaud you for being able to round everything up like that…

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  • http://www.ihatesomuch.com Maxie

    y’all better have a hug online party for me when i croak. that’s all.

  • http://www.dmbosstone.com Patrick

    huge online party? How would we do the stanky legg for you? I’d rather not pour one out over my laptop…

  • http://www.suburbansweetheart.com Suburban Sweetheart

    My ex-boyfriend passed away four & a half years ago & I still sometimes read & comment on his Xanga journal. It’s both eerie & a relief, to be able to read his own words from happier times, before he got sick, to remember who he was & how he “sounded.” I’m pretty OK with my blog staying up, untouched, if I should die (though ironically, I blogged differently this afternoon!) so that others can do the same – come back, I hope, to be comforted by my “voice” & memories of me. Part of the beauty of being a writer, especially in the Internet age, is that your words have a life of their own – in some cases, a life longer than your own.

    Nice post, Patrick.

  • http://www.dmbosstone.com Patrick

    Ya I was going to say- when I read that on your blog I was thinking, omg what if somebody took over your blog? How would it feel to take over a dead person’s blog?

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