Death, depression and… Social media.

Death in comicLately I happened to come across a number of sources that discuss what happens to our social media an generally digital accounts when we die.

The most recent article I’ve seen was on Mashable a few days ago. It brought back discussions of the matter with friends. Really what happens to our digital footprints when we die.  Well… the article explains quite good how different social media are handling such cases and in most cases there are options for relatives to either “shut down” the account and delete all data or put it in a specific state where it cannot be updated but can be used to post messages in memory of the lost person.

A few months ago I also read another quite interesting but spooky story about a new (back then) Facebook app called  “If I Die”. To be honest, after searching and reading a bit about the app I found the idea quite cool. What the app is doing is that lets you assign 3 persons responsible for verifying your death. When this happens they are then given a “key” to open your digital will. It could be a video, a document, a collection of photos… whatever you wish to say to them when you… you know… die!

So far, apart from having this awkward feeling whenever someone discusses about death, the ideas, discussion and applications seemed quite reasonable. People always wanted to leave something behind for their beloved ones and today that digital footprints in social media are a part of ourselves sharing and leaving them behind as a memory for our friends and family seems quite reasonable. It’s just another aspect of our lives transferred on the digital world.! What stroke me though was the TED talk of  Adam Ostrow on his thoughts about the potentials opening up. Today machines can understand a big part of what we write and  post on the web and can identify our interests, habits and generally aspects of our personality. In the future machines will be able to extract similar information from photos, videos, music, audio and whatever piece of digital information we leave behind. So… what could stop the technology from producing our digital ghosts? Programs that could run thought your life’s data and act as if it was you. Post on Facebook links, tweet, upload videos… etc. Combine that with the evolution we see today in robotics and you could also see the potentials of having our robot-clones…! I know such applications are raising a whole lot of privacy and ethical issues. I don’t know if  and when society will be able to adopt such kind of technologies… but we better be prepared rather than facing it out of the blue.

I am not going to discuss all these issues but I just wanted to tell you my thoughts when I first realized the potentials of such technologies. Well… death is a very difficult matter for a lot of people. It can cause, depression, anxiety, and a whole lot of another behavioural disorders to the people loosing a person. Psychology deals with this in specific ways up to now…. but could these digital ghosts applications be used in such therapies? Imagine after loosing a close friend still getting tweets and posts and emails from him/her. I know it sounds crazy but if a psychiatrist was able to control such an application couldn’t that be an additional weapon in his list? An alternative medicine?

So… a ton of questions came to mind. First of all… if software can identify our interests, habits and personality based on our digital footprints why not also be used to track changes in our behaviour that could lead to diagnosing when someone is depressed or highly stressed or addicted to drugs, alcohol or… whatever? Could social media become a platform for such tools and applications to operate? And what if some day virtual digital ghosts are a reality…. could we use them for therapies of such disorders? How ethical and acceptable would such a therapy method be? What do we need to secure that similar applications are not used for malicious purposes? If such therapy methods could work for someone who is depressed from loosing a beloved one… could they also be used for other behavioural disorders? How easy is the transfer of knowledge, therapies and practices in other fields?

I hope I gave you some food for thought… and I would certainly like to know you opinion on these issues. Feel free to comment…!

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