Death and the Digital Afterlife

Death and our perception on “afterlife” has long been a strong topic;  and our exponential technological determinism has brought in question of motality in a digital age.

Duality is an analogue notion where digitalisation blurs the line between simulation and reality. In terms of our mortality, theories like Plato’s two Image Making from Simulacrum can explain about our future after death. Does the online presence, a representation of an individual become a copy of the individual? Plato’s Image Making criteria explains this; if the online presence becomes a copy of the original it can either faithfully copy its form to exact detail or distort and dishonestly copy the observable details only. The faithful copy is not applicable, as our social media accounts cannot copy our consciousness. So rather, it can dishonestly pretend to be the original. The representation (online presence) however isn’t a “copy” of the individual; only after the removal of the represented (the individual) it becomes a simulating copy.

All of this process is only possible from the removal of the original copy, i.e. Death. Thus friends and families must use the once representational presence as the simulated presence.

The concept of preservation – To preserve the memories, individuality and personality of the now deceased individual explains why this process from representation to simulation happens. For example, people keep items of beloved ones after they die to either represent or honour them or to simulate them. The simulation part can be from the senses, e.g. keeping their clothing for touch and smell, their rooms intact for visible presence.

Some day soon, perhaps in forty years, there will be no one alive who has ever known me. That’s when I will be truly dead – when I exist in no one’s memory. I thought a lot about how someone very old is the last living individual to have known some person or cluster of people. When that person dies, the whole cluster dies,too, vanishes from the living memory. I wonder who that person will be for me. Whose death will make me truly dead?” ― Irvin D. Yalom, Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy

Avishkar Chhetri 2015 – Kingston College – University of West London