When the famously reticent Calvin Coolidge died, Dorothy Parker quipped, “How can they tell?”
What is death, besides a period of prolonged inactivity on Facebook?
Is there life after Google?
Google is now offering a service that lets you set up a kind of digital will. It notifies your friends that you have hopped the twig, giving specified beneficiaries access to any accounts that you deem fit to share.
Who gets the stereo? Please. Who gets the e-mail passwords? Who gets the satisfaction of knowing what you really thought?
Some online presences are basically personae — masks into which the wearer disappears. You curate the Facebook pictures you get tagged in, you choose what Alarming, Controversial Political Beliefs to share with your beleaguered friends, you decide whether to Like that article or not. But at the same time, online is increasingly where we conduct our lives. Sharing your Gmail password isn’t like handing someone a cache of your letters. It goes further than that. So much of the day-to-day work of friendship occurs on messengers like Gchat. It’s a record of all your conversations. To scroll through this history is to witness the sea changes in the people you talked to or listened to, the words you used, the videos you were forwarding.
Google is now offering a service that lets you take it all down from the Internet — or share it with a designated few.
Suddenly, with the tactfully named Inactive Account Manager, you are forced to contemplate not just your regular mortality — but your digital mortality. Is there such a thing? I thought I was stuck forever. “Look On My Browser History, Ye Mighty, And Despair,” was engraved just under my clay feet. I always assumed that the instant you attempted to delete anything from the Internet, you ensured that it would endure until the sun ballooned into a fireball and swallowed the earth, or that dormant volcano does what it’s been planning to do for some time. Just look what happened to Steve Cohen when he tried to compliment Cyndi Lauper, in what he now claims was an elaborate and well-thought-out publicity stunt.
What do you do with the detritus of a digital life? The biographers of the future are in for a treat. The autobiographers will despond. No license is necessary. You can tell exactly what everyone said, where they were standing, what they were reading. Between Google and Facebook, you can actually flash most of your life before your eyes.
It’s odd having to decide what to do with it.
There’s that Gchat conversation. There’s that other Gchat conversation. There’s everything I’ve ever written — that ill-advised sonnet to an ex, America’s Most Wanted: The Musical. Your Google cache comes closer to a record of your thoughts than to just a record of your correspondence. There are all the dozens of letters you balled up, tossed into a wastebasket, and decided not to send, neatly stashed in your Drafts folder.
If Google were really sensible about this Afterlife thing they’d offer a variety of packages.
Basic Level: Remove anything you sent after 3 a.m. containing 3 or more elaborately misspelled words.
Basic Plus: Creep into your e-mails and replace vocabulary words with more impressive synonyms. (“GREAT PARTY, DAVE!” becomes “Superlative festivities, Eustace.”)
Gold Level: Deletes all rejection letters, replaces with compliments. (“Sorry, your short story ‘The Golden Apples of the Sun’ just didn’t catch our interest” becomes “You are literally F. Scott Fitzgerald; thank you for bestowing this remarkable work of literature upon us, you golden god.”
Platinum Level: Creates the appearance that you engaged in long and fruitful correspondences with the literary lights of your time.
Subject: No, You Were Right
In retrospect, after giving some thought to the subject and imbibing the rest of your delightful ’93 Port, I see no way out of admitting that God does exist, and you are right about Her preferences. Not sure how I missed this before. Immensely grateful to you for pointing it out.
Also, yes, women are funny, as a corollary of the above.