Email from My dead mother accidentally arrived in my inbox one mid-afternoon epidemic, barely announcing herself. “Beverly Blum commented on just one link you shared,” reads the subject line.
For a wonderful millisecond I let myself live in an imaginary world where my mother is using social media.
And then I opened the email: “Great piece – Dad.”
Oh well. My 82-year-old father never wanted to be insulted for creating his Facebook account, so he hid in my mother’s name. “Thank you, Beverly Dad,” I reply.
As I stand to make tea, I see something else: a digital photo frame in my kitchen showing a picture of my mother on a subway in DC when she visited my New Year. She thinks she’s never been happy. We’re going to the zoo
I feel lighter, so I sit on the couch until the dog feels something wrong and turns himself into a hot lump with my thigh. Then I remember the other rotating pictures that Google Photos will inevitably show: my mother in my apartment or hospital, Ray Charles singing or the dirt from the tubes.
I have been ordering the algorithm the way I grieve for over a year. Whoever created the code that comes out through my photo albums and finds the most important people in my life, then displays the said pictures in random order, has shaped the emotional impressions of my day.
I think there is an easy solution. I can hide pictures of my mother or block her zombie Facebook account. But I have become accustomed to grieving like this. Technology determines what I remember and when, because I left it.
Katie Guch, a digital ethnographer at the University of Colorado Boulder, has spent years on Facebook trying to understand users like me. He spoke to more than 80 research participants, sometimes for hours, about how they interact with deceased profiles.
“What we’re getting is what people need from the system and how it actually works,” she said, referring to Facebook.
Part of the problem is that Americans are bad at planning their deaths. Although Gach says official figures are not available to the public, “very few” people have benefited from Facebook’s memory features, which can lead to them being called “hereditary contacts.” Can help manage their profile after their death. Stimulation of loved ones.
“We can give. [people] All the options they want, but if they’re not communicating ‘Hey, you’re going to be in charge of it, and it works like this,’ it doesn’t really help the surviving loved ones so much, She says.
Memorialized accounts are primarily frozen in digital amber: they cannot be tagged or included in birthday reminders, but are allowed to remain on the platform as long as the company’s servers are roaming. (Inherited contact can change profile picture and pay tribute, but can’t request new friend or read messages.)
Tangwork is required to commemorate an account, including providing death documents. But Facebook has other measures to prevent the dead from popping up where they shouldn’t be seen: if you say a six-month off-grid tour of Nepal, the platform’s machine learning software assumes you Will do May Gach says die and actively remove your name from birthday notifications and ask for suggestions. But that’s it.
“It’s a sense of divine knowledge with Facebook,” says Gach. “But when does a system know someone is dead?” Telemarketers don’t stop calling. We don’t just think of Facebook as an entity that needs to be talked about because it’s automated in so many other areas of our lives.