Thursday, October 6, 2016

dead letter office

Here's an interesting read about a woman who used the archive of her dead friend's texts to create an AI app to help herself grieve. (Evidently these are enough of a thing to have a name: "memorial bots.") That piece gives me a sort of skeptical feeling--not because it's morally wrong or emotionally backwards or anything like that, but because it strikes me as incredibly unrealistic. Maybe this comes down to a generational divide, but are the Youngs really having these tasteful, wistful conversations about love and life via text? I feel like my memorial bot would just constantly tell people I'm sorry for running late for dinner. Tacos, crying during Grey's Anatomy, and running late: that's it. Those are the things I text about.

You ever read a story and get the sense that it's been stretched into something bigger than it really is? That's how I feel, reading that article. The idea of "digital estates" sounded pretty grand and compelling until I stopped to think about what mine looks like. Do swears and petty grievances really constitute a "digital estate?" My old blog was mostly about my crippling fear of birds; is that part of my legacy? Will my mother will take great comfort in Kim_ebooks texting her the f-word when she's throwing away my magazine collection? I'm not so sure.

A few years ago, I got really interested in how people process death: how we talk about it, the professional practices surrounding it, how we grieve, how we plan for it, or don't. (I think on some level I figured that in doing that research, I'd stop freaking the fuck out about the inevitable demise of me and everyone I know? I didn't, unfortunately, but still: interesting topic. I ended up writing about it here.) I never got around to writing about the part that probably interests me most, which is taboos and how they're changing--especially the ways in which grief is heavily policed. Nothing brings out people's judgement quite like when someone uses emoji to talk about someone who died, or teenagers taking selfies at their grandparents' caskets, or people eating hotdogs at the 9/11 memorial. I'm not going to front like I'm some bastion of emotional health but to me some reactions like that (maybe especially the ones in bad taste) seem very human and sincere. I think it frightens people that you can eat hotdogs as you contemplate nothingness and large-scale human atrocity. But, you know, the human brain, the heart--they're vast and complex, and they can do a lot of things at once.

Anyway, I don't have a problem with an app that lets you send maudlin messages into the ether. I could see myself doing that. I honestly think it's sort of beautiful, how unabashedly tacky that is.

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