July 15, 2011



At the recent memorial service of our family friend David, his friends had a lot to say. And they said it in his words. Speaking from over 5000 saved emails, text messages and fb posts, his soul was revealed. This archiving was powerful, both provocative and revealing.

I frequently instruct my kids that every word they write, and text is permanent. I do this to allay a false sense of privacy, to protect them from their own impulsive behavior, and from the long memory of the Internet. And now I question my warnings. Am I preventing them from expressing themselves? Am I inhibiting authentic communication? Am I teaching them to value privacy over intimacy?

Maybe an unkind message, a tweet of criticism, or a gossipy text is not so heinous when seen in the context of all one’s communications. By including David’s “bad boy” talk from his loving and aware missives, the institution of the memorial was elevated to new level — a place that was fully human and deeply informed.

David died young, quickly and unexpectedly. His friends had no warning of his passing, no reason not to press delete or to trash his messages. I am still wondering how it came to be that David’s words were so well saved. Was prescience at play? I think not. His closest friends were the “Entourage” of talented gay artists in NYC, fully embracing the energy of “be here now.”

My own voicemail is often full with saved messages from my kids. I rarely play them back, but I like to know their voices are there. Perhaps David’s words were saved with the same intention, to keep a unique and adored voice close. Yes, it freaks me out a bit to know that my words here, and everywhere else can be used in this way. Another friend who passed recently has yet to be honored, no obituary was written. We have her last fb post: “I would love to be there but… ”

I have scanned the last few hundred emails in my sent folder. There is not one of any lasting value, interest or meaning. They are quick and busy. From this perspective my soul lives in a “to do” list. I see no emotional content beyond an “xo” salutation. I need to do better than that.

We can see ourselves, even get a glimpse at how we might be eulogized, by taking a look at what we are tapping out. Give it a try. Unlock your keyboard.

Comments (2)

  1. August 10, 2011
    aftert11 said...

    Thanks for this link to Adam Ostrow’s TED talk on our electronic afterlives. A must see!

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