Today is the day when the cartoon characters are supposed to come off Facebook. Even though the movement to put pictures of cartoon characters up as profile photos was a hoax, it still shows how we’ve come to play with our profile and in our online “lives.”
But what happens when the real life behind the online one ends? I’m not talking about a “facebook death” here, either.
People have long used the web to share information about a family member’s illness or to update someone’s progress. And now we all turn to Facebook to check in on what’s up with our friends and their kids or their work or their days. What do you do with all that information when the person is gone?
Writing in The Guardian, Eve Wiseman describes how a family can choose to memorialize the Facebook page of a relative who’s passed, meaning no more comments and it’s only available to friends, or leave it open. (This policy changed in 2007, before then, all profiles of deceased members came down.)
Many choose to leave it open. When someone dies, they leave behind a real network of people who might have known each other through a friend but still want to connect. Facebook creates an environment in which to do that. And that’s pretty amazing for the network of friends left behind, especially after a sudden death.
But would you show that profile to children? I know more families than I’d like to count in which a parent has died young. Should their kids get the chance to check in on Dad’s profile? Read the comments his friends left for him even if Dad himself might have waited to share this stuff with his kids, if he’d wanted to share it at all?
Or maybe as we age, we keep our photo books up and we live long and robust lives. Will facebook become one more place kids can look through photo albums? Should my parents get facebook profiles so my kids can read about them someday? My mom keeps asking me what facebook is for, is it for this?
Eventually, the artifacts we leave behind – letters, photos, notes scribbled in the margins of books — get stored away and looked at either at highly considered or charged moments. You might pull out a photo album at a family get together, or when you’re cleaning out the attic, or when it’s time to move. Facebook, flickr, social media environments that have yet to become places where we store our pasts. The longer they’re around, though, that’s just what will happen and our kids could very well have some virtual closets to clear out.
What do you think?