At the age of fourteen I formed an online Death Pact. This was not some form of cult based on the premise that if you reverse the HTML code of your favourite bands Myspace page it actually spells out instructions on how to end your life. We did not plan to commit suicide together by sending out a bulletin exposing Good Charlotte’s real motives before listening to their seminal debut enough times that our brains exploded. However, now I wish we had just so I could have tittered at the Daily Mail headline from the afterlife sofa.
This ‘death pact’, which I now realise was somewhat sensationally named, actually involved a very simple exchanging of Myspace and Bebo passwords (just to clarify, this is circa 2005). This took place so that in the event of either of our deaths the other person would dutifully delete the other from the internet in order to avoid the now-deceased’s page from becoming not only an online shrine but also a bank of images that people could pillage in order to create Youtube tribute videos emblazoned with misspelt sentiments. In our beautiful and self-obsessed youth, our utmost worry in life was that we’d be misremembered in death – “but what if they soundtrack their ‘***Memories**’ video with McFly?! Everyone will think I was a fan of them and all my alternative street cred will be null and void!” As a teenager who felt life was proving to be underwhelming and slow moving, nothing was more satisfying and simultaneously infuriating than to fantasize about how our deaths could be a continuation of the unjust way our parents were treating us in life.
I’ve been extremely lucky in my twenty-one year existence to have lost very few people prematurely. Those who I knew that have passed on were old friends or merely good acquaintances. These deaths were heartbreaking not because of relationships untimely severed, but because I watched my friends who had been closer with them have to deal with the travesty at such a young age. I saw many of them use the ghost online presences of the recently departed as a way to reach catharsis. They posted memories of good times and gullet-wrenching testimonies of their journeys to acceptance. But for every one of these messages from the supremely effected, there were five from people like me, who hadn’t been that close to the teen, stating their utter devastation at the loss.
Now this is totally natural. Teens are not only dramatic but also endearingly empathetic. And I do not doubt that all of these people truly meant every ❤ typed by their chipped nails. But being what I thought was an enlightened child, I made the decision that this practice was ridiculous. I theorised that this was the interwebbal equivalent of propping up a corpse at a party, sticking your hand up it’s arse and making it proclaim “Yes, that’s exactly what I would have wanted”. To me it seemed both perverse and illogical that these pages would remain interactive gravestones – venues for not only true sorrow but also melodramatic death fetishists who sought to release their own ill-informed memory of the time “they lent me a lighter” into the pool of true despair.
Once upon a time when a person died calls had to be made to insurance companies and landlords. Now something far more personal must be dealt with – Facebook constitutes that person’s entire representation of him or herself to the world. Facebook have their own death protocols, including the ‘memorialisation’ of a page. When this happens (after the submission of an obituary or some other proof of death), Facebook disallows any logins to the page and stops it from coming up on lists of ‘recommendations’ to avoid being downright insensitive. This memorial page allows friends to post memories and thoughts without the danger of the page being hacked or misused.
Now, I do not doubt that my opinion on this will be unpopular, especially after my admission that I’ve never had to cope with the pain of losing someone incredibly close to me excluding a grandmother whose age preceeded a level of expectance. But I do believe that Facebook pages do not need to be a sort of cyber Statis House. The thought of an online museum of the life I curated to impress others is now, as an adult, much more terrifying to me than the idea I might get a multimedia sob-fest dedication on Vimeo. Yes, our lives are moving online. Our deaths need not do.
And thus we return to the pact. I can’t help but think that in my death I can afford a degree of selfishness that would be deemed rude when alive. And at the end of my current animaton my posthumous egotistical act will be the deletion of every iota of my online presence via a good friend armed with my passwords – everything from my Facebook and Twitter accounts to a once accessed Vampirefreaks username. It will all disappear. And this is because, despite the fact it may help some, I do not want the proclamations of those who are more generous with their emotions online to make others feel guilty for their lack of impulse to shout from every virtual rooftop.
My original pact partner is probably unable to remember our first arrangement. We no longer spend any time together and I’m sure he finds the fact that I still remember his password (which I do), utterly terrifying. If you are reading this, my old friend, then do not fret for I will never use it. Your opinion on internet memorialisation has probably changed since then (as well as, more probably, your passwords). As for me, I finally changed the passwords I’ve had since I opened my first Hotmail account quite recently after I had my phone stolen and decided it was about time. And now I’m on the hunt for someone that will, in ideally a romantic scene which involves tears streaming down their face, wearing a defiant ‘it must be done’ expression, expunge me from the internet after my untimely demise. And, with a bit of luck, it’ll be replaced with an article on TIME.com about how frickin’ great my beating the crap out of that dragon that threatened to destroy the earth was.