One of Facebook’s most peculiar capabilities is the “legacy contact feature.” Only recently implemented, the functionality allows users — usually loved ones — to inherit control of the Facebook accounts of the deceased.
A quick “Remembering” is affixed before the profile name, maybe a profile picture or cover photo is updated, and the account survives.
What was once a picture on the mantle has become a full-fledged social media profile.
Objectively, this is almost impossibly odd. While our tangible bodies are laid to rest, our Facebook profile keeps on humming, still attracting likes and receiving “Happy Birthday!” posts. A hasty Facebook stalk unearths an eerie archive of past comments and unsettling time stamps on status updates. Our Internet selves — who are, arguably, often our most elaborate fabrications — survive our real selves; a corporal end does not necessitate a virtual one.
On an entirely separate note, the most frightening thing happened on the day before Halloween: my favorite website was shut down. It would be impossible to understate Grantland’s importance to me nor my slavish devotion to its publication; I was slightly embarrassed by how sad I was from the end of a website.
In an era of lists posing as articles and blog posts with more gifs than words, Bill Simmons’ site was refreshingly (somewhat) traditional.
Sure, there was a series of podcasts called “Food News,” and the site ran a full-length piece scrutinizing a single picture of Nicki Minaj’s appearance at a random kid’s Bar Mitzvah (it ranks as one of my all-time favorites), but Grantland also allowed its almost universally talented writers the freedom to write what they wanted, to dive deep into their own oceans of interest and produce thought-provoking, complex long-form criticism.
That kind of latitude is rare in an industry preoccupied with beats and word counts and short attention spans.
I read their stuff every day. I dreamed of working there. The writers seemed so at ease and so comfortable that Grantland seemed like that pipe dream you have when you’re younger that you and your best friends will all work at the same place.
And some form of the eulogy above has all been published online in the past couple of weeks numerous times, by people more important and more talented than I, but the simple fact is this: clicking Grantland on my favorites section now produces a solitary, somber, “It was a good run.” To access the archives, it tells me, I must use the navigation above.
I don’t aim to equate the death of a human being with the shutdown of a website owned by ESPN. What’s interesting is how we, as a culture, have decided to memorialize both equally, with a URL and a permanent home in cyberspace.
What is the point of death, of endings, if our dependence on the Internet has produced such a disfigured and superficial sense of immortality? Why do we love so passionately and grieve with such force if only to be constantly reminded of our loss by, well, its presence?
This is all representative of our gradual, collective devaluation of endings. Franchises are rebooted, spin-offs are planned, updates are released — everything finds a new home. And when things do finally end, they are memorialized in the same space they were once thriving.
The Internet and everything it has touched has simply become too big for just the living; it now houses the hollow remembrances of things past. A grave requires work: digging, laying, crying, visiting, remembering. A dead man’s Facebook account is just another tab in a window of many.