Oksana Moroz - about digital death, funeral robots, virtual cemeteries and extinction Facebook

Oksana Moroz - cultural studies, associate professor of the department of cultural studies and social communication of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, head

Master's program "Media Management" in Shaninka. The researcher of Internet culture, online communication, trolling, digital death, culture of online memory and ethics of the digital environment

What is digital death?

Digital death is a very cool thing, because it’s complicated. Now this is a marketing construct thatturned out to be very interesting to web designers. Not in terms of sales, but in order to design new elements of the digital environment. Later, the humanities, who finally found a terminological basis for discussions about death in the digital environment, drew attention to this phenomenon. In fact, they began to borrow technical language.

If you try to describe the phenomenon simply, then you need to start with an idea of ​​the digital environment as a certain number of tools used for different purposes. Today, regulatory applications to enter the Internet space and the digital environment are user applications and services for communication. Simply put, social networks, blogs.

In the figure you can live: to post something and write about something. But in the figure it seems impossible to die. It is not adapted for the direct conscious representation of physical death.

Oksana Moroz

And, on the one hand, the figure is rich in traditionalways of the story of death, its image, updated due to the presence of a new, non-analogue space. On the other hand, the question arises: how to build a whole online environment in which a person can “work out”, imagine his own death, in which a location will be assigned to him as a “deceased” and which will also have “niche” social spaces for grief?

Photo: Vlad Shatilo / "Hightech"

Somewhere since the late 2000s, severalWeb designers, one of the most famous - Michael Massimi, have thought about how to rebuild the digital environment so that it includes the interesting sensory, allowing reflexively interact with the phenomenon of death, custom tools. They were supposed to allow people to express their attitude towards death, experience the death of another and at the same time program a personal and public attitude towards their own death.

Michael Massimi - web designer, employee Slack. His areas of interest include research on human-computer interaction, computer collaboration, computer communication, and how technology helps a person to comprehend important life events. Massimi is developing a position according to which we can rebuild a digital environment that will be unattensive. This means that it will allow people to experience and represent, to represent the whole gamut of emotions associated with someone else's dying, and to regulate, to program their own departure from life. The digital environment will be tailored to what we are accustomed to offline. In other words, under the representation of that existential, radical, support experience, thanks to which a person identifies himself alive (we recognize ourselves alive, including as beings, someday, in the long run, necessarily facing death).

Thanatosensitivity implies developmenttools that enable simple management of user data, transferring them by inheritance without the participation of lawyers, who recently did not quite understand what digital right is and how to work with it. Thanossensitive design implies andthe possibility of free construction of various memorial sites, within which not only the format of the virtual cemetery is reproduced, but the whole history of the deceased is created. And this story can be constructed by man himself. I come up with a story about myself during my life, which, in my opinion, will be important and useful to my family, a story that will program my image for them and create the effect of my online presence after death. Online we live while we are present, talk, with someone we correspond; there is no physical death. Online is only social death, we die for the numbers when we stop “sounding”.

The use of digital technology will not save from the death of the physical; But the sensitive-digital design allowscreate an online simulation of human social activity after death, an imitation of actual life. In particular, therefore, in the context of the struggle for digital immortality, deferred posting technologies are being developed (big greetings to marketing specialists, PR specialists, SMM specialists), with which you can plan your Facebook and other services for the months ahead. Posts will go after your death.

This technology is more suitable for people who assume an approximate period of their demise. But there is another option that is based onless automation of post-mortem social life online and greater inclusion of a person in the process of debugging it. For example, in Facebook, you can designate a custodian who has the ability to post information on behalf of the deceased, like and so on. The illusion of the presence of a living person within the account will be more effective.

There is a completely radical option that marketers like, because it is so convenient to sell the topic of artificial intelligence. There are applications that allowsynchronize your profile with the mechanism that learns on the original posts. When a user dies, a live account is deactivated, the same machine, digital double starts to control the profile. After the death of the owner of the original account, he commits independent actions on the basis of data gathered from the former, “live” profile owner. There is a startup ETER9.com, which works on this principle, but there are still few Russian-speaking users registered there. There was a startup Eterni.me, which now, apparently, has disappeared from the market. Its creators assumed the design of avatars, working on the principle of completely independent bots, which can be called (as we call, using Skype) and with which it will be possible to have a meaningful conversation. This startup involved the processing and reproduction of the appearance of the deceased, his voice, intonation of speech and, of course, the usual rhetorical constructions.

Photo: Vlad Shatilo / "Hightech"

To summarize, digital death is, on the one hand, all the representations of death that are present in the Internet space. These are all situations of mourning,condolences, sorrows that a person can present and realize online. Either because he specifically constructs a particular space (for example, a virtual cemetery), or because he uses popular social services for public grief. And the third variant of the practices, united by the umbrella term “digital death”, implies the development of chatbots and alternative counterparts that ensure the social posthumous existence of a person online.

Ethics bots

After the Replika bot was invented, a conversation arose about the ethics of producing such tools. Now there are already several cases whenprogrammers invented such bots based on the data of their loved ones deceased. Of course, pre-collecting their consent. There is a wonderful startup Dadbot. This bot was created by a programmer whose father was dying of cancer. The son began to record endless hours of conversations with him, to leave the recorded memories of his father, to record his voice, which can be played again and again when it does not. And then he thought: why do I need these records, if I can create a program based on them that can speak, react like my father? Having collected from his father and all family members informed consent for subsequent actions, he created Dadbot. And he really speaks with recognizable phrases of the deceased, “realizing” himself with this machine, not a living person. So you can imagine a product for domestic, family use, which is created for therapy, rather than commercial use.

With the help of these developments (which will not disappear from the market), people will be able to easily “communicate” with the dead. The possibility of conversation basically heals,but for the production of such a digital thing it is necessary to possess serious competences in the field of computing. Although, I think, in the near future it will be possible to imagine the creation of services where third-party people based on the presented datasets will develop exactly the same machines for specific orders. Or, that there will be custom services by the type of designers that allow you to create simple chat bots.

But you can look at this ethical dilemma and otherwise. In the history of culture there is a kindTradition: after the death of a famous person, on the basis of his public or personal statements, ego documents often create some new artifact. Letters are published or, as in the case of Kafka, whole texts, the author, obviously, was not supposed to be printed. If a person seems to be important enough, and his knowledge, his memory is valuable enough, then culture carriers turn a blind eye to the factual violation of the human right to confidentiality of personal information, to the protection of correspondence. So, the contemporary concern with the problems of ethics speaks of a more reflective attitude towards cultural artifacts and people whose statements make up its archive. However, at the same time, we know that historically everything was a little different. When people recognize the value of the public presentation of some artifacts, ethics often retreat to second place.

Changing memorial practices

Usually the practice of commemoration of the deceased and other memorial rituals (which, by the way, should not be associated solely with grief) are tied to the calendar rhythm. So, on the one hand, if we are onlineto have a communication tool with the deceased, which will ensure the possibility of constant communication with them, this can create a kind of neurotic binding to the deceased. On the other hand, it is clear that the communication practices may begin to resemble those of the owners of the Replika bot: we constantly forget about chatting with this bot, because we realize that it is inanimate. In general, we treat these tools rather detachedly, even if they imply some personalization and personification of the service and its services.

There is another very important context for discussion. For a long time in the world of practiceDeath Awareness Movement. This movement advocates the highest possible and frequency discussion of death, the removal of taboos from talks about dying, retiring from life. Accordingly, tanatologists appear - psychologists who are ready to talk about death with the dying and their families, there are "death midwives", such doula who combine the functionality of funeral agents and psychologists. They work with families at the time of dying loved ones. There are events like death cafe, which people attend to discuss death in all contexts, completely free, without psychotherapy. And, finally, psychotherapy appears, which actively works with the fear of death. A modern person can, if desired, speak in a constant manner about death. To talk about it as a continuation of life or as a separate event. To argue about his death, a stranger, what he saw, the one he fears. By itself, the phenomenon ceases to be distant, detachable, something that is in the jurisdiction of only special people - ministers of religion, funeral agents or other initiates. Death concerns everyone, so we all have the right to discuss it.

Death becomes secular and she entersin almost every home and every life. We constantly, for example, in the media are faced with death. We see more obituaries than before in the same social networks when someone dies. Death approached us much more closely as a topic for discussion, and therefore, it seems to me, vulgar desacralization of the subject matter will not occur. It is precisely because we can calmly communicate, including on this topic, every day and in different formats. As a result, there will be a greater awareness of the attitude towards dying, the frailty of existence — and towards life, of course.

Oksana Moroz

For example, I have a deceased grandfather, who was not eight years ago, I love him very much. I have very little left of him - not onerecording his voice, for example. As a grown-up person who has lost him as an adult and who is not currently accepting this event as acute, painful, I would sometimes be glad to “hear” him. Exchanging with “his” chat-bot, who would have spoken it with phrases, would be quite nice. It is unlikely that this would have a serious therapeutic effect, but sometimes it would be important for me to "talk" with him, maybe even consult. Another thing is that the presence of such a chat bot, made “under” a person who died tragically, can be painfully perceived by relatives, for whom such a death is a catastrophe, an open wound. As a result, in discussing the issue of chat bots, we find ourselves in the space of cultural libertarianism. If we imagine such a mass technology, then potentially everyone will have to decide for what purpose and why to use the tool. Which may look like a toy, and maybe as the cause of retraumatization.

Photo: Vlad Shatilo / "Hightech"

Digital death and religion

In Japan, Pepper, one of the most famous social robots, was already programmed to service funerals a few years ago. In Japan, funerals are very expensive, and quiteA large number of people cannot afford the quality realization of this ritual. At the same time, the population is aging. So that people experience some frustration due to the fact that they cannot normally ensure that their dead observe the most important ritual marking the end of life. And then a robot appears that can conduct the service, and its services will cost a lot less than the ceremony held by a Buddhist monk. Such technologization, in which the robot, of course, does not completely substitute the minister of religion, but indicates internal problems of religious systems, is not a challenge to the church or religious authority. This is a challenge to the whole society, for which for the time being it is religious systems that own the right to serve and interpret death as an event.

In the case of Christianity, things are somewhat different. Catholicism since the Second Vatican Councilattentively looks at the achievements of the secular world, including technological ones. Orthodoxy may be more conservative, but even here at the community level there are many techno-optimists. There are priests who specifically investigate the problems of AI, there are priests-bloggers, there are laymen who pray using instant messengers. As they notice, the main thing is prayer meetings, not the technology of their implementation. So in this case, technology is not a value in itself, but a tool. And its influence on the being, the content of the rituals is still minimal, because no technology can reproduce the act of presence in the sacrament.

I believe that technology will increasingly invade the space of religion, at least at the level of visual presentation, representation. After all, in the sacred space of the cemeteriesdid interactive tombstones, QR memorials and digital tombstones invade? Their presence provides mourners with a large amount of information about the deceased, but does not transform the essence of the rituals of farewell or worship. The key issue of the digitalization of physical death is in the attitude of the church to digital technologies as an element of progressive changes in the living conditions of humanity. In the modern Russian version, digitalization is not yet located in the center of interest of religious systems, turning out to be just a part of the everyday life of the parishioners.

Digital Death Geography

In Russia, the attitude towards digital death is much less calm than in Europe and in the Western world in general. And yes, of course, you always have to understand thatThere are different national, historical, cultural, and religious traditions and customs of interaction with death. In this sense, the representation of death in China, Russia and America can be very different. However, most of the startups that work with digital death are focused on the Western market, on the European or American health care system - with insurance and digital law, with digital inheritance management systems. For example, JoinCake is one of the largest and most successful tools for managing EOL (end-of-life). Before you begin to actively use the service, you must answer a number of questions. And they are all connected with the everyday realities of the western (at least American) health care system.

Photo: Vlad Shatilo / "Hightech"

"In Russia, death is more often associated with something negative and painful."

Modern European society (and Philip Ares has written quite a lot about this) is in some sense in an “upside down relationship” with death. Death as a painful, terrible phenomenon abolishedor its presence is relegated to the background. You can cure almost everything, high-quality survival, pain relief can also be provided to very many. States that were previously unequivocally associated with death (pain, suffering) are no longer considered as its obligatory satellites. So death becomes just a functional part of life, everyday life. And it can be treated instrumentally. This is exactly what happens during digitalization. Some applications are designed so that you can plan your funeral - up to the color of your guests' napkins and what dishes they will be served to. Yes, this is a game. But at the same time a demonstration of a very rational attitude towards death. Here I will die. I want my ending of life to bring a minimum of trouble to those who remain after me. Other applications allow you to solve issues with digital testaments.

Philip Ares - French historian, author of works on historyeveryday life, family and childhood. The subject of his most famous book, The Man in the Face of Death, is the story of attitudes toward death in European society.

In Russia, it seems to me, up to a certain age, people simply do not even think about their wills. Not to mention wonderinghow to inherit digital assets. And discussing such issues is a bit taboo. Why? In Russia, in principle, there are very few social guarantees that allow a person to be sure that his death, sudden or, on the contrary, quite expected, will be accompanied by a normal organization of farewell, adequate legal procedures. Therefore, death is not a phenomenon that should be ordered according to the principle “Well, it will come anyway”, it is a radical non-event that you don’t want to think or talk about.

Facebook as a digital graveyard

It seems to me that the inhabitants of Facebook will grow old and inevitably die, and new users will not appear. People do not so much change their attitude toto social networks in general, how many will reflect the practice of monopolizing a digital resource by some giants. This monopolization is very noticeable: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, to a lesser extent Instagram - these are the most popular services that provide maximum people with the whole amount of possible tools for communication. And they set the censorship with which users have to put up. I hope that sooner or later people will disperse into more specialized and smaller social media or messengers, where you can create nanosheti of your people, your loved ones, and this will be a new version of the person’s life world online. Because the life world from a network of 100-300 connections can still be somehow maintained, and if you have 5 thousand friends, of course, you don't know them all.

But for the time being, social networks remain the monopolists in the field of memory digitization, which have launched tools to memorize the accounts of their users. And thus turned out to be ambassadorstolerant attitude to death. The same Facebook literally publicly states the following: “We are not silent about the fact that our users are dying. But we do not delete them from the world of existing in Facebook. We show respect for their fact of a posthumous presence in our space. ” Although it is clear that for Facebook dead accounts are an important marketing resource, a tool for advertising services.

So the number of Facebook users includes the accounts of dead people. And it looks like such a zombie apocalypse: not only that other people often make long commemorations of the deceased, tagging him / her in their mournful statuses. So with the help of profiles of the deceased some goods are promoted. As a result, the manipulation of these accounts, which, perhaps, looks like respect for death, is in fact an advertisement and an important way of earning money. And in the process of this manipulation, a lot of algorithmic punctures arise when the network starts to show contextual macabre ads to grieving users - quite appropriate in their case, but ethically undesirable. Recipients of such advertising are outraged, appealing publicly to the leadership of the same Facebook with the exclamations “What do you allow yourself?”, But there is no way out. To solve the problem, it is necessary to isolate the algorithm, and this is not always the most correct solution in terms of social media devices and setting their “sensitivity” to the issues of death representation. The result is that the network, which demonstrates some respect for death, at the same time can hurt the bereaved, - and not quite clearly what can be done about it.

Facebook memorial practices have ceased to bethe company's internal kitchen in the mid-2010s, when a massive online reaction to the terrorist attack was published by the Charlie Hebdo editorial (Jemo Charlie flash mob). Then many terrorist attacks and other masscatastrophic events were accompanied by online mourning, which almost always acted as some kind of reflection, continuation or replacement of state mourning, nationwide. Next to offline grief appeared online, implemented outside of state borders, language differences, but associated with filter bubbles. By what groups have changed avatars, put sorrowful statuses, it is almost always possible to understand who is in which “bubble” is, for whom this or that tragedy is significant, and who for various reasons does not correlate with this grief.

Je Suis Charlie, from fr. “I am Charly” - a slogan that has become a symbol of condemnation of the terrorist attack on the editors of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which killed 12 editorial staff.

At the same time, in parallel with the development of the “I Grieve with the World” position, the non-acceptance of the totality of online grief arose. When we declare national mourning,we personally can not grieve, not show empathy, but find ourselves in a limited information space, excluding the publication of entertainment content, for example. We agree with this, because we are not required to actively engage in mourning, but we must demonstrate some collective respect for the grief of others.

But now the state mourning does not affectthat you can download “Horse BoJack” on the same day and watch it. In the online environment, grief is accompanied by the effect of infection: alternating avatars flashing everywhere, black backgrounds, mourning formulaic speeches. And while the binding nature of these expressions of grief is optional. There is a conflict. It seems you are free not to grieve with the rest and to exist within your online field in accordance with your communication habits. But there is pressure from the moral authority of other people who believe that since a mass disaster has happened, why don't you mourn with everyone? This conflict is especially noticeable if the user finds himself in such a filter bubble, where a certain type of online grief is the norm.

Oksana Moroz

In the end, almost everyone who dared to stand onsome public position on the spontaneous online grief and voice it, something, so they will blame. For example, the fact that a person refuses to grieve publicly. Or does it wrong. Of course, the appearance of these claims depends largely on the community and on the same algorithmically collected filter bubbles. But if collective self-identification through concrete actions (in particular, spontaneous memorialization), collective empathy is important for the community, then claims can be voiced quite clearly. And this issue is also studied within the talk about digital death, because recalling mass disasters and tragedies is part of the discourse about death.