Take that smirk off your face and get your nose out of Urban Dictionary – the subject of this post refers to the innocent act of nudging a person on social networks.
Back in 2007, poking someone on Facebook wasn’t lame and annoying yet; it was a cute way of saying “hey” to one of your friends or of introducing yourself to people you didn’t know (unless you were an 18 year old male, in which case it was never cute). My best friend and I used and abused that functionality quite frequently, and it was my turn to poke back when she passed away several years ago.
Facebook gives users the option to remove items they don’t wish to respond to, like pokes and events. I never returned the poke or removed it simply because I liked having the constant notification and reminder that she poked me on my Facebook page. It made me feel like her digital self was still active.
I accidentally deleted it today while using my phone and I’m devastated. That was the last sign of life I had from her and it’s gone.
Meanwhile, her profile is still up and I can’t decide whether it is a blessing or a curse. On one hand, it is reassuring and comforting to still be able to access the page; but on the other, it almost feels indecent in a staying-way-too-late-at-someone’s-house-after-the-party-is-over kind of way.
I guess that, in a world where everybody is scattered all over the place, Facebook profiles of the deceased can have the same cathartic effect as traditional headstones. People can stop by the page, reflect upon a person’s past by looking at pictures or quotations, or post a message to a wall in the same way one would leave flowers by a grave. Will the dead read the posts or sniff the plants? Probably not. Both gestures nevertheless help anchor in the present the strong feelings of the past.
The number of these inactive profiles will inevitably multiply with time and I wonder when Mark Zuckerberg will introduce a digital cemetery feature to help organize all these defunct yet relevant pages.