What happens when material posted online such as self-made videos and blogs becomes the material of a dead person? In Speaking into the Air, John Durham Peters writes, ‘Our bodies know fatigue and finitude, but our effigies, once recorded, can circulate through media systems indefinitely, across wastes of space and time’. The words, images and voices of those not just distant but departed can reach us. A certain percentage of soldiers’ emails or blogs (milblogs) will be written by individuals who, by the time you read their words, are dead. Their presence endures. A YouTube video posted by a soldier who has died since the posting seems to be in limbo, their voices and appearance suspended in time. You can see and hear them. You can even appropriate their content, mash up their video into something new, “steal” their apparition, re-invigorating them as you see fit. How do we deal with the ethical problems this creates? Who is to decide how such material is used? Can anybody know how the original personality of the soldier intended their communications to be used? When it comes to using their material, can the dead hold us to account?
No doubt a coincidence, but my Ghosts post last week has been followed by a piece in The Guardian yesterday about social network sites' (lack of) policies for dealing with the deaths of users and what to do with their profiles. It closes with a quote from Bill Washburn of OpenID suggesting a high profile case may be needed to enable us to work through these issues of privacy, dignity and so on.