Drugi jezik na kojem je dostupan ovaj članak: Bosnian
By: Branimir Brkljač
It looked like it was going to be just another very ordinary day in the year 1888. Successful Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who had patented dynamite and made a fortune from its sale throughout the world, was at his home in Paris, and like every other morning he was going through the daily newspaper. That day there was certainly something to read about. No less than that he, Alfred Nobel, had died!!! It must’ve been a really special experience. I don’t know anyone who learned about their own death from the newspaper. We don’t know how Mr. Nobel felt at that moment, and what thoughts entered his mind. We do know that the article in which the news was published was titled “The Merchant of Death”, and that in it, the creator of dynamite was accused, because of his invention, of being responsible for the deaths of thousands of people around the world. Later it turned out that the journalists of the French newspaper confused Alfred Nobel with his older brother Ludwig, who was the one who died. Well, it happens; journalists will be journalists, and then, as now, they often don’t check all the information they receive, so mistakes slip by. Anyway, on that day Alfred Nobel learned firsthand what the world would remember him for when he really died. Apparently he didn’t like it, so on 27 November 1895 he went to the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris and made a four-page hand written will, in which he left only a small part of his vast fortune to relatives and his employees, and the larger part he transformed into a fund and prescribed that the interest on the invested capital should be used for annual prizes to individuals who in the previous year had made the greatest contribution to mankind. He also clearly defined the categories in which the prizes would be awarded – physics, chemistry, mathematics and medicine. He also added a special award for the same amount of money for those who, in that year, had made the greatest contribution to the spread of “fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Alfred Nobel really did die the following year in 1896, the first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901, and today the name of Alfred Nobel is associated with the prosperity of mankind, with a particularly strong identification of his name with peace in the world. Nobel actually achieved being remembered by the world, not for that for which he was known in his lifetime, but for that which he wanted the world to remember him.
I recalled this historical anecdote the other day as I was reading an article (perish the thought, not THAT kind of article) about the British company QR Memories in Dorset, which offers the services of installing a QR code on tombstones, so that when someone comes to visit the grave to, let’s say, lay flowers and light a candle, they can use their smartphone to scan the QR code and get additional content about the deceased – images, texts, links, and even short videos, with the blessed departed in the leading role. There are other similar examples. Let’s say, if you are a Twitter user, you can register on the website www.liveson.org and their algorithm analyzes your twitter communications, so when you die, the machine continues to communicate in your place, because in the meantime it has gotten to know you very well. After all, the slogan “when your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting” very clearly explains what the whole thing is about. True, there’s a small catch, which is that the machine will do it for you only for the period you’ve paid for, but don’t worry – you can find someone who will take care of your profile, so you can keep going as long as you want – or rather as long as this someone pays for your twitter life. A similar, but more complex service, which is not limited to Twitter, is provided by the company Eternime, which offers “virtual immortality” in the form of an interactive avatar that communicates as if it was you. You can learn more and educate yourself on life after death on the blog The Digital Beyond, which promises to help you in “anticipating and planning for the future of your digital content.” All this is somehow surreally reminiscent of the old legendary slogan of a local funeral home: “You just have to die – leave all the rest to us!”
Let’s face it – none of this should be either shocking or surprising. This is a logical consequence of the overall transformation of everyday life under the influence of the latest technological revolution. If the smartphone has become practically an organ of the human body, without which you can no longer live and which allows us to live in the virtual world, and given that today their virtual social life is more important for more and more people than their real one (with the serious question of what is real life today – the virtual or the real, and which life do we prefer to live), and if we know that virtual reality and augmented reality (not the same) are areas in which information technology is developing the fastest, while the largest global companies are investing billions in such technology (“Oculus VR” which was bought by Facebook is just one such example), then it really should come as no surprise that the border between life and death is being relativized. Technology is only one, and not the most important element that leads to this. Human behavior is a key factor that has made virtual life more important than real life.
Let’s leave the dead in peace, at least for the moment, and turn to the living. There is a well-known hypothesis – which I often mention in my articles and presentations – that today each individual is a medium that produces specific content and at the same time airs it, so that each of us has become a medium. It’s in our nature to present ourselves the way we would like to be experienced by other people, and not as we really are, and we’ve been doing this since forever. When we transform this personal “representation” into media content that is broadcast “at a distance” and with virtually no restrictions, this need becomes even more pronounced, because, on the one hand we have known and accepted models of mass media to imitate, and on the other, the truthfulness of the content produced and broadcast in such way is less verifiable. In that way, we gradually build our own virtual personality and character. The intensity of communication and interaction with others in the virtual world is also constantly increasing, and it takes more and more time and energy to maintain this image of ours, to feed it and further develop it in the direction of the ideal “self”. As others behave the same way, this virtual world is becoming more and more a place of communication of artificially created characters, not real people.
And they eventually start to increasingly resemble each other. It’s paradoxical, but in order to be noticed in this world you have to follow some imposed model of looks and behavior, and hence there is more and more of the same. There’s a kind of kardashianization process. Over time, this gap between the real me and my ideal me is deepening, and the real “me” is becoming more and more subordinated to the ideal “me”. We don’t need a company to create an avatar for us. We are already making our own.
If this thesis is further radicalized, we can ask the question – what is the difference between the virtual content that is produced for someone who has died, and the virtual content that the living produce and broadcast about themselves every day? Or an even better question – what is the difference between the deceased who continue to live in the virtual world and the living who live mainly in the virtual world?
One of the basic assumptions of the digital era in which we live in is a constant presence that manifests itself through constant online activity. As we can see, this no longer necessarily requires that you have to really be alive, because your social activity is no longer tied to physical space and direct physical contact. Death is no longer a strong enough reason for absence, or to put it more simply – the dead don’t have to be automatically offline as well.
At one time, only those who had made humanity indebted to them through great deeds (or misdeeds) gained immortality. Now, any one of us can gain it. We are just waiting for the status to be posted that we have all become Nobel Prize winners.