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We May Die, But Our Tweets Can Live Forever

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

At some point in life, a lot of people give some thought to their legacy, what they want to be known for after they're gone. But what about their digital afterlife? What happens to the tweets or Facebook posts that have come to define many people's day-to-day lives? Artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo created the Hereafter Institute to explore this very idea and created an interactive exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It gives participants the opportunity to experience a variety of services, including a digital funeral where they're eulogized solely on what they've posted on social media.

Buzzfeed writer Doree Shafrir went through the exhibit and wrote a piece about it, and she's with us now to talk about her experience. Doree, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us, and I'm glad you're still with us in real life.

DOREE SHAFRIR: (Laughter) Thank you. Me too.

MARTIN: Well, let me set the table here since everybody isn't as digitally focused. I mean, some people are. Some people aren't. You wrote that I'm not proud of the fact that when I hear about a celebrity dying I check to see what their last tweet was. How come?

SHAFRIR: I think it's just this morbid fascination I have with what was there - what were their last thoughts that they decided to put on social media?

MARTIN: So you talked to the creator of the Hereafter Institute, the artist, Gabriel Barcia-Colombo. Can you talk a little bit about what he told you he wants participants to take away from this project?

SHAFRIR: So he is really interested in people starting conversations about this stuff and really thinking about what their digital legacies are going to be and then also who do you want to designate as a person who would be kind of in charge of all your social media after you died?

On Facebook, you can designate someone to be what I think of as like the executer of your Facebook estate, and they can turn your page into a memorial page after you die. But the other social media platforms dont really have these mechanisms in place yet. And I think it's going to start to be something that we have to think about more and more.

MARTIN: Well, drumroll - tell us a little bit about your experience and what was it like to experience your digital funeral?

SHAFRIR: Yes. So in advance they asked us to send them some of our social media. And I think I sent them my Facebook and my Twitter. And then when I showed up, I was taken into this empty auditorium and then a man in a black suit came out and stood at a lectern and eulogized me and said, you know, Doree was a beloved friend, daughter and wife.

And then all of my tweets started scrolling on a screen in front of me as though to say, you know, here are some words of Doree's to remember her by - tweeting about wearing a dress to a wedding with pockets or Justin Bieber. And I thought, oh, my God, if I did die - God forbid - right now this is what people would see.

MARTIN: It is interesting to think of because on the one hand that is one of the things that people love about social media is that it does capture the day-to-day lives - like everybody can be a character in their own play. And I'm just interested in if you think if more people were to think about what their digital legacy would be, do you think it might change something?

SHAFRIR: I think that it is elevating the experience of, quote, unquote, "normal people" to say that they are valued to kind of say that we existed and our experiences is valuable. You don't have to just be a founding father or a famous person to feel like your lived experience was worth being commemorated after you die.

MARTIN: That was senior culture writer for BuzzFeed Doree Shafrir. She went to her own digital funeral and wrote about it for Buzzfeed. She was nice enough to join us from her home office in Los Angeles. Doree, thanks so much for speaking with us.

SHAFRIR: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.