After You Die: Do You Want to Live on Digitally? Want to Become an Influential Hologram??

Sometimes all one can say to an idea is “wow.” That’s the way I felt after watching Mashable editor-in-chief Adam Ostrow’s five-minute TED talk below.

Writers may not admit it, but one of their desires is to leave evidence that they were here on earth long after they are gone. Memoirists perhaps have this drive even more than fiction writers and poets (discuss amongst yourselves)??

Look at the possibilities future memoirists may have thanks to digital/laser/super computer combinations. This is not science fiction!

What questions does this video bring up for you? What possibilities for good? What shadow side do you see to the possibility of living on digitally after death? I’d love your thoughts.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Loretta Willems on September 28, 2011 at 2:01 am

    Fascinating. It really brings home how different reallity will be for the generation now being born than it has been for me. I wonder whether the baby my grandson and his wife are expecting will have any interest at all in the stories I’ve been writing about his great-great grandfather and great-great-grandmother? Will he and his brother have any patience with old snapshots? Will interactive holographic recreations of people no longer alive leave them unwilling to seek to imaginatively enter into the life of another long dead? Will they assume that the holograph is the “truth” about that person? Can a holograpic image recreated from tweets and face book and YouTube actually do justice to the full depth of an individual?
    –I ask if I would want this kind of holograph of my mother and father–and the answer is, No. I wouldn’t want it, and I would hate to have one made of me. When I am dead I want to be truly dead. I don’t want a facsimile of me hanging around giving the illusion that I’m still here. I will be gone, and it will be time for me to be gone.
    Loretta W.

    • shirleyhs on September 28, 2011 at 10:37 am

      Loretta, of course your descendants will have an interest in your stories written about ancestors! Anything a grandchild learns by being on your lap has a lasting influence, I’m sure. 🙂

      And since the ancestors can only be reclaimed through archeological research (see Linda Gartz’s amazing blog, the point above is not relevant to them and therefore dig on!

      Your desire to be gone when you are gone, however, is interesting, in light of the fact that you are trying to reclaim the past of others. Hmm. Want to comment more?

      Thanks so much for being the first commenter here. I think this video is astounding and am surprised more people aren’t commenting.


      • Loretta Willems on September 28, 2011 at 9:52 pm

        Thank you for the invitation to comment further about my desire to be gone when I am gone. Part of it is that I feel the confrontation with the reality of death is holy. We need our ancestors to leave the scene, and we need to wrestle with that loss. That feelling definitely does not come from lack of ego. I firmly believe that the human hunger for the presevation of one’s life beyond death is legitimate. It is rather the feeling that what it is about me that I want preserved is what I have seen, what I have experienced, what I have felt and thought and created through my words. I do not want a computer-generated holograph of me competing with my writing. Writing is a matter of intelligent choice of words and images and details. I want to be the one who makes those choices, not a computer, even a super-intelligent one.

      • shirleyhs on September 29, 2011 at 12:45 pm

        Loretta, one point from the TED Talk. The hologram could be combined with sophisticated analysis and storage of your writing–since almost all writing is digital these days.Even handwritten letters can be digitized easily. The writing and the hologram could be combined. And the image would then contain the “content” in the writing.

        I like your point about the holiness of death. And about the desire to control what we pass along to whom and how. You and I will probably still have choices in this regard. What future generations do is hard to imagine.

        But what is new is that these words we have written here might last for eons.

        If this talk has helped us think more about the holiness of death and the importance of choosing our words carefully, it has accomplished a lot! Thanks for thinking with me about this.

  2. Brenda Bartella Peterson on September 28, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    This Ted Talk sends my mind in two directions. First, we can “relate” all we want to digitally but it doesn’t replace the face-to-face experience. I have re-connected with many old friends on Facebook but none of the interactions have been as rich on FB as when I re-connect with a group of them in person this weekend. Second, I’m not sure it is much different from previous generations. We have a “relationship” with William Shakespeare because of the work he left behind. When the digital generations are looking back at digital archives, I doubt they will feel much more than what we feel in looking back at Willy’s work or our grandmother’s diaries. Am I fooling myself?

  3. shirleyhs on September 28, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    I have to agree with you on both counts, Brenda. In some ways this is nothing new, except for the technology. But in other ways it could be. The people who want to preserve themselves via cryonics (freezing the body so that it can be unfrozen after cures are discovered in the future for what killed the person) might have something in common with those who might want to preserve themselves as holograms. And people who can’t let go of their loved ones after death might keep them around in some ghoulish fashion also. But, come to think of it, Faulkner anticipated that one also. His short story “A Rose for Miss Emily” showed that the living can go to great lengths, even without lasers and super computers, to keep the dead alive.

    The other issue, more troubling than these extreme cases to most people, is how immortal our words and images are once they are online. What will happen to my grandson’s generation when their whole lives are preserved in some fashion? How will they develop? Will someone hold them responsible for what writers used to call “juvenalia” and furiously fight to destroy?

    So many potential questions here. Thanks for your comments. As always, they are appreciated.

  4. Brenda Bartella Peterson on September 28, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    Shirley, I think one of the most life-changing factors of our technology is the death of privacy. Our children and grandchildren will live in a world where privacy is considered quaint. We, baby boomers are still naive enough about privacy to believe we have some left. But what we write on the web is truly out there forever—even now.

    • shirleyhs on September 29, 2011 at 12:35 pm

      True. That’s why there are businesses like trying to give some of your control back. Probably a lost cause. I hope as privacy decreases we will gain more sophistication in how to sort. It would probably be possible to make anyone look like an idiot, despot, or worse, with selective cutting and pasting.

  5. Linda Gartz on September 29, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Hi Shirley,
    At the rate of change in technology and social media, we can’t even imagine what the future will bring. In 1979, at a baby shower, we asked all the guests to write a letter to the then baby who would turn 21 in the year 2000 (it seemed futuristic and so-far distant). The idea was to predict what his life might be like and send him good wishes as he entered into official adulthood. Most wrote about the enduring values of family and friends that would always be with us, but the predictions were so way off: flying cars, space travel for vacations. Not one person envisioned the internet or the ubiquity of cell phones as portable computers that could put us instantly in touch with any knowledge, information, or communication. Facebook didn’t exist just 7 years ago and now it’s taking over the world. The idea of living on as described is creepy. If it takes everything from our social media — it’s the persona we want to present — not the real us. I think of my son and how I know him, in all his moods and I can’t imagine any hologram based only on his social media self capturing the complex young man I know. I would be more saddened by this fake doppelgänger more than by my own memories. BTW thanks for mentioning my blog. I certainly can recreate a great deal of my ancestors’ lives based on their written records–more than I ever would have known otherwise. But I wouldn’t want a hologram of them based on all this. I prefer their handwriting and thoughts as expressed in their letters and diaries– and then my ability to try to make sense of it (as I attempt on the blog) combining what I experienced of them interacting the rest of my family. Thanks for posting — a thought-provoking post!

    • shirleyhs on September 29, 2011 at 1:54 pm

      Linda, so happy to have you join the conversation. You bring up another good point–one that I’ve seen several people talk about lately. The FB Persona vs. the Real You and Real Me. Social media, for the most part, is the place for happy news, humor, inspiration. Politics and religion are tricky unless one is preaching to the choir. What is missing? A place to be vulnerable. Without vulnerability, there can be no intimacy.

      Intimacy with a hologram is unthinkable anyway.

      But what we know about technology is that when it can be done, it will be done.

      I agree that the adventure with family history is the detective work with fragments. It’s better to breathe life into those than to have a complete hologram made of a an incomplete persona!

  6. shirleyhs on October 14, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Another amazing take on death–this one with emphasis on the physical body. Almost the exact opposite of the idea of survival after death. Complete decomposition and the cleansing of our body’s chemical toxicity. A seven-minute TED talk.

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