Fiona McCade: Death no match for power of Twitter

Picture: PA

Picture: PA

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YOU don’t have to read a lot of tweets to start wondering how many Twitter users might be brain dead. But what if you received a tweet from somebody who actually was dead?

It’s about to happen. This month sees the debut of a new Twitter feed, the aptly-named “LivesOn”. Some social media services already keep the dead online via pre-arranged postings, but LivesOn takes things a step further. By carefully analysing your Twitter style while you’re alive – “learning about your likes, tastes, syntax” – LivesOn offers you the opportunity to keep on tweeting long after your mortal coil has been shuffled off.

“I tweet, therefore I am” is no longer necessarily true. Subscribers to LivesOn (I assume they’ll have to leave the company something in their wills to ensure the tweets keep on coming) can continue to delight their followers with regular, pithy, 140-character observations. They won’t be able to read any replies, of course, but no worries. They can still have automatically generated Twitter conversations, based on what they probably would have said if they had been sufficiently extant to say it.

Human beings have always craved immortality, but I can’t help thinking that a post-mortem presence on social media is a rather pathetic memorial. As an aspiration, it lacks any sense of drama, or dignity. Imagine the gladiators, making their last stand in the arena, saying: “We who are about to die … will tweet you.”

It also calls into serious question what we can consider a person’s last words to be. What if, with your dying breath, you come up with something wonderfully noble, witty, or profound, then a couple of minutes after your graceful demise, thanks to LivesOn, you’re tweeting: “Get a load of Cheryl Cole’s new tramp-stamp! #minginorwot.”

One major concern is how your family might feel about still receiving tweets from you long after you are underground. Will it be comforting, or simply freaky? I’m already thinking about trying to influence my tweets so that, after the worst has happened, my recently bereaved nearest and dearest can be woken up at 3am by a tweet that says: “BOO!” Or, perhaps: “Don’t turn around … I’m standing behind you …”

Now I think about it, what a legacy of fun a LivesOn account could be. I wonder if I could arrange it so my first tweet from the afterlife would be: “Can’t anybody hear me knocking?” Alternatively, how about: “It’s cold … so cold … #stilldecomposing” or, even better: “It’s so hot down here! #slowlydisintegrating”.

If that’s too cruel, perhaps I’ll just try and ensure that I stick to comments along the lines of: “I can see down your top from here”, or “It didn’t take you very long to move on, did it?” Or maybe something reassuringly practical, like: “The spare keys are in the second drawer down on the right-hand side of the bureau.”

I think what worries me most about LivesOn is the possibility that somehow, the computer-generated feed would get it wrong and Dead Me would end up posting all sorts of objectionable opinions that Alive Me would totally disagree with. I mean, if my living-tweets included innocent stuff like “I love heather-covered moors” and “Visiting gorgeous water mills”, after death, LivesOn might accidentally make me tweet “I love gorgeous Heather Mills”. And then, after much spinning in my grave, I’d have to come back and seriously haunt someone.

Ironically, the fact that social media is actually quite anti-social – nobody physically meets each other – makes it the ideal forum for dead people to get out more. Being alive has ceased to be a prerequisite for engaging in chit chat. Thanks to technology, the great leveller is no longer death, it’s Twitter.

I can already imagine the End of Days, when all that’s left of the human race is a scattering of mobile phones, eternally tweeting each other about Taylor Swift’s failed romances. Aliens will land and think that the phones are the local, indigenous life-form and from then on, what was once known by its inhabitants as Planet Earth will forever be referred to in the galactic archives as Planet #.

Until that day comes, perhaps subscribers to LivesOn can take inspiration from paraphrasing the also-dead Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night … Tweet, tweet against the dying of the light.”

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