by Barry Chudakov on November 5th, 2009

Metalife Afterlife

A core Metalife idea is that communication tools create versions, extensions, echoes and revisions of our self and identity. As Gillian Raymond, curator of the Online Identity exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery said recently, “People spend so much time online these days, Skyping, Facebook, paying bills even … to the government we are pieces of data, we are a license plate number.”

I was thinking of Raymond’s words, changing yet another password on yet another login, when a further implication dawned. For centuries artists, writers and thinkers lived on after death through their work: Auden said of Yeats’ passing, “He became his admirers.” But that was BG (Before Google). Now millions of us have online banking and health insurance profiles; in an effortless upload our identity becomes a Facebook page or a YouTube video. So, I wondered, what will happen to these various identity extensions and echoes after we’re gone? Will they expire when we do? Or might they too live on, creating a startling example of what we mean by a Metalife? In fact, a Metalife afterlife? We know communication tools can create avatars and digital versions of us not tied to our cells and DNA. Will we look to exploit that, asking them also to create ways to live on beyond our physical selves?

A quick autopsy of the body of evidence reveals that our Metalife afterlife is already here:

Shuffling off the mortal coil may, as the moneymen say, monetize your Metalife. By now you’ve heard the math: Michael Jackson has earned $90 million dollars in the last year, much of it coming since his death less than six months ago.  Elvis, a perennial Metalifer, earned $55 million last year, well after he left the building. Celebrity exists as a trial run for the rest of us. Look for mere mortals to follow their lead as content creation and distribution make everyone a media outlet as Clay Shirky said.

It is possible for a Metalife to prolong a life indefinitely. Einstein passed into relativity of natural causes in 1955, but in 2009 worked for Disney, Toyota Prius, a mall in Germany called (quel surprise) Das Einstein, and will brand a number of upcoming video ‘brain games.’ Once again, as corporate and personal brands converge, death will become a minor hiccup in the product lifecycle.

 

Tutankhumun Death Mask, Flickr, The Laird of Oldham, Creative Commons license.

 

There are a growing number of companies looking to help manage a Metalife once you or a loved one has reached room temperature. Trading in the identities of delebs, or dead celebrities, is already a small but thriving niche market. While Yves Saint Laurent, James Dean, and Marilyn are sacred cash cows for their respective estates, the rich and famous dearly departed are just one aspect of this growing phenomenon.

Deathswitch is an automated system that prompts you for your password to make sure you are still alive, then sends email messages and attached files to your online mourners “after your switch is triggered”; Legacy Locker, “a safe, secure repository for your vital digital property lets you grant access to online assets for friends and loved ones in the event of loss, death, or disability”; Asset Lock is described in the New York Times as “a way to say what you wouldn’t put in a will.” Other service providers are likely coming who not only will protect online assets but will branch out into related areas of business such as estate planning, will creation and management, online inventory and asset legacy and transfer, and so-called ‘information insurance.’

Taken together these Metalife extensions to conventional lifetimes provide a window onto a swiftly approaching future. Our identities are moving past avatars and gravatars to sophisticated streaming self-presentations. Due to the enlivening of information that a wealth of communication tools now enable, we are creating a kind of life-support for a Metalife:

Five implications of an emerging Metalife life-support industry that fundamentally change our sense of life and the beyond.

  1. Regardless of whether you’re famous, your Metalife lives on after life. This fact changes how you look at both your life and how you fashion a Metalife.
  2. Like the automotive aftermarket, tools and services providing that life extension will become thriving businesses and markets.
  3. Your so-called ‘online life’ or virtual life is merging with your so-called ‘real life.’
  4. The creating, managing, editing and revising of a Metalife will become as important for people—for many people it is already—as managing a career or a business.
  5. You will set up and manage an afterlife for your Metalife, much as you do now with living wills, trusts and other legacy instruments.

 

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1 Comment
  1. This gives a whole new meaning to the word, metamorphosis, Barry. Plus, you gotta love a post where Auden and Yeats co-exist with Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. Thing is, I much rather Auden and Yeats had a metalife like Jackson’s and Presley’s. As Auden would say, “Stop all the clocks”!

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