Accepted Paper:

Beyond Life and Death: Social Media Lifespans  

Author:

Tamara Kneese (New York University )

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers the integration of social media into the human life cycle. I argue that STS scholars must consider the lifespans of social media platforms and individuals’ accumulated digital possessions

Paper long abstract:

Many scholars have discussed the ways that new technologies are incorporated into mourning and memorialization practices. The literature on social media memorials is increasingly rich (Brubaker et al. 2013; Carroll and Landry 2010; Marwick and Ellison 2012). Some researchers, like anthropologist Daniel Miller, are now examining ways that the sick and dying use social platforms to cope. On the other hand, social media platforms can track individuals even before they are born, as expecting parents post ultrasound images and document their pregnancies. After people die, their profiles and other social media pages continue on as spaces for postmortem relationships. Even if particular platforms come and go, just as individuals die, the networks of relationships that undergird them may survive.

In his public letter to his newborn daughter, Mark Zuckerberg claims that investments are "seeds," conjuring images of life, fertility, and growth over time. Silicon Valley accelerationism has given way to a temporality that takes into account sexual and social reproduction or imagined future kin members. Given these developments, what is the potential lifespan of our communicative traces versus institutions, corporations, or even states?

This paper considers the integration of social media into the human life cycle. What happens when we juxtapose the timescales of an individual human life-- from conception through illness, dying, and death, including mediated postmortem interactions with living loved ones --with the timescales of institutions and corporations? I argue that STS scholars must consider the potentially long lifespans of social media platforms and individuals' accumulated digital possessions.

Panel T125
Technologies at the Frontiers of Death