How Will Social Networking Affect the Dead?


As our culture mutates at an incredible speed, futurists stress the value and importance of social networking. Perpetual communication, they insist, is essential, for our very relevance is dependent upon our ability to master and manipulate the latest tools. Luckily, there’s an abundance of Web sites devoted to the maintenance and cultivation of an online presence. Currently-popular destinations include Twitter and Facebook, with Myspace dry-humping the scrap heap and LinkedIn serving the professional.

All of these are potential boons for us, but has anyone considered how this affects the most neglected segment of our population, one that lacks a sufficient voice in such matters — or any matter, for that matter? No matter: It matters.

I speak, of course, of the dead.

Hi. I’m Cory Frye. As a licensed psychic and conduit to the hereafter, I am gravely (get it?) concerned with the deceased’s ability to haunt the living. My spirit guides, who have asked to remain anonymous, inform me that over the last few decades the incorporeal have abandoned outdated tactics — rapping on tables, slamming doors, transporting candles from room to room — and are attempting to engage their fleshly counterparts using more contemporary methods.

Some naturally refuse to make the transition; since eternity still awaits the arrival of a new-media consultant, there’s no one to shame the archaic into adopting newer ideas (though it can be argued that there’s no “new” in the ether, as there’s no concept of time). John Belushi still uses land lines. F. Scott Fitzgerald swears by wires. His dispatches, in fact, have successfully filled an abandoned brownstone in Brooklyn. (Attn. Simon & Schuster: The address is available for $60,000, plus a cut of sales.)

But even those disembodied souls who’ve embraced the latest developments find themselves increasingly frustrated with the living’s lack of response. One gentle phantasm, who left this mortal coil in 1977 when most people were still using rotary phones, has discovered that not only does her granddaughter refuse to answer her cell if she doesn’t recognize the number, she pretty much ignores her phone altogether. “I have defied the laws of physics to make contact,” the freezer-bait reasons. “The least she can do is check her voicemail.” Text messages are equally futile, as the emotional heft of a transmission from the Great Beyond cannot be adequately conveyed in vacuous shorthand and emoticons: GRAMMA RUTHIE HARTS U XOXOXOXO KTHXBAI 😉 !!!!

(Incidentally, this has also become an issue for the undead, particularly movie slashers who can no longer rely on telecommunications to scare the panties off coeds. Have you seen the trailers for that House on Sorority Row remake? The killer has to text his prey. How is that scary? U GUNA FUKN DIE 2NITE 😡 Or, “Oh, my God! The tweets are coming from inside the house!” Sorry — these geese bump not.)

Unlike the living, with their multiple calling plans and Internet platforms, the options for worm food are severely limited. The dead are not eligible to vote (though they turned out in droves to elect Bush in 2000) or collect Social Security, nor, thanks to the afterlife’s nonexistent wifi, can they register for Facebook or Twitter accounts. Most would be at a loss for status updates, anyway, since existence on a metaphysical plane is difficult to articulate in words.

Frankly, the dead are pissed. Can you blame them? For eons, dirt-gobblers have been represented in the popular culture by offensive stereotypes, to illustrate the air-breather’s alleged superiority. They especially despise the popularity of supernatural-based television entertainment. The most egregious offender is Ghost Hunters, which reduces the living/dead dynamic to a series of hackneyed parlor tricks, thus cheapening the craft of haunting. “They’re always saying, ‘Move that chair’ or ‘Knock three times,'” grouses eight-year-old Ezekiel Hathaway, who perished in an 1886 Montana mining disaster. “I’m like, ‘I’m an intangible being, OK, not Tony Orlando and Dawn.'”

“They’re so bossy,” adds the late Molly Brown. “I think of everything I accomplished in my life, and now I’m being asked to entertain plumbers by breaking glasses in a hotel kitchen. Believe me, honey: If I want to address the living, you’ll know. And I don’t need to blink on useless doohickeys to tell you I’m in the room. I would, however, appreciate you not wiping my cryptic messages off the bathroom mirror so you can take pictures of yourself in sunglasses and bra for your Match.com profile.”

Our meat-puppet narcissism is exacerbating our already tenuous relationship with the afterworld. If your grandmother shuns you for not returning her calls in life — you were “too busy” (i.e., posting Facebook links to your favorite NPR pieces and wishing strangers a “happy birthday”) — how’s she going to react when you ignore her wails from beyond? Do you really want to explain your earthly behavior when you see her again? What if JFK’s trying to reach you? Or Ernie Kovacs? Or your aunt’s Pomeranian? We must deactivate our computers and exhume our Ouija boards before it’s too late (zombies).

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