Serious Studies

A Social Network for Dead People


I was talking to my friend Stu the other day, which you'd think would be an everyday thing because we work in the same shop, but it's not. Stu is mostly virtual and whatever there is of him that is real doesn't converse much. Which doesn't mean to say he's silent, because he's anything but. He'll talk your ear off a mile a minute, only dipping into the world of listening for odd moments before taking off into the ether again. Which is not a bad thing. Stu has more ideas in a nanosecond the you or I do in a nanoyear. So I always listen.

Anyhow, he's in between a few other things on the line and we're talking about stuff I can't even remember what it is because it's all going by so fast, too fast, in fact, for the Boomer Brain, when out of the great mosh pit of his mind I hear him say something like, "Hey, I gotta go, but I had this idea it's just a crazy phrase that came into my mind but how about this..." Then he pauses for an imaginary drum roll and says: "A social network for dead people." That's what he said. A social network for dead people. Then he hung up.

Now, you know, at first I just thought this was a funny idea, which it is, of course, completely ridiculous, but if you just give it a minute to sink in... ... a social network for dead people... Let's look at it for a minute. As a marketing concept,  I mean. 

First of all, is there any real difference between a virtual person and a dead one? A virtual person does not really exist, even though it can do a bunch of things from buying virtual real estate to engaging in virtual conversations and exchanging virtual fluids. It can, in short, do only virtual things.

A dead person does not really exist, either, even though, unlike a virtual one, it has the benefit of having once actually existed, leaving a record behind that is much more tangible and meaningful than a virtual person. Like that virtual entity, the dead person can, at this point, do only virtual things. So we must ask ourselves: are the virtual things that a virtual person is capable of doing any less "real" than the virtual things that a dead person can do?

Well... what virtual things can a dead person do? None, if no author steps into the persona of the dead person to fill it up and accomplish those virtual actions. But say you or I decide to take that role - to become the face behind the empty self of the once-real individual - why, that dead person can post interesting pictures of him or herself, engage in the purchase of land, jewelry or other products appropriate to the dead person, and otherwise engage in a completely self-respecting virtual life!

Yet in this ever-changing, all-things-are-possible virtual space, how much more does the dead person bring to the table than the simply virtual one! To begin with, the dead person has an actual, verifiable portfolio of deeds, aspirations, successes and failures that can be measured in quantifiable terms. Very often, the dead person has a wealth of already-published thoughts, paintings painted, scientific theorems expostulated on, wisdom earned and communicated. All that is called for to reanimate the dead person is a host willing to carry forth this rich legacy. The virtual person, on the other hand, has no such multi-dimensional character. It is just an avatar. A walking haircut. A shallow front behind which hides a small and insubstantial living person with very little to recommend itself.

Let's just take a brief moment, then, to imagine our ultimate social networking site. On any given day, we can chat with several Picassos, one from the blue period, one from the heady days when he and Braque were inventing cubism, the savage revolutionary tearing Franco to pieces, the aged satyr rutting every young art dealer in sight -- they are all here, at war with each other, ready to talk, dispute, insult the Philistine. Look! Over there it's Genghis Kahn, surprisingly urbane and so much more attractive without the attendant smell of animal fat with which he was always saturated. And over there is Samuel Johnson, a hell of a raconteur, and Casanova, who seldom spent the night alone and is very willing to talk about it, and look over there! There's Charles Lindbergh having a beer with all the gang at Berchtesgaden! And Ed Sullivan and Lucy and Desi and Jimi and Janice and hey, look over there, there's my Uncle Al, who was a really nice guy and always a pleasure to talk with about any subject, and my grandfather, who remembered what it was like to dodge the Czar's army, and my dad, still mad at any union buster he can get his hands on. It's nice to see them all again. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to join.

Virtually, I mean.

15 Comments Add Comment

Ah yes, this is why I read. You are such a nut. I mean that in a good way.

i actually like it. it also may help the less informed learn a bit or two about an important past away figure.

I enjoyed your intriguing concept of social networking for dead people.

I'd like share my two cents on virtual vs. dead people concept. Firstly, let's get some clarity. virtual people are online entities (a.k.a. avatars) projected by living and breathing human beings - all real people.

And some real people have online entities based on dead people. These types of avatars already exist in places like myspace or niche social websites.

This is nothing new.

So I wonder if you are talking about social networking website for dead people with no real people driving the online entities? That would not be possible since web content always has to be authored and produced by a person.

I think a real social networking website for dead people should be by dead people. Why not have a artificially intelligent website aggregate & produce content by dead people, construct self-intelligent online avatars based on this data, then have all these dead avatars communicate with each other on their own. For example, you could use AI, simulation techniques, or generative languages.

We real people could simply sit back and enjoy the show of dead people interacting in the 21st century. You never know. We might witness some awesome virtual lover affair between Cleopatra and Socrates...

new media technologist / artist

to bad they already have one.

its been up for a long time so youre a little behind

Very interesting ... could be a brand new outlet for people with creative writing potential bottled up inside. What would Jimi Hendrix and Genghis talk about? Would Gershwin and Janis Joplin have anything in common?

At first glance I thought what a dope. After reading the whole's not a bad. I can think of several virtualy reanimated figures who would be a hundred times more interesting than anything concocted from scratch. Maybe someday someone will reanimate me.

Naw - Boring - Problem here is the dead would probably never shut up as they rambled on and on about how great they felt they were while they were alive. However, something that would truly be remarkable would be the ability to converse with our pets and see how they really felt about their treatment and all the good things we think were doing for them. This in all reality would be the ultimate social network.

Yes why I did'nt I think of that, Its cool I'll probably start one.

Joemarie Dela Torre

Well I'm old and soon to be dead. Two ways of looking at your 'demise:' "Hey, Doc, if I knew I was going to live this long, I would have party'd harder!" Or: "Hey, Doc, if I knew I was going to live Only this long, I would have party'd harder!" (Btw, I invented a new power source that can be 'seen' [and basic revealed for duplication purposes] on the forum, Damn Interesting, under the wind-up cars thread--it works, too---DOE is interested--alas, I'm too old to see any closure on the idea of my energy units--that's typical of life, of course. Sniff!) ;#)

What would the living family members of the dead people think? Is this legal?

This will only work if everyone on the network is very intellent and smart enough to act the their part and know enough to get your jokes.

There should be something like an IQ test just for joining. I can't imagine this idea populated with millions of teens.

Walk into a room and find 20 Kobe Bryants or Gwen Stefanis or Narutos. I mean, that will really old and annoying. I realize that it's suppost to be dead people but users will end up create whatever they want.

I'd hate to be the moderator/admins. It's a cute idea in a Northern Exposure sort of way, I just see more living porn stars then Walt Whitmans.

Now that would be an interesting converstation!

Excellent idea. It would be like an "Expert System" or "Brain Trust". Instead of just WWJD, you could have reasonable representations of WW (fill in famous person)D? What Would John D Rockefeller do in such & such situation? Or Andrew Carnegie? Bismarck? Sort of a rules-based decision system....Oh, and don't lose the cigar. It's like FDR without the cigarette holder: revisionist.

Dear Mr. Bing with "that cigar that's totally uncool" (laughed so hard at that e-mail I choked on my pop!)

Dead People Networking? I'm in!

I have an earlier posting in relation to a non-profit - new media arts website ( about a fictitious teen telling stories of her past childhood and superhero like dreams in NYC.

The art project has been disabled because it is: 1) outdated (i.e ended last fall) but more importantly is is 2) determined that social media and entertainment together can only confuse an online audience. Such art shows and social media can never deliver facts about real people, events, and figures.

Quality learning via fictitious social media and entertainment can never replace a well-written and fact based history book. End of story. A social media website based on historical characters (i.e. dead people) and past events would do nothing but re-write and fabricate historical events and bias and skew the accuracy of their lives and profiles. This would do nothing but confuse an information seeking online audience and add more disinformation and confusion on the Internet. We tested various fictitious characters in a podcast, but then at the end of the day, what do people really learn? Nothing. Just entertainment.

Thus the concept proposed herein, a social media website for "dead people" (i.e. a more respectable term would be "historical peole"), is best served for entertainment perks, not for real learning. Having such social media website would not deliver secure and unbiased facts of historical events and people. It would do more injustice for those who have lived and for those who want to know the truth and facts of past people in history.

In the end, I would oppose the idea in this article not be pursued in honor of those who have lived. I think more should be done in securing accurate information about people, places and events on the Internet, and that people seriously consider other media channels like history books, documentaries, etc in getting real facts.

I like this idea!

Social networks for dead people used to be called "biographies". In the past, due to the economics of the day, meant you only got written about, if you were famous or noteworthy.
The new economics of our present internet age, means we all can have our life recorded and stored for posterity.

Each person has their path in life, occupying space in time.
Where each individual was born, lived, studied, worked, entertained, died with some one else or many others, that creates their social network.

Imagine, if we could link the lives of every person that ever lived, not just famous people.

It is the fabric of human life.

Where our paths cross, the "cross paths" are the seeds of relationships and the building blocks of our social network.

A simple visualization of each persons path in life through space and time will highlight their social network.

Lets make it happen!