“Please click here to demonstrate that you are still alive.”
In “Love in the Time of No Time,” a New York Times Magazine article from a few years ago, the novelist Jennifer Egan points out that anyone with an online dating profile has established a second self. There’s flesh-and-blood you, … Read More
In “Love in the Time of No Time,” a New York Times Magazine article from a few years ago, the novelist Jennifer Egan points out that anyone with an online dating profile has established a second self. There’s flesh-and-blood you, and then there’s your charming online Cyrano:
The profile never sleeps. It keeps vigil day and night, dutifully holding your place in the queue of romantic prospects drummed up by the thousands of searches all over the world whose criteria you happen to meet. What this means is that tens of millions of Americans, a great many of whom have never gone near a virtual-reality game, find themselves employing ''avatars,'' or digital embodiments of themselves, to make a first impression in their absence.
When this article came out, I was living with a kid who went on two or three Nerve dates a week, and we both thought it was hilarious that the New York Times Magazine had wasted 3000 words on something that seemed so obvious to us. This was only a couple months after the “Did you know the kids are drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon?” piece, which analyzed our drinking habits in frightening detail and led us to believe that there were Times reporters hiding under our sofa. Didn’t the magazine have better topics to cover? Were we really that fascinating? (By this of course we meant: Ohmygod, we are so fascinating!) But now I’m wiser and less cocky, and I understand why Egan’s piece was so smart. Our internet lives—our MySpace profiles, e-mail accounts, even the bank accounts we check online—are all there no matter what we’re doing. It’s not just that the profile never sleeps; it’s downright immortal. The first site to get this, as far as I know, was called MyDeathSpace. It collected the MySpace profiles of people who died, and it was absolutely terrifying. (Sadly, the site itself is no longer with us.) But then someone realized that you could make actual money off of the disconnect between online immortality and offline corporeality, and now there’s Deathswitch. Their deal: You pay them $19.95 a year, and when you die, they release your passwords (bank, e-mail, dating profile, etc) to your loved ones. They can also send people final missives: Gmail from beyond the grave. How do they know you’re dead? This is the best part: They send you frequent e-mails checking to make sure you’re still alive. If you fail to respond over a certain period of time, then they assume you’ve kicked the bucket. (Those of us with Jewish mothers probably get this part of the service for free—I know, cheap shot, but tell me it isn’t true.) So you’re basically setting up yet another online shade, one that can manage all of your other flickering internet lives and eventually shepherd them over to the other side. I can’t imagine it would be fun to get frequent e-mails from your own personal Charon, but maybe it would be reassuring: I’m clicking here, so I guess I’m still alive.