Lulled into a false sense of immortality
On Friday Vicky Beeching set a hare running across the Twittersphere about the idea of digital legacy. It clearly struck many a chord and provoked quite a debate. It is a matter which has crossed my radar before. I touched on it briefly when the “ifIdie” app was born – which reminded me how uncomfortable I was with the tremendously popular “museum” (or was that mausoleum?) of me. I also wrote about it when a memorial company in the States started installing QR codes on gravestones. These codes act as gateways to a personalised digital archive for the deceased – with everything from still photos to pre-recorded videos.
As I write today – there is a soundtrack playing in my mind. It is the sound of a Brahms lullaby played out on the tinny chimes of a baby’s cot mobile. It is not a soothing sound though. It is more like the sound played over an empty cot or looking into an ominously empty child’s bedroom in a crime drama. What should be soothing has become inexplicably sinister. Something is wrong…
Could it be that our digital omnipresence is a lullaby which hushes the sounds of our mortality? As a Pastor it is my privilege to be involved with people’s lives at those milestone moments of ‘births, marriages and death’. This means that the rhythm of human life, with all its possibilities and limitations is always there in the background for me. If my digital presence allows me to be in many places at once, does it dull my awareness of my limitations? To take Vicky’s debate a little further – if I ensure the curation of my digital legacy in perpetuity, am I striving for some kind improper immortality?
Don’t get me wrong – I am an enthusiastic and noisy advocate of the possibilities of human connectivity afforded by the digital realm. These technologies allow us to cross borders and transcend geographical limitations in ways never before possible. If theology is, as Anselm described it, ‘faith seeking understanding’, then our connections with each other can only improve that process.
Despite all that, though, the lullaby is still playing – the jaunty colours of the cot mobile still spinning in their empty space. If we lose our connection with the basic limitations of humanity, then we lose our most valuable asset in any quest for theological understanding, surely? It is as human beings – limited by space and time, that we seek after God.
In baroque paintings a scholar or nobleman was often depicted with a skull on their desk. It was said to serve as a reminder of their own mortality. Such a macabre symbol is not something we would want now, I’m sure – but what are we doing to maintain our awareness of our limited and wonderful humanity in the face of our increasingly limitless digital presence?