Photo credit (c) Elaine Kasket 2019
At long last, All the Ghosts in the Machine: Illusions of Immortality in the Digital Age will be available worldwide on the 25th of April. As with any book – fiction and nonfiction alike – the creative process is full of twists and turns, and an author often don’t end up where she thinks she will. I hope – no, I know – that in reading this book and delving beneath the superficial ‘death on Facebook’ type of headline, you will share much of the surprise and wonderment I experienced when researching and writing the book. I hope that the last chapter, in particular, will give you a clear sense of direction for what you want to do in your own life.
There were too many key realisations for me to count in the making of this book, but here’s a smattering, just as a teaser.
- There are currently about 4 billion people connected online worldwide. In 2099, there may be about 5 billion dead people still connected on Facebook. If you’re not sure why this is so significant, prepare to be much better informed!
- If you’re only thinking of your ‘digital footprint’ as your interactions on social media – if you ‘do’ social media – there’s a whole lot that you’re not thinking about. And the things you’re not paying attention to are the things that could say the most about you after you’re gone. Maybe that won’t prove a problem for the ones you leave behind. But then again…
- There is perhaps no better illustration of the extent to which Big Tech (Google Apple Facebook Amazon) ‘owns’ us, and the extent to which we have lost control over our personal information, than observing what happens to our data when we die.
- The inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, argues that we have lost our way. The Web we have, he says, is not the Web he intended, which is why he’s pushing for a new kind of web where control is wrested back from big tech and re-delivered into the hands of individuals. I get where he’s coming from. If ever there were a powerful argument for web decentralisation, it’s watching what happens to our ‘posthumously persistent’ online data, controlled and managed by profit-driven companies.
- Any sort of law or regulation from the pre-digital age struggles to cope with digital ‘stuff’. That includes laws of succession, which govern what we can and can’t leave to others in our will. Bad decisions are already being made by legal minds that don’t fully grasp understand the differences between the material and digital context. For example, if you currently think accessing a dead relative’s Facebook Messenger is the same thing as inheriting a box of physical letters – as a high court in Germany recently ruled – his book may convince you otherwise.
- Although algorithms reinforce the outdated notions that grief progresses in phases (just try Googling ‘stages of’ and see what pops up first), this isn’t the case. Grief is idiosyncratic, and all mourners need and want different things. Does the Internet change how we grieve? It sure does. But what’s more, it often legislates how we can grieve. And that’s a problem.
If this collection of teasers piques your interest, well, you’re in a growing club of people who are realising that online isn’t forever and that ‘digital legacy’ is a whole lot more complicated than we might have imagined.
Want to learn more? Here’s how:
Anywhere in the world: You can get the audio version of All the Ghosts in the Machine on Audible or Storytel. I was really happy to be asked to read the book myself, which is a gift for any author. You can also get the e-book in English on Amazon and Kobo if these are available in your country.
Everywhere except North America: You can purchase the English-edition trade paperback of All the Ghosts in the Machine online or through your local bookshop.
North America: You can get the trade paperback in early 2020, a fully up-to-date edition with the most recent developments incorporated. Until then, enjoy the audiobook and and e-book edition!
Other languages: The book is currently being translated into Chinese, Korean and Romanian, with further foreign-language editions to come. Stay tuned.