Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
We live online and we die online as well. Today this much is almost taken for granted, given the extent to which human sociality has been enmeshed in the digital. Anthropologists, sociologists, and scholars of media and cultural studies have been studying digital death for at least a decade, but they have mainly focused on the ways that the living interact with the pages or artifacts that the dead leave behind. For instance, researchers have consistently noted how social networking pages of the dead get transformed by loved ones into spaces for grieving and commemoration. But the purposeful engagement with death in online spaces by the dead and dying themselves remains understudied. This means that the nature of digital selfhood has not been fully explored, since the full self, as the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre once wrote “resides in the unity of a narrative which links birth to life to death as narrative beginning to middle to end.” This paper aims to put forward a theory of the digital self that takes into account digital death and digital life. It uses data drawn from digital suicide notes, blogs of the terminally ill, and mainstream news articles on digital death to understand the social status of digital selves. This paper argues that the digital dead retain certain qualities of selfhood, and thus, that extending our digital interactions beyond our corporeal existences enacts a limited form of immortality.