Death/immortality as concepts seemingly contradictory in contemporary culture
The following text is a collection of thoughts and feelings that accompany the act of dying in the times of the dynamically developing technology and the consequently bolder, fuller, and more feasible plans for human immortality. To better understand and define the contemporary meaning of the phenomena that arise in the new Internet ecosystem, I try to find their counterparts and sources in other cultures and times.
In the first chapter, I try to analyze the transformations taking place in the field of the modern experience of death. This is based on the changes in the population growth, life expectancy, and causes of mortality. Their result is the fact that each of us experiences illness (our own or of our loved ones) and feelings associated with it, and these, in the last decades, have become socially undesirable and replaced with the cult of the body and youth. I identify the causes of these phenomena in the changes concerning the place of dying (home / hospital), the people surrounding the patient (family / medical staff), the location of the cemetery in the topography of the city (center / outskirts), the rejection of feelings and the disappearing funeral rituals, corpses being taken over by funeral services (destruction of rituals related to the body washing and watching corpses by the family). All this leads to, so to speak, claiming death from a dying person. Death became a medical act, a lost fight between medicine and nature, the opposite of life. At the end of the chapter, I wonder what is hidden today in the term of death taboo, a few decades after its definition.
In the next chapter, I try to answer the question of how to talk about death and bring it back to life. What to do to make it tame, present, so that feelings associated with it do not involve fear, loneliness, and shame? I analyze two artistic works from the borderline of art and design. Artists present mortality in everyday life in various ways, doing it in a gentle and conscious manner, and all this leads to taking control over their own death.
The third chapter contains the analysis of my project “Flying House of Good Death”, which is based on the conclusions drawn from my work on the first two sections.
In the fourth chapter, I look at the birth of the Internet “self” and the creation of a biography (which is a kind of monument for the user of social media), often an alternative to the physical world. I cite statistics, noting the amount of time and scale of involvement in the evolution of virtual identity. Then I go on to the description of other beings that we can meet on our way, traversing the more or less obvious paths of both interwoven worlds. I am describing the first robot who has been granted citizenship, a mascot robot who works with seniors during polysensory therapy, body prostheses and applications, thanks to which we increase our physical and mental abilities, becoming the most superficial entities. Through everyday entanglement in technology, we cease to exist beyond its achievements and become co-participants in the new life, waiting for the arrival of an immortal personality somewhere between technology and biology.
In the next part of the book, I am searching for ways to manage our presence in the virtual world after the death of the biological body. Starting with the Augmented Reality technology, which enables the existence or resurrection of a person in the form of a spectrum in the physical world. This is due to passing over the control of our social media accounts to trusted people (or companies), so that they can manage them on our behalf. Their activities range from the creation of afterlife by pre-planning the published posts, to attempts of building artificial intelligence based on the data collected over the years of the entity’s operation on the Internet.
The result of the conclusions from that chapter is the creation of the project “Draw with the dead” (described in the sixth part). It illustrates the Internet filled with beings who are not entangled in the physical world. The application is based on charts filled with the number of births and deaths in the real world and an analogous situation in a virtual one. The charts have the shape of brushes that are well-known from graphic programs.
The seventh chapter is an attempt to describe a phenomenon that I call non-mortality. It occurs in the virtual world and is by no means identical with the immortality known from the biological world. Non-mortality occurs where there is no continuity of generations (virtual beings do not have their ancestors). Also, time is not taken linearly there, therefore time travel along with modifications of the future and the past are possible. We will not find physical signs of the passage of time that we could not control. Space also becomes illusory.
The stretched present and praise of temporality is the result of the invalidation of the space-time continuum. Eternity is not existence beyond time. It is an accumulation of beings that observe a given user, because they guarantee the user’s non-mortality. Dying on the Internet is not the result of old age, but a neglect of interaction, the disappearance of care. Just as the dream of immortality was a personal matter of an individual, immorality is a common and even obligatory phenomenon. In the final words of this chapter, I am thinking of cryogenization and diamonds of memory as methods for preventing the body from decomposing and ways to remove the line between the living and the dead.
In the eighth chapter, I describe the commercialization and the creation of shock effect by presenting corpses in the media while they are being pushed out of our private space. The cinematic death is painless, unreal, and reversible, and that is how we learn about death. This leads to the phenomenon of desensitization against the real human tragedy. The viewer ceases to deny evil, violence, aggression, and consequently does not notice the difference between looking at real death (reports, exhibitions) and the false one (action films).
In the last part of the chapter, I try to answer the question of how to talk about death resulting from violence or accidents that will force the recipient to reflect. I am referring to Teresa Margolles’s art: despite the fact that she speaks of violence, she never exasperates the audience with cruelty. The artist focuses on the remnants of the crime and their contexts, which provides the audience with space for imagination, through which empathy, understanding, and knowledge can appear.
The ninth chapter is a description of the “Director’s Cut” project. The users compile and reconstruct the content (the base generates death scenes from over 500 films), creating their own films and giving them titles.
The tenth chapter is a story about images that have the causative power of actually influencing the fate of people. I follow the history of punishments made on people with the help of their paintings to reflect on the contemporary forms of destroying images. However, these actions are not identical with killing them, but rather with turning them into new ones. I compare the transformation of image entities in the virtual world with their functioning in the Wari community in South America. In both cases, we are dealing with a vision of the world which is different from the anthropocentric one. Another similarity is the perception of death, which is not treated as a denial of life, but a moment of transmutation, changing of one’s own image.
The “In Effigie” project, described in the eleventh chapter, refers to the medieval execution of death sentences in images. The project illustrates this problem in a literal way: after uploading a photo, the users can “play” to execute the image, selecting various weapons from the arsenal.
In the twelfth chapter, I consider the idea of thinking about one’s death understood as a medicine for its tabooization, so that when it comes, it can be treated sensibly and without fear. I point out that this idea is nothing new, it appears in different cultures, religions, and times. Also in the Internet space, it finds its manifestation in the form of activities gathered around the concept of Positive Death. I analyze images posted by doulas, undertakers, artists, thanatologists, confectioners, etc. on Instagram, centered around the #deathpositive hashtag, to pay attention to the phenomenon that can be the beginning of restoring death to life. A characteristic feature of this revolution is gentle communication with various recipients.
In the thirteenth chapter, I describe the last part of the project, “My Funeral Party”, where the users are able to prepare their own funeral, invite guests (choose characters from the base or add their own), and decide on the intensity of mourning (type of crying, sobbing). The name of the project indicates that the users create it for themselves. The essence of the project is to turn toward your own death and mourning.