What happened to those who died before the internet happened?

Monday, January 14, 2019

I looked up my grandmother's name on Google. Other than showing two others by the same name, she was not there. She was nowhere to be found.

I often hold digital footprints of people close to me as their lasting memory. This spectrum is wide, it includes the last spotted on Snapchat location filter to the distance between my Tinder matches and I. Me? I don't do plebian last seen on Whatsapp because you give out just as much as you take in. In case you haven't noticed, I'm not a big fan of what goes around/comes all the way back around regardless of whether Justin Timberlake was at his rugged peak at the time. I'm all for minimal investment and maximum benefit, in this case have the foolishness of control in your hand whilst exploiting the information locally available. Many relationships were nipped in the bud because of digital surveillance and many were forged basis that.

What? Does it sound like I'm Joe Goldberg in confession? Newsflash: we all are.
You can't blame me, as much as you should direct that towards the people putting their brains behind it. We live in a world which encourages us to flirt with the idea of being private while showing us the red flag to let loose.

Show of hands, who here has innocently looked up someone they had no business of looking up?

I know a few who'd be all virgin about it. And that's a big fat lie because surveillance is deep-rooted, intrinsic and a different side to the same coin that this internet today promotes.

Where was I? Yes, my grandmother.

My dear departed grandmother, who was bedridden when I spent my energies using the dial-up connection and waste time on Yahoo Messenger. The Summer after she passed away, all the cool kids at the tuition centre were each other's friends on Hi5. I was one among them; one of the only four people from a batch of one fifty strong kids from my school who were wasting time looking up their 13-14 year old crushes and hoping they'd exchange atleast one testimonial with "I relly llyk yu lollzzzz".

The internet grew up, parallel to me. The only difference?  My grandmother lost on both our teenaged years. She was long gone before digital legacy was a real thing. Maybe, it wasn't big or all over the digital media but I don't recall splashing names of people and writing about them right after their demise. She wasn't around to see me through my Orkut walls being flooded with emoji templates, Myspace music and gifs, and/or my Facebook wall. Heck, she wasn't around to see me with my fancy Motorola cell phone(with an exceptional 5 MB internal space to store photographs, music, ringtone, and videos- the irony). She's lost in the giant pre-digital universe of the noughties. It's like she never existed. It also matters because she only lived to see Reliance's digital telecom revolution with Karlo duniya mutthi me and free Reliance to Reliance phonecalls. She's not wired in to know that Jio is the new Reliance to Reliance and that number portability is a thing. I often sit and wonder how would she react to the new media. To my self-destructive dating patterns, to the terrible decisions, I make with the men I've dated and are yet to date. I don't know and I won't ever know. It's lost in the same space where USB drives are often lost.

To exist is to be on the internet. I think, therefore I am on the internet.
Each year, when people pass away, the internet opens itself to a larger than life column for the obituary. From op-eds to commissioned pieces, to even personal dedications in closed accounts, the idea of safekeeping memories of someone who may or may not have been on social media is carefully sealed and preserved under tight private accounts and digital publications with fervour. It's almost as if the internet reflects the life as a memoir on social media, only to announce the obit as an epilogue and the memorials as the endorsements on the back cover and inlay flap. My grandmother is devoid of such an honour, of this digital afterlife. It's not a big deal. For all you know, she'd have shat on it. But knowing her, she'd have loved to be the centre of attention. For her, everything was a big deal. I probably get the sense of making things larger than life from her. The dramatization of every banal occurence and making it into an event was all her. It upsets me to think, she doesn't exist in this cool space here.

What used to be a fetishistic idea of seeing how one's funeral would look like has now turned to, how will people pay homage to me on social media. Again, I refuse to believe this thought hasn't occurred your mind. Facebook apparently has some settings where you can pass your digital legacy as a will in advance. In the likely event of your mortal life ceasing to exist, that chosen one is offered the right to control your digital profile. So much so for resting in peace.

It was all kinds of heartbreaking to see no valuable result on my grandmother's name. For someone who raised me to be a complete spoilt brat and to pander to my whims and fancies as a child, this is upsetting at all levels.

I can't get myself to type this out for someone who's not with us anymore but here's wishing her a happy birthday. I hope someday I have just as much élan as you did each time when you cut and style your hair on your own.

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