The dying art of the obituary

Should we really wait for others to tell the story of our lives?

Now that much of our lives are documented in real-time, why would anyone wait for an obituary or autobiography to leave their legacy or set the record straight? These days people are memorializing their lives each step of the way.

Autobiographies are now for presidential candidates only

Once upon a time, people of a certain age, sensing their time was not so very far away, would take weeks, months, even years to write their memoirs. They undertake this to leave the right legacy, or perhaps correct some misunderstanding, or simply try to discover meaning in their lives.

But do we have the patience to wait for this moment? And even if we did, would we really be setting ink to paper? I doubt I will (and woe to the person that would have to decypher my awful handwriting).

Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way. People 50 and older want to control how they will be remembered but aren’t thrilled about the time and effort needed to write a whole book.  They are looking for easier (and shorter) ways to memorialize their lives.

Some people are beginning to take “selfie obituaries” before they die, such as UK politician Tony Benn.

It’s true that most retired people don’t yet carry a selfie stick. But Benn and others recording themselves signal what is to come in a world where cameras are everywhere.

Two ways to look at a picture

We’ve all heard some variation of “if you didn’t take a photo, it didn’t happen”. If true, what does this cliche imply for our lives?

The frame is half full

Optimistic people like James Franco say that it’s becoming an increasingly important part of self expression and interpersonal connections:

“In our age of social networking, the selfie is the new way to look someone right in the eye and say, “Hello, this is me.”

Snap unhappy

But there are some cranky people believe that all of these pictures and photos are killing life. Some look at more and more young parents taking endless photos of their babies and ask, “Who the heck is ever going to look at this mountain of digital information???”

Rana Dasgupta is one of these people. She says,

No one really believes that they will sit down in the future and play back everything they have recorded. That is clearly not the objective. No, the point is that ordinary memory has come to seem inadequate as a register of “life”… Our social media footprint is an obituary we write ourselves – a set of remembrances we leave for future generations to give strength to this simple, spurious claim: that we lived.”

Feed me!

Are our Facebook feeds really the records of our lives? It is strange to think so, but it and other social media platforms are certainly leaving a trace. We will have to decide how we will capture any memories that are outside of the here-and-now…what will our “selfie obituary” look like? If we don’t write something deliberately, what will we be leaving behind?