Facebook has conquered the final frontier: death itself.
Ok, not really. But consider this: while all of us must eventually pass away, our social media presence lives on--a kind of virtual immortality. Your children and grandchildren may someday read the status updates you posted today.
When you pass, Facebook keeps your account online, but locks it so no one can post on your wall. Or if you designate a "legacy contact," they can tell Facebook to delete your account. Recently we read about DeadSocial, an organization providing free resources to manage your Facebook and Twitter post-mortem. It offers guides on creating a "social media will," and appointing a digital executor to carry out your final online wishes. You can even send loved ones messages from beyond the grave.
That last aspect is kind of creepy, but the whole concept has us thinking about how people use social media today, and it offers us an opportunity to leave a powerful positive legacy for generations to come.
Since the invention of writing, we humans have recorded the thoughts and occurrences of our daily lives in diaries or journals. They reveal what our ancestors cared and thought about, and hand down wisdom from one generation to the next.
Consider the impactful diaries that have shaped our world. Through her words, Hellen Keller showed us that disability does not limit human potential. Anne Frank's diary gave us a child's perspective on the greatest horror of the modern age. Nelson Mandela once said that he found strength in Frank's writings, even as friends helped him smuggle his own diary out of prison one page at a time.
Social media has moved into the space once occupied by diaries, although how we use it isn't quite the same.
A journal entry is often a thoughtful and considered process. It contains the sum total of happenings and emotions for a span of time, all in a single reflective context. It's a mirror.
A tweet or Facebook status update, by contrast, is very much in the moment--the fancy restaurant you just ate at, or the fashion item you just bought. Worse are those trolling moments so many engage in--making fun of that oddly-dressed person on the bus, or attacking a friend because they support a different party than you in the latest election.
Social media offers a distorted mirror of how people live because it often reflects, not how we really think or feel, but how we want others to see us. There's pressure to come up with the shocking comment, the witty line, or the funny image, that all your friends will "like" and virally retweet. And that's actually hurting us. A 2015 study by University of Houston psychologists found that social media sites can cause depression as we compare our humdrum updates to the more thrilling updates posted by friends.
It's interesting that we coach our children about the long term impact of social media, reminding them not to post that photo, or those embarrassing personal details, because what you put on the internet stays there--forever. Many politicians have learned that the hard way.
But we don't often talk about what our children, or we, should post to leave a lasting positive legacy.
Take a few minutes today and scroll down through your Facebook timeline. Imagine yourself as your descendants, 100 years from now, reading your posts. What will they take away about who you were, and what was important to you? What will they learn from you?
And as an experiment, this week instead of commenting on the latest Kardashian antics, or your opinion of Batman versus Superman, consider what you want to say to the world, and those who will come after you.
Social media is the communication tool that defines our age. If we change the way we use it, being more thoughtful and reflective, the ripples might just make a positive change in the world for years to come.
Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity, Free The Children, the social enterprise, Me to We, and the youth empowerment movement, We Day. Visit we.org for more information.