Millions Now Living Will Never Die: Cultural Anxieties about the Afterlife of Information
Grant David Bollmer
This paper examines cultural anxieties surrounding the life and death of online data. Through the examination of a wide range of discourses, including “lifestyle” news articles, online user comments, essays and books by novelists and engineers, and the websites of information management services, I argue that death online—defined as the persistence of informatic remainders after the death of the human user—reveals how networked data are constructed as both an authentic duplicate of identity and as a threat to personal identity that must be managed. Because humans are understood as finite and mortal, while data is immortal and everlasting, the “life” formed out of online data is understood as beyond any possible control of the user. With the death of the user, the perceived connection between the user and data is revealed as a contingency rather than a necessity. Information is produced as autonomous. It is nearly identical to yet separate from the user; it belongs to nobody except, perhaps, the network itself.
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