Last week, Facebook reminded me that my time on this swell Earth is short with the social network’s recent update — the legacy contact. Now, imagine this unfortunate scenario: You just died. As a ghost, you are bemoaning the fact that your Facebook profile picture will forever be an image of a baby flying squirrel. You do not want to be remembered as a baby animal, yet fortunately before your untimely passing, you utilized the legacy contact to set who will have control over your Facebook account. Thanks to your legacy contact, your profile picture is of you standing before the ocean, staring at the waves and looking aesthetically pleasing.
Now, it may seem ridiculous that the legacy contact’s purpose was meant for the dead Facebook user, who forever wants to have the perfect selfie. Facebook created it not for the dead, but for the living who are grieving over a loved one’s death by offering comfort via technology — though the dead are always kept in consideration. It may sound odd, but the legacy contact is a needed change in the current digital age.
As Facebook states: “(By) talking to people who have experienced loss, we realized there is more we can do to support those who are grieving.” Prior to the legacy contact, a deceased’s profile would be left memorialized and inaccessible to manage by others. For example, loved ones not friended by the deceased would be unable to view the deceased’s profile. With the legacy contact, a chosen contact would be given permission to manage the deceased’s profile by uploading pictures, friending other users and writing posts on walls. There is a need for change in Facebook’s memorializing policies, because it has inhibited how loved ones grieve, which, itself, has transformed in the past decade with increasing Internet use.
In addition to holding wakes or memorials for the deceased, the Internet has played an increasing role in grieving by allowing an ease in communication between the deceased’s loved ones. Via social media sites, like Facebook, the deceased’s funeral services can be announced to friends and family members. Loved ones can comment on the deceased’s Facebook wall with stories and condolences, no matter where they are in the world. With the Internet coddled with oddities like Nyan Cat or I Can Has Cheezburger Cat, some may have forgotten that the original purpose of the Internet was for communication; many of the first sites were online message boards or forums. Despite improvements, the Internet has not found an efficient way to allow a dead voice to be heard. There are cases where dead voices are memorialized in blog posts or online gaming, and the legacy contact is another step in the right direction, because it was specifically created for the living to commemorate the dead.
The legacy contact can only be established with the permission of the deceased, which not only means they have made the morbid choice to plan their death, but that they trust someone enough with their personal life on Facebook. This offers a whole new support to the grieving process, because it allows the deceased to show a sense of trust to the loved one. Automatic messages like, “Since you know me well and I trust you, I chose you. Please let me know if you want to talk about this,” or personalized messages are sent to the legacy contact, which can help console the contact with the death prior to it happening. By letting users choose their legacy contact anytime, Facebook’s update has allowed users to face the reality that their loved ones will die early on instead of when the event may happen; by acknowledging death early on, users can comfort each other prior to their death — an action that is not always accomplished when dying. The legacy contact may have permission to download an archive of the deceased’s posts, pictures and profile to preserve the deceased’s memory, thus enabling loved ones to grieve with digital assets.
Placing an importance on digital assets may seem to be an artificial method to mourn; it does sound ridiculous to treasure the deceased’s post about seeing a good movie. Yet with the invention of social media sites, these sorts of mundane assets have garnered a sentimental value to others. Haven’t you ever just scrolled down your wall or another’s wall just to remember past events and found yourself having a nice time looking back at posts from your high school self?
Things of sentimental value can be beneficial to grieving, because it can help loved ones remember happy memories of the deceased instead of the cold and hard reality that the deceased is just a body in the ground. The legacy contact enables not only loved ones to view their profile, which has sentimental value, but also lets their loved ones know that they understand the need to grieve and want to make it easier for them.
Should the legacy contact be the final way to grieve over a death? No, because like with every death, we must learn to accept it is reality and must learn to be happy with it. Yet no one is a cold, stone person. We all need to grieve and Facebook’s update just makes it beneficially easier.