LIKE SEX, DEATH SEEMS A PERFECT
topic for the Internet. The Web's remote intimacy --- the ability to
examine and discuss personal issues while remaining (relatively)
anonymous --- lets people look more closely at subjects they might
otherwise avoid. But the persistence of the Web, and the ongoing
efforts to catalog and index its contents, suggests that our lingering
electronic presence may be the closest we get to immortality.|
"There are two types of people --- the ones who pretend they're never going to die and the ones who understand that it's part of life," observes Laurie D.T. Mann, curator for the Dead People Server. "I suspect Dead People Server attracts the latter." The Dead People Server (www.dpsinfo.com) is a searchable celebrity database that tells which are still alive and which have passed on. It combines a lighthearted approach with respect for the subject matter.
The Dead People Server is just one of a steadily growing number of Web sites that let people confront death from the comfort of their own keyboards.
Some take a humorous approach; others, like FinalThoughts.com (www.finalthoughts.com), are more serious. FinalThoughts.com is a service that lets users compose e-mail to go out to friends and family upon their death. Mail can be sent out all at once or released slowly over time as ongoing messages from beyond.
But even if you never use such a service, the footprints you leave online --- from postings in discussion groups to long-forgotten Web pages --- will live on. "Coming across old posts by some one who is gone is more like seeing a handwritten note from a dead friend, or a videotape. The handwriting, the smile, the personality come flooding back, but we are holding that in our flesh-based memories; it's not actually in their electric words and work," says Gail Ann Williams, director of communications for The WELL, one of the first and the biggest online community "Bereavement is platform independent," she says.
Scholarly research may help to further this sort
of virtual immortality. The Internet Archives (www.archive.org)
is an ongoing attempt to record the Web's development. It holds more
than 14 terabytes of data --- copies of pages and sites stretching back
to 1996. Our most casual thoughts and offhand creations may well outlast