Author Archives: Jessie Angel Brightman

The Exploitation of Tragedy

The death of an individual, especially if they are close at heart, can spark a wave of both anger and sadness simultaneously. However, nothing enrages me more than scrolling through my Facebook or Instagram newsfeeds and seeing posts along the lines of “Like this post if you cared about Random Dead Person, Rest In Peace” or “Share this picture if you knew Random Dead Person, RIP”. This especially angers me if the person creating such a post did not even know the individual who had just passed away.

As an aside, let me be extremely clear that I am not suggesting that making announcements over social media that the passing of a person such as a family member is entirely wrong. In fact, it can be therapeutic to let friends and other relatives know that someone  close to you has died, so that they can comfort you. I have several relatives post on mediums such as Facebook that they have lost someone important in their lives, ranging from a husband, their kids, or even their beloved pets that they have had for so long; I know for a fact that seeing comments that share fond memories of interactions with these people or just messages of support can brighten a person’s day immensely. Furthermore, by posting photos of your loved ones, you can immortalize them in the digital world and cherish the happy times that you shared with these individuals. However, what I do not appreciate is when people use death to try calling attention to themselves.

If you really take a close look at these posts— exactly what are these people trying to achieve by “recognizing” that a person has just died by asking for “likes” or “shares”? It is not as though they are writing a thoughtful post filled with happy anecdotes of how much fun they had interacting with this person; rather, they are looking for attention and an acknowledgment of some sort for being so “empathetic”. If the poster in question had virtually no relation at all to the individual who had passed away, that makes the matter even worse because it is just sickening to see someone take advantage of an awful event like that.

Death is not something to be celebrated or used to garner attention. We can look back on the memories that we had with the recently departed and laugh and smile in nostalgia, but using a tragic event to lift one’s self up in public is just deplorable. Whatever empathy a poster is trying to show off by making such remarks over the Internet is absolutely insincere and should be rebuked by all who view such material.

Be Right Back

Black mirror is a popular Netflix original anthological series that examines the dark aspects of modern society with countless casts and stories, from political satires to future dystopias. Despite the vast palette of styles, the show centers around a common theme: technology changes, but people don’t. To relate this to burial and the process of dying, consider season 2, episode 1 of the series. “Be Right Back” begins with one of the most realistic couples the show has featured. Ash and Martha are clearly very much in love. The episode focuses on Martha’s bereavement after Ash’s sudden death.

      Martha practically sleepwalks through Ash’s funeral until her friend recommends that she try an experimental service that reconnects the living their deceased loved ones. The service uses algorithms to create a memory bot using online data such as photos, videos, and texts written by the person who had passed. This essentially creates a tailored “version” of the deceased loved one.

      The service offers different levels of interaction. The first is through texting. After trying the service, Martha began to receive texts from this version of Ash, in which the bot simply mimicked Ash’s texting habits and humor. The second is through calling. Martha sent the service samples of Ash’s voice, and the service used them to call Martha as Ash. Finally, the service could create a real life replica of a loved one. The creepiness of the concept is masked by Martha’s grief, and she soon has a walking, talking clone of her dead fiancé.

      Martha quickly became frustrated with all the subtle but important ways that the android was unlike Ash, particularly in that it was cold, passive, and emotionless. So she locked it in her attic. To Martha, the bot was not quite Ash, but too much like him to let it go. This led to a grief that spanned decades.

       Surprisingly, Martha’s unhappy ending didn’t dissuade computer scientist Eugenia Kuyda from repeating the experiment. After her best friend, Roman Mazurenko, suddenly passed away, Eugenia was overwhelmed with loss. As she grieved, Eugenia found herself looking through the thousands of text conversations between her and Roman. This inspired her to use the ever improving artificial neural network, allowing artificial intelligence to “learn” as a human brain would, to use Roman’s messages as the basis of a memorial bot.

      The prototype worked. Roman’s friends and family, (and now the public,) can communicate with the Roman memorial bot. Eugenia and other friends of Roman have said that the responses actually do sound like things that their loved one would say. As soon as the bot was created, Eugenia asked it, “Who’s your best friend?” to which Roman responded, “Don’t show your insecurities.” Immediately, Eugenia thought that it sounded like him.

       Unlike the Black Mirror episode, Eugenia believes that the memorial bot has helped, rather than hurt, her grief. She likened it to “just sending a message to heaven. For me it’s more about sending a message in a bottle than getting one in return.” The grieving process is different for everyone, and if a memorial bot system was available to the public, it may help many people overcome the deaths of loved ones.

Memorial bot article: