Carmen Hermosillo aka humdog was a huge advocate for technological innovation and computer networks in the 80s/90s, until 1994, when she published ‘Pandora’s Vox: On Community in Cyberspace.’

Her writing remains relevant to this day when examining the digitisation of our deaths and identity ‘immortalisation’ online. She argued that the use of computer networks do not lead to a reduction in hierarchy, but actually the commodification of personality and a complex transfer of power and information to corporations.

In this sense, all of our interior thoughts (taste, preferences, beliefs, fears) are commodified, and has manifested into what we know today to be the algorithm that caters to our likes and interests. And so, when it comes to our digital death and footprints we leave online, it essentially becomes packaged and sold onto other consumer entities as a form of ‘entertainment’. What I mean by entertainment is that the cyberspace is a blackhole – it absorbs our energy and personality to create an emotional spectacle. This is practiced by businesses and marketers who commodify human interactions and emotions, such as Big Tech corps we already know and exist on.

Screenshot of a person's Facebook newsfeed homepage showing dog photos and emoji reactions.
Image description: Screenshot of a person’s Facebook newsfeed homepage showing dog photos and emoji reactions.

Taking this image of someone’s FB newsfeed as an example which I think is an interface we are all very familiar with, there is a bizarre quality to our online interaction on this platform. In early 2022, I was invited to an online memorial service of a dear friend which was also livestreamed on Facebook. What I found a little bizarre is that this is the same platform where I read daily news headlines, see meme posts, cat videos, friend’s holiday photos, and relationship updates.

Screenshot of 4 tile image videos of cats suggested by my Instagram recommendations.
Image description: Screenshot of my algorithmically generated recommendation of Instagram reels, all featuring cats.

Similarly, this is relays back to humdog’s essay about ourselves becoming commodified and release of agency. I have never learned to mourn or remember someone via an entertainment platform, yet this is becoming the norm.

Spiritual or sacred spaces of worship such as churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, graveyards, contain a certain element of solely fixating on the cycle of life and death with symbolic elements such as praying, worship, repentance, burning of incense, hearing cymbals and gongs, chants, and much more. What’s important about these practices is not the act itself but how it is choreographed with a community.

With these daily practices slowly fading since we have digital platforms to accommodate memorial services and distant attendance, it leads one to wonder whether these traditions will maintain its grip in the next 10, 20, or 30 years, or will it have merged into the chaotic mix of entertainment consumption where we exist under the illusion of a ‘community’ online.

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