June 23rd, 2120
About half the crowd was present; the other half had dialed into the funeral service via Skype. When the priest spoke, we could see the crowd’s reactions—mostly teary-eyed emojis and the occasional heart-eyed face—floating across the projector in front of us.
“Alice was beloved by all in our town. She would #ShowUp for you whenever you needed her. She was Followed by many and Liked by even more.”
The crowd solemnly nodded.
The priest dabbed his eyes. A few leaves fluttered in the trees.
“And now, let us use our devices to scan the QR Code on Alice’s gravestone. It has been programmed to direct you to her Gravebook page.”
There was a momentary shuffle as everyone pulled out a device. (A few people used the spare moment to catch up on their WhatsApp messages, too.)
“Let us bow our heads in a moment of silence as we come together as a community to click the “Like” and “Follow” buttons on Alice’s Gravebook. Please do take a few minutes to post on her page as well.”
I tapped out my condolences, adding in a few downcast emojis for good measure. Gravebook was, admittedly, one of my favorite social media platforms. As declared in its mission statement, Gravebook gave people “the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” To share memories, opinions, and life events.
And cat videos. Lots of cat videos.
After Following Alice’s Grave, a number of other “Suggested Graves” popped up on the bottom of the screen.
With a jolt of guilt, I realized I had forgotten Uncle Al and the family goldfish (Goldie). I quickly Followed them, hoping that no one had noticed my social faux pas.
Because they were unable to post on their own, the dead relied on Legacy Contacts to maintain their pages. Legacy Contacts were typically close family members or friends who were entrusted to post photos, monitor page traffic, and respond to friend requests for their loved ones.
Using sophisticated algorithms, Gravebook could also use the digital footprints of the deceased to generate posts on their behalf. In fact, Alice had already made her first post: “Can’t believe July is around the corner! [Sun Emoji].”
Several others—including Goldie—had liked the post.
Goldie had also posted a comment: [Blub].
After most had finished scrolling through Alice’s Gravebook, the priest began to speak again. “To commemorate this day, we shall all take a selfie—or what I like to call a gravie.”
He pulled out a selfie stick (adorned with black ribbons and a single red rose for the occasion) and clipped his device to the end.
We huddled around Alice’s gravestone.
A sea of backlit faces stared back at us.
“Bad lighting,” we chorused.
“Bad lighting, indeed” the priest echoed.
(We shuffled to the other side of the headstone.)
After the gravie was posted, shared, and liked, the priest motioned for us to return to our seats. He opened the “Heaven, Inc.” app on his device, indicating for us to do the same.
“And now, her spirit shall be released to the Cloud,” he said.
As I swiped to the app, I realized my grandparents had forgotten to take out their devices. Hands folded in their laps, they were staring up at the sky.
Strange, how they thought Heaven, Inc. existed there. I rolled my eyes. In the sky, of all places. Geez. I nudged them, pointing to my device so they could follow along.
Heaven, Inc. was a cloud-based database of souls. And it was customary to upload the soul at the end of a funeral to ensure proper preservation of the spirit.
The screen showed a picture of Alice set against a bright blue background. Together, we watched the progress bar slowly fill as her memories, thoughts, and photos entered the Cloud.
A few advertisements for flowers and coffins floated across the screen (I hadn’t yet invested in the ad-free version), but I swiftly swiped them aside.
When the bar reached 100%, a succession of angels flew across the screen. Upload complete.
By the end of the service, the sun had dipped below the horizon. Walking home, I could see the last rays of the day’s light glittering over the rolling hills.
It was beautiful. Picturesque.
Instinct made me reach for my device, but something stopped me. A slight tug, a vague sense that some moments were not meant to be Posted and Liked. Or even pictured in the first place.
The feeling had come to me on various occasions in the past as well. Though it always felt strange, I honored it nonetheless. So I let my hands settle into my pockets, the fingers of my right hand resting against the cool, black surface of my device.
Illustrated by Mahathi Gottumukkala