So, my father died last week. Sounds like the start to a bad joke, I know. But it’s not a joke. The joke is what comes next. Before he died, he got a Facebook account. My dad, though far older than the digital generation, was perfectly suited to social media. He liked the idea of friends more than having the actual thing, and within a year, he almost had 5,000 people who agreed to have his profile changes broadcast on their walls. The keyword here is almost. The last six months, he got obsessed with reaching 5,000 friends and being forced to switch from a profile to a fan page. Not a bad goal, I guess, but he fell short.
Still, before we took him to the hospital, he was more concerned with hitting his mark than with the fact that he wasn’t breathing very well and that his chest was hurting more often than not. He was sending friend requests to everyone Facebook suggested, and by the end, he was sending them to anyone who lived in the same town. (We live in LA, which makes for a lot of requests.)
He would’ve made his goal if he’d just relaxed about it, but dad was not a relaxed person, and the good people at Facebook eventually cut him off for requesting too many strangers. They cut him off for a few days until he rescinded the thousand or so requests that were still unanswered. I guess the Facebook algorhythm caught whiff of his desperation. Even over the Internet, nothing is as scary as social desperation. My dad held off for a few days, stubbornly. He couldn’t see what the problem was, but he relented after a week. Like a lot of other people in the world, he found he was no match for the will of Mark Zuckerberg. The guy’s powerful. No doubt about that. But until last week, I had no idea how powerful he was.
So here’s the joke, for lack of a better word. According to Facebook, my father is still alive. And you know what? In a sense, even though I saw the sad flatness of the EKG in his hospital room, even though the doctors called the time of death (1:13 pm, aka, 13:13, for those of you into that kind of thing) and took his body away, and I almost carried my mom down the long polished hallway to the basement where the morgue was, even though all of this happened, Facebook, it seems, has the final word on the matter. Facebook, to put it simply, is keeping my father alive, and I don’t mean that in some metaphorical sense. I mean it literally. His body, it’s gone. So is his brain, but the hospital can’t turn the body over because some part of him is still alive. He’s there. Or he’s here. He’s everywhere that there’s an internet.
How do we know this?
Good question. And here’s the punchline: he’s still updating his profile. Every day since he left, or passed, or kicked the bucket, etc, he sends vague messages about not much of anything. Mostly, he posts proverbs from all over the world. My father, while alive, was always putting up links to political stuff. He loved the Occupy Movement and Rachel Maddow—we almost broke his heart when we told him she was not into men—he also had a thing for healthy eating and Reiki. His profile updates were almost all about good liberal values and the power of raw food. The post-death dad seemed to lose interest in politics and even in Rachel. Now, he is an endless string of fortune cookie wisdom.
Still, it is my father. That much we know. The techs at Facebook are really bad about turning off profiles (in order to get rid of an account, you have to ask Facebook yourself. Your son can’t do it. Your grieving wife can’t, either.) But they are great at tracking the origins of the profile changes, and the origin of my father’s changes, they assure us could not possibly be from a hacker. The techs wouldn’t tell us the where they tracked the profile to, but in IM exchange, one of them couldn’t help but saying something about my dad taking cloud computing literally. Techies aren’t exactly original.
I guess we could push the matter, get a lawyer involved and turn the account off, but my mom won’t hear of it. She’s tried to message my dad. Before this, she’d never once got on Facebook, but now she has an account and she messages him everyday. For her troubles, she’s gotten no direct messages back, but she did get a couple proverbs from Georgia, one of which went something like, If you give a man nuts then give him something to crack them with. My mother laughed when she saw this; she’s convinced that he was teasing her. It seems he always said she was a ball-buster, though I never heard him say that.
Anyway, she’s happy, and she’s hopeful that eventually my father will stop with the proverbs and write her a personal message and, maybe more importantly, that a few more people will join up and become of my dead father’s 5,000 friends.